1. National Greenwash
The Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
The UK Government Department with the climate brief is the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). I have argued elsewhere that they are not suited to this brief.
Alok votes against climate and becomes President of COP26
In January, their Secretary of State for BEIS, Alok Sharma, was appointed full-time President for COP 26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference.
In the UK Parliament, Alok voting record showed little appetite for stopping climate change: 4 votes to stop it, 17 votes against stopping it. He voted for the expansion of Heathrow airport.
Fossil fuel companies get more access
Worryingly, during the run-up to COP26, fossil fuel companies have been given special access to BEIS ministers. DeSmog reports:
Analysis by DeSmog shows ministers met representatives from companies including Shell, BP and ExxonMobil 149 times between April and June, the three months covered by the transparency data release. Ministers met renewable energy producers just 17 times over the same period, of which 11 meetings were with Danish power company Ørsted.
The revelations sparked concern among campaigners, who cited an apparent contradiction between the UK government’s net-zero target and the privileged access given to big polluters.
BEIS try to change how emissions are measured
In addition, BEIS has been supporting a new way of measuring greenhouse gases GWP*. In What the *? Should we be enticed by GWP* ?, Neill Enright says:
“In practice, if we adopt GWP*, we could see organisations with large historic methane emissions which are nevertheless decreasing, being able to claim negative total CO2e emissions. One sector that this applies to is Oil and Gas companies.”
Fortunately the IPCC did not adopt GWP*.
BEIS help local authorities to hide emissions
BEIS have also sponsored a system of estimates of the carbon emissions for local authorities, called SCATTER.
SCATTER is “a local authority focussed emissions tool, built to help create low-carbon local authorities”. This tool underestimates carbon emissions by counting less than half of them as explained in Manchester’s Climate Change Strategy: All CO2 and mirrors?
Greta says it’s a lie
It is for these reasons Greta Thunberg has said claims that UK is a climate leader are ‘a lie’:
The 18-year-old said that “if you don’t include all emissions then the statistics are going to look much nicer”, suggesting things like aviation, shipping, and the burning of biomass have not been taken into account.
She added the UK is “very good at creative carbon accounting” but that “doesn’t mean much in practice”.
Ignoring aviation, shipping and imports
The SCATTER results, count only what they call Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. They ignore “Scope 3 emissions”, which not only cover aviation, shipping, and the burning of biomass but also cover the emissions created in manufacturing imports: Buy an imported Volvo Polestar Electric and the emissions from its manufacture will be Scope 3 emissions. These 26 tonnes of CO2e will not be counted by the SCATTER tool.
The SCATTER tool is contrary to York’s declaration of a climate emergency
The report by Prof Andy Coulson (et al.) for York City Council uses the SCATTER results so ignores over half the carbon emissions specified in York’s declaration of a climate emergency, which explicitly asks for all emissions to be counted.
2. Regional Greenwash
The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission
Prof Andy Coulson is the director of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission.
Remaining carbon budget is 38 tonnes CO2e
Starting with the “remaining carbon budget”, the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted before climate change gets really dangerous. According Professor Gouldson’s report, the remaining carbon budget amounts to 48 tonnes CO2e per York citizen. This estimate is measured the start of 2020 so, today, should be decreased by at least 10 tonnes CO2e (to 38 tonnes CO2e?)
Sources of greenhouse gas emissions can be roughly divided into four categories: transport, building, consumables (including food) and social (government & related). Checking the first three of these on the Y+H Climate site…
Cars kill the climate
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have pointed out that:
“In the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation.”
Hyperhubs for electric cars
The Commission does not advocate any serious attempt to lower car ownership but does feature ‘hyperhubs’ for charging electric cars as part of its strategy.
The development of this system will encourage private car owners, taxi drivers and business users to make use of the new facilities, therefore, improving the city’s overall carbon emissions. With associated air quality and climate change benefits, this will meet the needs of the next generation of plug-in vehicles.
Electric cars are no solution. They still cause large greenhouse emissions
However, electric cars aren’t the solution. They may be better in use, but cause large emissions of greenhouse gases in their manufacture (e.g. the electric Volvo Polestar creates 26 tonnes CO2e during manufacture) and zero carbon electricity is not expected in the UK until 2035.
A 15 minute city
On a positive note, The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission does promote a scheme which creates “a walkable ’15 minute neighbourhood’, where workplaces, key amenities, leisure and entertainment are all within walking distance means fewer trips in cars and lowers car ownership”.
The individual choice approach to car use does not work
However, ‘lower[ing] car ownership’ by enticing people away from car use is not enough. Research has shown that this “individual choice approach” has limited effect: Once residents have cars, they use them. In addition, any car ownership in a neighbourhood destroys facilities suitable for non-motorists. The aim must be for car free neighbourhoods, where cars have no place because the carbon footprints of motorists are planet destroying and their presence makes pleasant low-carbon living much more difficult for other residents.
Comments like “we installed three electric car charging points” show the Y+H Commission ether lack the knowledge of the climate damage from cars or the courage to point it out – possibly both.
Embodied carbon much too high
Embodied carbon in building, the greenhouse gases emitted as a result of construction, is now being recognised as a significant problem. (I have been raising this issue with York City Council for well over a decade.) It is mentioned on the Yorkshire and Humberside Climate Commission website:
“Towards Net Zero Embodied Carbon: Life cycle assessments will be undertaken during the detailed design stages to inform the selection of materials, reducing lifetime embodied carbon emissions. The project is targeting an embodied carbon footprint of 450 kgCO2/m2 for the homes and 550 kgCO2/m2 for the commercial properties on the site.”
