The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last month released a white paper setting out their industrial strategy. This document claims to contain a plan which is “building a Britain fit for the future”, as such, it is important to see how environmentally friendly that future appears.
The first notable thing is that the government identifies four “grand challenges” which are to be tackled to put the UK at the forefront of the world economy; the ageing society, future of mobility and AI & data economy are three of them. But the final challenge the government has identified is clean growth, which appears to be a strong environmental commitment. The government states it “will maximise the advantages for UK industry from the shift to clean growth.”
So what does the government mean by this? And more importantly, what do they plan to do? Let’s begin by going through the “early priority areas” identified in the strategy.
Today marks the six-month anniversary of Michael Gove’s appointment as Environment Secretary. In the past, Gove had shown a fairly poor voting record on environmental issues, voting against a ban on “unconventional petroleum exploitation” and alongside that voted against a motion explicitly requiring environmental permits for natural gas fracking operations. The MP also had no previous experience in agricultural or environmental roles, previous roles being Justice and Education secretary, so his promotion sparked outcry from many. Ed Davey, the former Environment secretary, described the appointment as ‘an act of environmental vandalism’, and said it would be ‘like putting a wolf in charge of the chicken coop’.
The looming prospect of Brexit makes for uncertain times in the realm of UK environmental policy, and so in many ways Gove’s tenure takes place at a truly pivotal moment. So, what has he achieved since June?
Harry Holmes and Lucy Fellingham
Recently Phillip Hammond the Chancellor released the UK Autumn Budget, the outline of the government’s spending plan. As ever, the green agenda didn’t register as high as the NHS and housing, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to talk about. So, without further ado, let’s look at the environmental side of the budget document.
Fredrik Eriksson and Lucy Fellingham
An important part of the COP meetings are the demonstrations and “actions” put on by civil society groups, including environmental groups, youth groups, and social justice groups. While major demonstrations are planned in Bonn over the two conference weeks, there are also several smaller demonstrations happening most days inside (or just outside) the venue where negotiations are taking place, in direct view of the national delegates attending the talks.
Today, a coalition of climate justice groups put on a demonstration just outside the negotiation venue in Bonn highlighting the need for increased climate ambitions in the next 2 years. According to Lise, participant in the demonstration and member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, there is a lack of ambitious targets to reduce emissions in the next two years. Lise described how the Paris agreement NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), including the pledged emissions reductions, will not take effect until 2020, and how the emissions targets leading up to 2020, agreed to in Doha, were left unratified by many countries, leaving the 2018-2020 time frame without solid targets for emissions reductions. “We can already see impacts on the climate,” she said, “and while we still need to step up the ambitions under the Paris agreement, as those commitments fall short [of protecting the climate], we also want to see countries take action before 2020.”
As of the end of October 2017, 84 Parties have ratified the Doha Amendment (an extension of the Kyoto Protocol), but the targets to reduce emissions will not be put into force until the number of Parties reaches 144. The ratification of this agreement would be valuable in pushing forwards momentum for global climate action in the years leading up to 2020, but the emissions targets for the next few years remain unclear.
The protestors aren’t the only ones to have expressed concerns about what needs to happen before the Paris Agreement. At the time of the Agreement, climate scientist Kevin Anderson stated “If we wait until 2020, it will be too late”, while the New Scientist came to the conclusion that the agreement itself will not be enough to limit the warming to just 2ºC. The IPCC’s projected trajectory for the emissions of carbon dioxide (pictured below) show an increase that will lead to a “near-complete” destruction of the Greenland ice-sheet, with 70% of worldwide coastlines projected to experience a sea-level change.
In addition, a large amount climate change that will occur as a direct consequence of our CO₂ emissions is irreversible on a millennial timescale. Unless we physically remove the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, surface temperatures will remain high and warming of the oceans, bringing a rise in sea level, will continue. It is clear that we must make use of the years we have before 2020 to do everything we can to reduce emissions and that the policy makers need to be aware of the urgency with which this needs to happen.
In Yorkshire chainsaws run at dawn, residents scramble outside, realising that a terrifying crime is about to take place, a tree is to be felled. In Sheffield there is an ongoing battle to protect the nature that line the streets of the northern city since an agreement was signed in 2012 between Amey (an outsourced company) and the Labour run Sheffield council to organise the maintenance of the roads in the area. This has recently culminated in a battle to prevent the felling of trees by this company, organised often by local resident volunteers who seek to do all they can do in a peaceful capacity to prevent the chopping down of the trees. What is unique in this battle to my eye is that rarely has there been such intersection between environmental concerns and other social causes and campaigns.
