Building a Greener Future (2007) | Brussels Blog

Building a Greener Future (2007)

posted by on 7th Feb 2016

This was a response to the Building a Greener Future consultation
from the Department of Communities and Local Government

To the Building a Greener Future consultation

There are three particular aspects concerned with “Building a Greener Future” on which I wish to comment:

1. Construction vs. Operational CO2
2. Brownfield development and urban density
3. Planning wealth and lifestyles of inhabitants

I append evidence I made to the Treasury Select Committee which discusses some related issues.

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Taxation, planning and the environment (2007)

posted by on 7th Feb 2016

This was evidence to the Treasury Committee, January 2007
Climate change and the Stern review:
the implications for HM Treasury policy on tax and the environment.


The UK generates a small percentage of the world’s CO2. The best role for the UK is to show the rest of the world that pleasant environmentally friendly lifestyles are possible. Economic mechanisms such as earmarked taxes are necessary but it will be necessary to go beyond purely economic disciplines.
Large budgets for education and promotion are necessary to gain public acceptance. So are large environmental lifestyle projects such as model settlements. The finance can be found within the planning system. It should be recognised that the planning system creates very large amounts of wealth, which can be traded on an international scale. It is possible that existing development corporation legislation can be used to this effect.

1. Environmental leadership means drastic changes in lifestyles

The UK generates a small percentage of the world’s CO2e, although, per capita, its citizens produce much more than the world average. The useful role that the UK can play is one of leadership to show the rest of the world that pleasant yet sustainable lifestyles are possible. Sustainable lifestyles might require a cut in the generation of CO2e of a factor of three or more. Technological advances may help but personal rationing of CO2e will be needed. If the personal allowance is to be set at the level currently thought to be necessary to achieve world sustainability significant changes in lifestyle will be inevitable. The Fishergate Environmental Panel is currently engaged in an assessment of a reasonable figure for a daily ration of the individual production of CO2e. The panel has accepted, for the time being, that 10 kg of CO2e per day (3.65 tonnes CO2e per year) is a target that fits with current thinking on climate change.

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A new use for development corporations (2003)

posted by on 7th Feb 2016

This was a response to the interim to the report
“Barker Review of Land Use Planning” (2003)


1. Property price inflation.

The rise in the value of property has reached 40% of GDP in some recent years.

2. Wealth redistribution.

Changes in tax and benefits since 1997 have made the poorest families better off by about £30 per week. Over the same period the wealthy have seen their property assets increase by hundreds of pounds per week. Wealth distribution is from the poor to the rich and from the young to the old.

3. Total planning permission.

The term “planning permission” is usually used in the context of new build. But most existing buildings have permission to remain at their location. If they do not have this permission, the planning authority can demand that they be removed.

Increases in property values have for many years been driven by a shortage of this totality of planning permission. It is not an increase in the value of the bricks and mortar that has made my house three times more valuable in the past five years. It is the increase in the value of the right I have to keep my house in its present location.

4. New planning permission.

Granting planning permission often increases the value of land by a factor of 1000. Agricultural land near York is valued at £5,000 per hectare. With planning permission for residential development this can rise to between £5m to £10m per hectare. Planning authorities, therefore, are responsible for the creation of huge amounts of wealth. The principal beneficiaries are landowners.

5. Green belts and the environment.

Traditionally Green Belts were seen to stop urban sprawl and were the “green lungs” of the city. This gave a public health emphasis relating them to policies such as slum clearance. The policy is seen as the major instrument for protecting the environment against environmental damage due to overdevelopment. They are believed to “protect the countryside”.

6. Reservations to green belt policy.

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Prejudices and housing: The shack

posted by on 27th Jan 2016

This was originally part of “Prejudices and Housing” from July 2012.
Now renamed Prejudices and housing: Terraced streets and slums

Daily Mail readers give shacks their blessing

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

There have been two items in the Daily Mail, which show how, in the right light, prejudices against non-conventional housing are not always triggered. The first is :

Our £3,000 Hobbit house: The family home dug from a hillside and built with scraps scavenged from skips.

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Prejudices and housing: Prefabs

posted by on 25th Jan 2016

Prefab3” by Deb – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

This was originally part of “Prejudices and Housing” from July 2012.
Now renamed Prejudices and housing: Terraced streets and slums

Don’t play with the children from the prefabs

My earliest memories of prefabs, were of those on a beautiful site on Broom Hill, Strood, Kent, overlooking both the Medway and the Thames rivers. I remember my parents warning me not to play with the children from the prefabs. Later I remember that my father got to know some of the men, who worked at the same factory. When the prefabs were removed to make way for a park, he told me that the residents loved their life there and did not want to move. They were a community. A familiar story for prefab estates.

York demolished prefabs and rejected Walter Segal houses

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A shock for the housing market

posted by on 24th Jan 2016

Give them land, lots of land

The housing market needs a shock – a big one. A possibility is this: Layout a million or more house-sized plots of land with minimal infrastructure and sell them off to individual buyers, with a limit of one per person. This gives the owners a chance to develop their plots individually, even build their own should they wish.

