It was a privilege to participate in the Manchester Green Summit yesterday as the event was heavily over-subscribed. I found the meeting very stimulating with a wide range of views about how Manchester could become the “Greenest” City Region in the ...


Manchester Green Summit – Hosted by Andy Burnham and more...

Manchester Green Summit – Hosted by Andy Burnham

It was a privilege to participate in the Manchester Green Summit yesterday as the event was heavily over-subscribed. I found the meeting very stimulating with a wide range of views about how Manchester could become the “Greenest” City Region in the UK. Here are my semi-random thoughts on the event…

Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, started proceeding by setting out an aspiration for Manchester to become a zero-carbon city  – although he did not pledge a specific date to achieve this, he did suggest that we should be bold and commit to achieving this at least a decade earlier than the current 2050 target date.

The reason we need this level of urgency was starkly presented by Kevin Anderson from the Tyndal Centre. His brilliant talk cut through all the complexities surrounding emissions goals and reminded us that there is only one thing that matters – the absolute CO2 emissions that we put into the atmosphere. According to research by him and his colleagues we (Greater Manchester) have a budget of just 71 million tonnes of CO2 in order to meet the 2 ºC target we signed up to in the Paris Agreement.  At current rates of emissions we will spend this in just 5-6 years.

So, what is needed, according to Kevin, is cogency (understanding the stark reality and limits we need to meet), integrity (in ensuring that the largest emitters make the biggest contribution) and courage (to act quickly and decisively). Incremental change is just another path to failure nothing less than a rapid and unprecedented transformation of the way we use and supply energy will do.

As I have said on many occasions, this is not an “either or choice”. We need to invest heavily to radically reduce demand.  This will involved dramatically greater greater efficiency and significant structural changes in how we deliver human services (e.g. we need to shift to public transport or move away from gas heating to electric heating). How we package and distribute energy must change – whether that is to generate more electricity locally or to use new fuels such as hydrogen to power the internal combustion engines we rely on so extensively. Finally we need to generate electricity in a much more renewable way – recognizing every generation method has drawback (biofuels are much less sustainable than advertised and compete with food crops, wind turbines can blight landscapes and seascapes, solar PV only delivers energy when the sun is shining and so requires significant base-load support or environmentally-unfriendly batteries, nuclear is expensive and risky and, while carbon capture and storage is on the drawing board, fossil fuels are the most profligate way of spending our limited emissions budget).

At one point the conversation was focusing on new buildings and I felt compelled to put in a plug for efficiency – the most rapid and cost-effective emissions reduction process we have at our disposal and which should be the among the very first actions we take (see the video clip below). Once we know how low we can go in our demand, then we can size our distribution and supply correctly (although we should not wait to start to transform our supply).

For the full video go to 

The conference was a microcosm of society. There were clearly some folks who felt that the change should be revolutionary – “let’s close Manchester Airport”. Other participants, such as ex Manchester United footballer and property developer Gary Neville (shown 2nd from the left above) were honest as to the barriers “if it is not legislated for, the investment won’t happen”.  We had a vision of a city where pedestrians, bicycles and zero-carbon buses consign the personal automobile to history or where every planning decision delivers Natural Capital Net Gain. Most compelling, in many ways, was the view of the young people who spoke to remind us that it is their future we have in our hands.

Apart from some well intentioned but howling mistakes (such as urging folks to switch to renewable energy supplies paid for by others – e.g. the Big Clean Switch), I thoroughly welcomed the diversity of views, practical or not.  Change happens when vociferous and passionate citizens and engaged politicians and regulators bring about a paradigm shift to release investment and expertise to bring about the desired transformation. Outrage, passion, idealism and naivety can be far more powerful forces for change than carefully considered business cases!

Andy Burnham (right in the video) and Councillor Alex Ganotis (second from right in the video – Leader of Stockport Council and lead on the green agenda in Greater Manchester), are to be applauded for their inclusive approach and desire to harness citizen power to drive transformation rather than incremental change. Praise also to Mark Atherton, the Director of Environment who was instrumental in much of the practical detail of the meeting.

One aspect that I found especially interesting was the notion that every participant should make a pledge. Here is mine. We were reminded that not only was Manchester the birth-place of the Industrial Revolution, but also of the Trades Unions, the Suffragettes and the National Parks movement. If we could do that in the past, why not become leaders in decarbonization?

There will be a follow-up within 12 months. I hope the passion and enthusiasm I saw yesterday are not diluted. I also hope that we have moved firmly away from talking to doing – after all we have only 5-6 years of carbon emissions left. Here I am reminded of my own trio of ingredients for change Mandate, Method and Momentum. The conference was all about creating a Mandate for action and teasing out some of the Method. It is time for us all to roll up our sleeves and put the flesh on the change that is needed.



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UK Sustainability Expo – shame on you

This Monday I received an email from John Bent, Event Manager with the The UK Sustainability Expo.

“I was wondering if you would like to discuss the possibility of speaking at The UK Sustainability Expo which is a conference and expo being held on the 26th June in the Ricoh Arena, Coventry”

I am quite regularly approached to speak at events and make a point of carving out the time to attend a few engagements each year. So I checked the date out and responded that I would be available to speak on that date and would look forward to discussing their requirements and seeing if I could cover the subject-matter. It was an event I was unfamiliar with and I like the idea of speaking to new audiences.