This is reported under the heading “Sustainable Site Development”. Simple arithmetic shows the climate destroying nature of such building: Building a dwelling of 100m2 emits 45 tonnes CO2e during its construction. This is not “Sustainable Site Development”.
Emissions from food are large
A major report on land use and climate change says the West’s high consumption of meat and dairy produce is fuelling global warming.
No discussion of diet but …
There seems to be no discussion of diet on the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission website, although there is an entry about a project by Incredible Edible, The Incredible Farm Community Benefit Society, who have a 15 acre farm at Lumbutts village 2 miles from Todmorden. They say:
“We grow salad and veg in a huge custom built greenhouse, keep a nano herd of grass fed dairy cows for milk, cheese, meat and soil fertility, have planted a 500 fruit tree forest garden, keep poultry, teach and take volunteers. The farm is totally off grid and self-sufficient in electricity and water. We are expanding our veg growing onto more fertile land nearby.”
Even grass fed cows are bad for climate
However, even grass-fed cows produce large amounts of greenhouse gasses. See Grazed and Confused from the Food Climate research Network.
This report finds that better management of grass-fed livestock, while worthwhile in and of itself, does not offer a significant solution to climate change as only under very specific conditions can they help sequester carbon. This sequestering of carbon is even then small, time-limited, reversible and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions these grazing animals generate. The report concludes that although there can be other benefits to grazing livestock – solving climate change isn’t one of them.
What about permaculture?
However, Incredible Edible do have an important message about low carbon farming:
Our permaculture growing methods help to retain carbon in the soil and avoids the need for fertilisers based on climate damaging fossil fuels. Producing food locally avoids the greenhouse gas emissions which are associated with transport and packaging.
The Commission and current farming
Perhaps the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission will study and seriously promote the permaculture approach to farming, but the commissioner with any connection with food production is from the National Farmers Union, who represent current farming methods, where great changes are necessary. They oppose the Climate Change Committees call for lower meat consumption. Desmog reported:
A 2016 report by the Ethical Consumer Research Association, titled “Understanding the NFU an English Agribusiness Lobby Group,” described that the Union, for environmental campaigners particularly, has “developed a reputation of having hardened into an anti-environmental, free-market lobby group.”
Several of the groups are represented on the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission represent organisations that have interests that conflict with solutions to climate change. As mentioned, the National Farmers Union has a climate problem given agriculture’s large footprint.
The great and the good
The commissioners of the Y+H Climate Commission come from the “great and the good”: academics, local government politicians and officials, representatives of business – some with large climate impacts (e.g. INEOS, DRAX, Northern Gas Networks). None of the commissioners look like supporters of Extinction Rebellion.
Potentially, a promising commissioner is from The Carbon Literacy Project – “a national charity with a globally unique approach to tackling the climate emergency”. It’s website says
Carbon Literacy: “An awareness of the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities, and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions, on an individual, community and organisational basis.”
That’s something I tried 15 years ago with the Green Ration Book, a website which gives guidance on the carbon cost of everyday life by showing the greenhouse impact of individual items. It was based on the judgements a small panel of interested people after they looked at the available evidence.
The Commission should do something similar – but better with more resources and more publicity. However, is the Commission ready to tell truths which could disrupt the way we live our lives? I doubt.
The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission is unlikely to recommend policies, which are hard hitting enough for the present climate emergency.
3. Local Greenwash
The York Climate Commission
The York Climate Commission is made up of commissioners appointed by (or via) the Executive Member for Environment, Councillor Paul Widdowson. Its commissioners seem orientated towards business, with interests distinct from climate change. For example:
A Google search shows Nestle expressing concern about climate change and has plans to become net-zero. However, others note Nestle’s use of palm oil and the effect on deforestation. Many of Nestle’s products are based on dairy foods, one of the important causes of climate change. From their website: “Dairy is our biggest raw material by volume, with many milk and milk-derived ingredients used in our products.”
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation
An analysis of their website shows that around 2012, JRF had significant interest in the dangers of climate change. Since then interest has waned to zero in favour of pursuing economic growth – albeit growth which is meant to help the poor (through trickle down?). Most economic growth increases greenhouse emissions.
Biovale promotes our region “as a thriving centre for this new, bio-based economy and helps enterprise profit from its high-growth, future-proofed business opportunities”.
Rollitts acts on behalf of “developers, employers, funders, sub-contractors and consultants and have been involved in major construction projects throughout the whole of the Yorkshire region.” Construction and development are currently very polluting processes.
The University of York
The University of York has a very high carbon footprint. It attracts many students from overseas, who fly to and from York one or more times a year. Many of these are doing sub-graduate courses that could be done remotely or at home.
It’s building programme is creating buildings which cause large amounts of greenhouse gases which are emitted during construction. Ironically that may also be true of the building that houses the Environment Department.
First Group is also a member of the Commission.
The two other members of the Commission are from the Council, the Executive Member for the Environment and Climate Change, who may have appointed the commissioners, and the Head of Carbon Reduction, York Council staff.
This choice of members of the Commission is unbalanced. Is York Council diluting the commitments of York’s declaration of a climate emergency?
Driven largely by business interests and political expediency, the UK’s approach to climate change is not good enough at national, regional or local level.
It is mostly Greenwash.
Greta Thunberg says “claims that UK is a climate leader are ‘a lie’ “.
5. Closing tweets
TrackBack URL :