Tiny-house-005” by Ourtinycabinproject – Own work.Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

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Climate and carbon emissions: It’s worse than you think

posted by on 21st Jan 2016

Remaining carbon budget – pick a number

The world is heading for catastrophic climate change.

The fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5) in 2013 was the first to include an assessment of a “carbon budget” – a finite amount of carbon that can be burnt before it becomes unlikely we can avoid more than 2°C of global warming. Later they issued a budget for 1.5°C, which Carbon Brief updated in Six years worth of current emissions would blow the carbon budget for 1.5 degrees.

“It will take just six years of current emissions to exhaust a carbon budget that would give a good chance of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, based on figures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC’s new budget, revealed earlier this month, calculates the remaining amount of carbon dioxide humans can emit and still hope to cap global warming at less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees has become a political rallying call for some nations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). The IPCC’s calculations suggest hopes of preventing temperatures from ever crossing the 1.5 degree threshold are slim to none. But the IPCC suggests that options to temporarily exceed the target and return to lower temperatures later in the century could still be on the table.”

Carbon Brief’s updated figure for the IPCC’s remaining carbon budget is 243 tonnes of CO2, with counting starting in 2015. Dividing this budget by the population of the world gives 33 tonnes per person. To keep within 2°C the budget is 115 tonnes. In Is Green Growth a Fantasy?, I accepted the assumption that in the second half of this century, the world will be able to extract enough carbon from the atmosphere to balance emissions. This meant the remaining carbon budget of 115 tonnes CO2e must be eked out until this “carbon extraction safety zone” is reached. That is when carbon extraction balances carbon emissions.

Some problems with this line of argument argument are:

1 The models used by IPCC AR5 (the CMIP5 models) gave optimistic estimates of the budgets.
2 The proposed carbon extraction may not work soon enough at the scale required.
3 Should we aim at 1.5°C or 2°C? Is 2°C safe?
4 Individual carbon footprints differ from the average footprint.

However, to have some figure in mind, let’s assume a target for remaining carbon budget of 100 tonnes CO2 to keep below 2°C. (2°C is goodbye to Tuvalu).
This leaves the question: How can we devise lifestyles that can cause less than 100 tonnes of CO2e to be emitted over the next 40, 50 or 60 years. If the carbon extraction safety zone can be reached in 40 years the target is 2.5 tonnes per year. If it’s reached in 50 years the target emissions become 2 tonnes a year.

UK carbon emissions – pick another number

For the purposes of the UK Climate Change Act (2008), UK greenhouse gas emissions are measured on a production basis: they are measured as the emissions made within the UK. Closing steel production in the UK cuts the UK’s production carbon emissions. However, the emissions caused by UK consumption does not fall because UK steel is replaced by imported imported steel: Measured on a consumption basis, UK carbon emissions have not been falling.

There are several other complications to measuring per capita carbon emissions but to pick some numbers for yearly emissions: 10 tonnes CO2e for production emissions and 20 tonnes for consumption emissions are plausible. Put simply: If the rest of the world had consumption emissions like the UK the 2°C remaining carbon budget would be exhausted within 5 or six years of the UK’s consumption.

Carbon emissions from everyday activities – pick some more numbers

For the purposes of this post, emissions from developed economies like the UK are of less interest than the emissions from the elements “modern” living. It is these that are of interest in designing a low carbon lifestyle. There is plenty of room for argument about carbon counting methodology but here are some reasonable estimates of the CO2 emissions for some of our everyday activities.

Table: Greenhouse gas emissions in tonnes CO2e over 10 years

10 return flights to Malaga9.9
Manufacturing an electric car
Manufacturing a gasoline car7.2
Driving a UK gasoline car for 10 years (1)20.0
2 return flights to Mexico7.3
Ten years averageconsumption of beef & lamb (2)2.3 or 16.1
Eating a kilogramme of lean beef a week for ten years (2)90.0 or more
Heating a house for 10 years42.0

(1) Tail pipe emissions from the SMMT for new cars in 2015 (including VW?) uprated a bit – because published figures only account for measured tail-pipe emissions. They do not include emissions in processing and transporting oil. Average distance per year is taken as 12,700 km

(2) This uses the average personal consumption of beef and lamb in the UK from Comparing carnivores: UK meat consumption multiplied by the carbon intensity of beef from the Green Ration Book. A recent article by George Monbiot, Warning: your festive meal could be more damaging than a long-haul flight, reports a paper which gives the carbon intensity of a kilogram of beef protein as 643 kgs. As 27% of ground lean beef is protein, this gives a carbon intensity of this ground beef as at least 173 kgs CO2e for a kilogramme of beef. This means eating a kilogram of lean beef a week for 10 years creates 90.0 tonnes of CO2e. Even this may be an underestimate if methane has been rated over 100 years.