A couple of days later I received a phone call from one of the team and was told that “over 500 people had expressed interest in speaking” and that they could offer me a speaking slot as “part of an exhibition package“.

If the basis for their selection of speakers is who is willing to pay for the privilege, then I suspect the presentation will simply be one dull sales pitch after another. Which is sad given the importance of dialog around many of the challenges facing sustainability and efficiency practitioners.

I for one will definitely not be attending, and I thought it would be helpful to let colleagues know.


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EU Energy Efficiency – Governments resist the Commission’s vision

The notion of energy efficiency as an energy resource is now widely accepted. Indeed, since the widespread Demand Side Management programs of the 1970’s, these “Negawatts” (a term coined by Amory Lovins) have been quantified in financial terms and compared with supply-side infrastructure investments and shown in most cases to deliver the lowest cost per unit of energy (LCOE), as well a significant environmental benefits such as lower carbon emissions.

Thus it is with some alarm that I have read this morning that elements within the European Council are resisting formally prioritizing efficiency measures in the EU Energy Strategy. For those unfamiliar with how the EU works, here is a simplifcation

  • The Council represents the nation states in the EU and it sets the overall policies and goals
  • The Commission is the EU’s civil service and takes the Councils mandate to draft legislation
  • The legislation is approved by the Parliament and the Council and becomes EU law
  • Nation states then implement the laws and if they do not they can be challenged in the European Court of Justice

According to a report by EUObserver, some member states – through the Council –  are resisting the notion that energy efficiency should be considered a priority. Their argument is that of “subsidiarity”, which is the principle that the EU should not bring in rules and regulations which should more properly be dealt with at a National level. On the one hand we have the Commission and Parliament both proposing that energy efficiency is a core priority – an “energy efficiency first” approach – and on the other hand we have some elements in the Council who want to let member states determine their own priorities (with the suggestion that this is intended to favor new generation from gas plants).

Subsidiarity is a valid concept. Given, however, that the CO2 and other pollutants produced from energy generation do not respect borders, it is questionable whether this principle should apply in this case.  Friends of the Earth have suggested that the objection to prioritizing efficiency is coming from Bulgaria – which currently holds the rotating Chair of the Council and so has great influence in drawing up the response of the Council. This is very troubling as the environment minister of Bulgaria is reported to be a denier of climate-change.

It is essential that we do not give a veto to countries and politicians whose agenda is harmful to the interests of the people of Europe or, indeed, the people in their own nations. Let us hope that the other elements of the triumvirate (the Parliament and Commission) as well as those nations in the Council who recognize climate change to be the existential threat that it is – and understand that efficiency is the obvious first response – can prevail in this argument.

As with all such decisions the more visible and open they are the more we citizens and stakeholders can bring to bear our views. Please share this post to help spread the message.






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Book Review from BEC Green in Canada

Energy and Resource Efficiency without the tears has been reviewed by Cathy Rust on her great green buildings site BEC Green…. This site is a great resource for all things green buildings and sustainability-related.

What I like about Cathy’s posts is that they are so wide-ranging – recent articles have covered: a circular-economy incubator in Rotterdam (entitled “Blue Roof – A Roof Made From Sewage Products“); an update on Californian regulations requiring that out-of-state suppliers of specified building materials (carbon steel rebar, flat glass, mineral wool board insulation and structural steel) submit an Environmental Product Declaration confirming that the products meet the specified carbon emissions; a review of a no clog, low-flow toilet; through to her personal reflections on test-driving an electric car.

The site also has links to a wealth of other sustainability resources and sites, as well as other book reviews.

I must warmly congratulate Cathy on her terrific contribution to her fellow sustainability practitioners and would urge folks to sign up for her blogs which are thought-provoking, insightful and very useful.



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Key lessons from the EU-ETS BREXIT chaos

The complexity of disentangling the UK from European institutions has been put in sharp relief by the intricate manoeuvring taking place around the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Politicians have been at pains to talk up the simplicity of any transition and the ease with which existing EU environmental legislation will be translated to the UK statutes through a “Great Repeal Bill”. In practice the process is proving to be much more complex.

For those who are not familiar with the EU-ETS, it is the world’s largest carbon market – designed to provide a price signal for 11,000 large emitters of CO2 (plus N2O and PFCs) in 31 countries (all 28 EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), as well as aviation operators into and out of the EU.

Organisations participating in the EU-ETS either receive free allowances (for energy-intensive organisations) or participate in a government auction. Each year organisations must surrender enough allowances to cover all their emissions, otherwise heavy fines are imposed. If a company reduces its emissions by investing in efficiency measures, it can keep the spare allowances to cover its future obligations or it can sell them to another company that is short of allowances.