The agreement is a 25 year long private finance agreement (PFI), a controversial way of organising the provision of government projects where they are provided by the private sector using public sector money. Not only does this introduce the profit motive into the maintenance of goods previously run for the public interest but it also removes the traditional methods by which the state was held accountable. When a state failed to provide a service or acted against the public interest it could be held accountable through the usual political methods of elections and lobbying. Now a private provider not only is not held politically accountable but can often lock themselves in as the only provider through the drafting of the agreements to last 25 years like the Sheffield case. No matter the pressure or change in government often the case may be that a council is contractually obliged to deal with the private company. Residents complain they have not been consulted by the felling firm and that the wishes of the community are being ignored.
Then early this year the pressure on the protesters increased, and arrests were made of those more active in preventing tree removal. These figures would scramble to stand around any tree under threat to prevent anybody damaging them. They were arrested under trade union legislation which criminalises anyone who persistently stops someone from carrying out lawful work. The amount of peaceful protests which could be considered illegal under this law does not bare thinking about. Luckily charges were dropped, and now the protesters are suing the police force in return. But now the high court has recently intervened with an injunction against the activity of surrounding the trees, leading to a counter blockade of a depot in Sheffield by protesters. One of those arrested was in fact a Green party Sheffield councillor, leading to even greater anxiety in the community, concerned about how they could respond. Even Michael Gove recently said he wanted to see an end to the felling of the trees, though the Labour council dismissed his demands.
The debacle has made one thing clear, the issues of privatisation and outsourcing whilst traditionally considered economic or social justice issues, in this case also intersects with environmental concerns about maintaining green spaces. Trees have a huge role in urban planning, not merely for aesthetic purposes but as sequesters of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Forests remain one of the best ways to prevent flooding, a bigger and bigger concern as sea levels rise. There have been many identified mental health benefits of green spaces, as well as their purpose in educating communities about the importance of nature and ecosystems.
In a society that increasingly seeks to privatise things held in common, be it nature, healthcare or education there is simultaneously a breaking down of the barriers that kept the groups protecting them separate. In Sheffield you can find anti-privatisation protesters alongside human rights defenders all under the banner of increased environmental protection and democracy. The model of protest used in Sheffield remains one which is local, communities protecting their trees, but it also shows glimmers of being a broad tent movement in defence of nature.
If you want to find more about the crisis in Sheffield check out the campaign website here: https://savesheffieldtrees.org.uk/
British waters are home to a diverse array of marine biodiversity, providing a variety of habitats for species from sheltered sea locks to deep-water coral. Importantly, the marine life populations these habitats support are vital for local livelihoods and industries, from fishing and trade to tourism. Yet these valuable waters have become increasingly under threat from unsustainable economic and harvesting activity, and, critically, challenges presented by climate change.
How are British waters valuable ecologically?
British waters, from inland estuaries to the deeper waters offshore, are home to over 330 different types of fish, from species occupying fundamental roles at the base of the food chain to wonders such as basking sharks, dolphins and Atlantic grey seals and a diverse array of birdlife.
Where does climate change come into this?
As greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, climate change is accelerating, having serious effects on the world’s weather systems and conditions and putting the delicate balance of many of the world’s natural ecosystems and habitats, including those of British marine life, at risk.
Home to a diverse range of marine and dependent terrestrial species, it is vital that we keep our oceans healthy, both to support the species they are home to and the industries and livelihood that depend on them. The ocean performs a variety of invaluable- and, crucially, irreplaceable- ecosystem services: for instance, around half of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the sea, or specifically by phytoplankton, and absorbs around half of manmade CO2.
However, due to the complexity and scale of the problem of climate change, and the fact that we still know so little about our planet’s oceans, there is no quick solution. Despite covering 71% of the Earth's surface, our knowledge of the effects of climate change in oceans is limited compared to terrestrial ecosystems, making the problem harder to tackle and the scale of the impacts harder to predict. Attempts to address climate change need to work with related issues such as overfishing and pollution of the seas- the WWF, for instance, has already developed initiatives to bring together actors from governments, science, industry, and stakeholders to find sustainable ways of managing our shared marine environment. In this way, it is important to understand the threats the world’s oceans are facing as a problem that cannot solely be addressed by tackling climate change- if our world’s oceans are to remain sustainable for future generations and marine biodiversity, the issue needs to be tackled in all its complexity.