From now until the carbon extraction safety zone may be 4, 5 or 6 decades, so the figures in the table for one decade would be multiplied by 4, 5 or 6 – if emissions were to continue at similar rates. Some of the sample activities shown above can, by themselves, bust the 100 tonne budget for a 2°C rise. 1.5°C? Some hopes.

The move to cities?

Worse still, official sources say billions of people will move into cities in the next few decades.  Building urban infrastructure with bricks steel, concrete and tarmac causes very large emissions of greenhouse gasses. In The carbon cost of achieving low carbon lifestyles, I estimated that the carbon emissions from constructing the urban infrastructure for an extra city dweller was of the order of 100 tonnes CO2e, about equal to the personal carbon budget that remains for the 2°C rise in global temperature. To avoid catastrophic climate change, cities will have to be rather different.

Pick any numbers you want, climate and carbon emissions are worse than you think.

A market in prototype neighbourhoods

posted by on 17th Jan 2016

Car Trouble: And How to Fix It from Carfree Cities on Vimeo.

A start: Car-free neighbourhoods

I don’t drive and hate the noise and filth from traffic. I like living in towns, where I can ride my bike or walk. I like more-or-less traffic free cities. I believe many others do too but the only examples of car free cities are now anachronisms. Venice for example is a hang-over from the past.

However, my informal over-a-glass-of-red-wine surveys suggest eight out of ten people would prefer to live in traffic-free Venice rather than Los Angeles or Milton Keynes. If many people prefer a Venice-like lifestyle with pleasant urban spaces and facilities, why is Venice the only well known example of a car-free city? Where are the other cities for people like me to live in? My explanation is that the canals of Venice have protected it from the motor car. They have been Venice’s immune system.

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Lifestyles, carbon emissions and consumer surplus

posted by on 11th Jan 2016

I wrote this note to economist  Philippe Aghion after a conference,
“Economics of Innovation, Diffusion, Growth and the Environment”
in September 2015 organised by the Grantham Institute of the LSE.

Dear Professor Aghion,

Thank you for your excellent presentation at the conference. As an occasional follower of economics since the late sixties, I found most of the talks at the conference, instructive and even understood some of the equations.

Congestion and pollution

You may remember we spoke about the problems of traffic in Paris.

We have been aware for many decades of the external costs imposed by traffic on fellow travellers through congestion and on residents by noise and air pollution. There is also an increasing awareness of the carbon footprint of travel. However, the demand for transport has increased. In the case of most cities, the cars and taxis are easily the biggest volumes although there is increasing traffic from light goods vehicles. This has led to proposals like the congestion charges and pollution taxes.

Spatial development and increased travelling

These charges and taxes can be seen as an attempt to internalise external costs by “making the polluter pay”. A topic that deserves more attention from economists is the relationship between travel and the spatial development of settlements. As the cost of travel decreases to the consumer travel increases. This enables populations to relocate (i.e. spread out) and this further increases the amount travelled.

Policy makers have growing concerns about the low-density sprawl of cities and the environmental consequences, especially the effects on carbon emissions. This has led planners in the UK, at least, advocating high urban densities and good public transport. This argument worries me for several reasons. One is that modern construction techniques in cities have very large embodied carbon.

Measuring the benefits of personal transport

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Feeling guilty about flying? asks John Sutton, aged 60

posted by on 24th Dec 2015

AC Grayling writing in Prospect Magazine

“Recycling one’s rubbish is a gesture of commitment, but the
fitful efforts of individuals do not even nibble at the threat.”

The same might be applied to flying, but would that be a reasonable comparison?

A trip to Teneife is like a 1kW electric fire left on 24/7 for 100 days

I recently flew to Tenerife (for work purposes) and on the ticket it said “Calculated average CO2 emission is 559.70 kg/person”. This amount of carbon dioxide produced can be converted directly into energy consumed by using the figure for the mass of carbon dioxide emitted per quantity of energy for aviation gasoline, namely 65.78 g/MJ, to show me that my trip to Tenerife expended 2.4 MWh. This is the same as the energy expended by a 1 bar (1kW) electric fire left on 24/7 for 100 days.

The world’s electricity supply is the same energy as one return trip to Tenerife for almost everyone on the planet, once each per year

In 2012, total world electricity generation was 23 PWh (from the IEA website). This is the total energy value of the electricity produced by all means, renewable & non-renewable: coal, oil, gas, nuclear, hydro, etc. Let’s say we had a means to convert all this electricity production into aviation fuel and further that all this fuel was then expended in flying to Tenerife. This will allow us to make 23 x 10^15 divided by 2.4 x 10^6 which is 9.6 billion trips, more than one trip each per year for every person on the planet! Well, there would be a bit of a squeeze on hotel accommodation in Tenerife so we’d better count return trips instead, so that’s 4.8 billion return trips, Stansted to Tenerife, so we are not all going to get to top up our suntans once a year.

But we can’t make airline fuel from electricity – yet

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