So far so good. The mess BREXIT has created involves the detail around the timing of the scheme. We are currently in Phase III which runs from 2013 to 2020. In each year, participating organisations must comply with the regulation by the 30th April, the deadline for them to provide (a.k.a. “surrender”) sufficient carbon allowances to match their emissions in the previous calendar year. Now with the official date for BREXIT being the 29th March 2019, it has not escaped people’s notice that the UK will no longer be part of the EU on 30th April 2019 and so UK participants will not be under a legal obligation to surrender allowances for their 2018 emissions.

There are two problems with this. First of all, absent a requirement to surrender allowances, organisations will no longer see a need to buy these from the government auctions (the value was £340 million in 2016). Furthermore, as the UK is moving to a position of being a net seller of emissions, the revenue that the UK businesses would have gained in the latter stages of the phase is no longer accessible.

The second problem centres on what happens to the allowances that UK firms may have accumulated for later surrender, or may be free-issued in 2018 while the scheme is still legally in place. If UK firms choose to dump these no-longer needed allowances on the market, it will lead to a surplus and a collapse in the price for allowances, just as the EU are proposing wider reforms designed to introduce scarcity and increase costs.

The “Brexit Shield” solution initially proposed by the EU on October 25th was to “mark” UK allowances so that they could not be used by other EU countries to meet their obligations. Caught somewhat off-balance, and concerned that UK surplus emissions-holders – presumably having done the “right thing” and invested in efficiency measures – would be left holding now worthless allowances, the UK government put forward a counter-proposal based on modifying the compliance dates. Under the UK scheme, the problem would be solved by moving the compliance deadline in the UK from 30th April 2019 to the 22nd March 2019 – a week before BREXIT. It was also reported that the UK threatened to derail the previously mentioned reform legislation designed to strengthen the EU-ETS in the next phase after 2020 if their counter-proposal was not adopted [1].


The issue came to a head last week, on the 30th November. The EU27 (i.e. all EU member states except the UK) agreed to accept the UK proposals for a date change so long as the UK government brought forwards the necessary legislation by the end of the year. However, the deal made was conditional on the UK remaining part of the EU-ETS for the remainder of the Phase (i.e. until April 2021, when 2020 allowances need to be surrendered). If the UK is not able to secure a deal to remain within the ETS by Spring 2018, then the EU law will be changed so that the tagging of UK allowances can start. Whether this means that newly-issued allowances would be tagged from 1st January 2018 or from the date of the legislation is not clear, creating further uncertainty in the market.

With around £1bn at stake for the UK government and allowance-holders between now and 2020, and the integrity of a key global climate change mitigation measure at risk, we must all hope for a successful conclusion to the negotiations early next year [2]. A “soft” BREXIT from the ETS, i.e. participating until 2020 at least, is in everyone’s interest.

We should not forget that it was the UK who created the first large scale emissions trading scheme in 2002, on which the EU-ETS was heavily modelled when it launched in 2005. There is no doubt that putting a price on carbon offers a significant incentive for organisations to reduce emissions. The ambitious UK Climate Change Act goals for a substantial decarbonisation of our economy will remain on the statutes post-BREXIT and so it seems obvious that we would wish to maintain a carbon price signal in order to underpin those emission reduction targets.

The future shape of any emissions trading in the UK post BREXIT remains uncertain. One option, of course, could be to remain in the EU-ETS (importantly, European Court of Justice jurisdiction does not appear to be mandatory as European Economic Area countries such as Norway or other more loosely-linked emissions schemes such as Switzerland, are outside its jurisdiction but still in the EU-ETS). The environmental think-tank Sandbag have produced a great briefing on the options available [3]. I myself am fairly agnostic as to which option should be implemented – an advantage of “going it alone” is that we can set ourselves in the UK a tighter cap on allowances than would otherwise be the case in the current EU-ETS, but the flip-side is that anti-regulation enthusiasts and climate change deniers could neuter any scheme under the pretext of “diminishing regulatory burdens”.

Arguably the EU’s most successful energy-efficiency policies have been the Ecodesign and product labelling regulations which have contributed to an 18% reduction in energy use in the appliances covered [4]. In my view, it is vital that the UK maintains parity with these regulations – not only in order that our manufacturers can preserve their markets for their products in the EU27 but also because we must avoid becoming a global dumping ground for sub-standard, inefficient technologies.

It is true that BREXIT provides a space for a radical re-examination of current policy in the UK. There is no doubt that EU approaches can be improved upon – take for example the recent dilution of vehicle emissions standards to satisfy manufacturers [5]. The fundamental question is: “will the UK strengthen or weaken its environmental aspirations, given the creative space that BREXIT offers”. There are some powerful free-marketers like Sir James Dyson – as well as right-wing sections of the UK Conservative Party –  who promulgate BREXIT as an opportunity to create a low-regulation, low-tax, hire-and-fire regime where capital is free to move to the lowest cost producers. Putting aside criticisms of the social cost of this ideology, this is not an approach that is compatible with our effective response to climate change – which we should not forget is one of the greatest dangers humanity faces and one which is indifferent to our “euro” or “non-euro” tribalism. Climate change and resource scarcity are problems that requires us us to work collectively not independently and policy and regulation are one of our most powerful tools.

Sources: [1] Forbes; [2] Forbes; [3] Sandbag; [4] The Economist; [5] Financial Times

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