Climate change continues to pose a significant threat to British marine life, whether directly as a result of changing marine conditions of indirectly through adverse effects on prey distribution. Atlantic Grey seals, for instance, often sighted in colonies around UK waters, are experiencing threats as a result of changing distributions of their prey, particularly sand eels, for which they will come into increasing competition with fishermen and other predators as prey availability dwindles.
Other terrestrial species reliant on marine environments and ecosystems are also expected to be affected: coastal erosion and flooding are already posing threats for species such as the Atlantic Grey seal, where rising sea levels are seeing the the isolated shingle beaches that grey seals favour to give birth to their pups in the autumn become narrower, increasingly the likelihood of pups being washed away. Internationally important breeding colonies of terns that nest close to the sea edge are also at risk from rising sea levels and increasing stormy weather. Wetland birds are also at risk: species such as the redshank will find their habitats inundated by the sea while moors and wet grasslands will dry up during hot summers, all of which carry wider implications for the food web and are expected to see changes in migration patterns in response to the stresses brought by habitat change in response to global warming.
The vast effects of climate change in these areas has been observed in particular in the Orkney islands. Warming of British waters offshore is thought to have completely altered the plankton regime, meaning dependent species such as sand-eels have nothing to feed on. As a result, sand-eel numbers have dropped dramatically and seabirds are struggling to find food.
Our oceans remain a vital resource for both livelihoods, economic activity and, crucially, biodiversity, and exist in a complex relationship with our atmosphere and natural ecosystems. Attempts to address climate change therefore need to take into account how changes implemented at one site carry repercussions for the rest of the ocean system. While this is by no means an easy undertaking, it remains crucial that our world’s oceans are healthy and protected from overexploitation and pollution, the effects of which will only become more severe in light of climate change and continue affect wildlife in British waters.
Glittered faces, fields crammed with tents and headline acts are what make summers memorable for so many people – but the environmental impact of festivals is often forgotten. A 2015 report calculated that 23500 tonnes of waste was produced by UK festivals every year, 68% of which ended up either in landfill or an incinerator. Both of these disposal methods have their own consequences for the environment: while rubbish in landfill leaks pollutants into the earth and denies the “embodied energy” of the waste a chance to be used sustainably; incineration releases greenhouses gases, as well as nitrogen dioxide, contributing to acid rain and having harmful effects for our lungs.
The festivals themselves create nearly 100 kilotons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. Fossil fuels are being burned to power the performances, create the infrastructure and provide food and water and, while these may seem to be unavoidable necessities, there are ways in which this considerable carbon footprint can be reduced, such as using locally sourced ingredients for the food provided by the festival. It has been found that often the equipment used for the stage performances will use up to double the power necessary, and so by just using more efficient pieces of apparatus, we could cut down on a significant portion of emissions. However, the majority of the CO₂ released actually comes from travel to and from the festivals, and it is certainly within our own power to car-share, use public transport and take advantage of the coaches that many festivals provide. Glastonbury’s “Green Traveller” initiative even offers perks to those who take these options, including festival t-shirts and free yogurt!
Audience surveys show that the environment is an important consideration for the majority of festival goers, and so there is an increasing push to create greener events. For example, Latitude recycled 55% of waste and sent none to landfill sites, while Bestival runs all its campsites on waste vegetable oil and repurposes left over tents and camping equipment for those who need it, which would otherwise end up in landfill. There is a growing effort across the UK music festival industry to increase the use of renewable energies such as wind and solar power, pioneered by the likes of Croissant Neuf Summer Party and Shambala festival, both of which run on renewable energy alone.
Largely, it is in the hands of the festival organisers and suppliers to determine how eco-friendly their events are. However, there are many things we can do ourselves to reduce the negative impact that the festivals we go to have on the environment, whether this be by recycling, using biodegradable glitter, taking our tents home to be used again, or sharing a car with a stranger. All of these choices will add up, and by voicing our opinions and raising awareness of the issues we can continue towards a future of greener and more sustainable festivals.
OCS Media and Research Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.