Larry Elliott writing in the Guardian yesterday reports that Gordon Brown is proposing a worldwide tax on banking transactions (The Torbin Tax) to fund not only the repayment of the debt that the banks have got us all in, but also to fund green technology transfer to help developing nations meet the challenges of a low carbon world.
The issues are real and chilling ( must see video) as reported on 22nd October this year and we are looking at a 4degC rise in world temperatures if we do nothing. Brown’s argument is bold and goes to the heart of the debate and why developing (poorer) nations are losing patience; the richer nations have spent years polluting and they now expect the poorer nations to restrict growth and foot the bill, this they say is unfair!
I find it hard to disagree with their argument, not least because low carbon technologies cost more and given the present financial crisis, poorer nations cannot afford them. It seems only right that we, the richer nations, should share the burden of this cost.
Elliott goes on to argue that the only pragmatic answer is clean coal, given that there is abundant supply of it, and he argues for technology transfer for its implementation. For me this misses the point. Yes coal may be pragmatic, but it is still worse than other solutions and any transfer of technology MUST include demand side reduction solutions both at a unit and city scale. New urban solutions for our growing cities that fundamentally re-look at how we live our lives and how we use energy.
If all we do is feed new development with slightly cleaner solutions, then we end up with the same old problems. We must fix the source of our problem and in parallel with providing solutions.
And so I bring you back to the need for Positive Infrastructure and Planet Positive Solutions both issues that we will debating during my upcoming visit to the WEF in Dubai next week.
Finally, I am beginning to have doubts about where my vote is going next year (UK elections). I was pretty much set on David Cameron and the conservatives, but given his latest bull*%$t on europe and Brown’s strong position and big ideas on issues such as these, I am truly beginning to waiver. My question is that given the enormity of the world problems who will be better placed at solving them; a Conservative governement fighting on the fringes of the EU or Labour from within its heart? - David, for goodness sake, please get your party’s act together or you just might blow it!
Apparently according to a new report by Ernst and Young (Radio 4 - Today Programme) for Transco it is feasible to have our gas network transporting at least 50% gas generated by waste from food and other products and this this would be more cost effective that integrating wind into our electricity network.
Fantastic…suddenly all of our biodegradable or burnable waste has a value!
This is the sort of thinking that we want if we are to make the changes that are needed and goes hand in hand with David Cameron’s call to upgrade our electricity infrastructure and the Government’s call to upgrade our IT networks so that they can work intelligently to optimise demand and can easily absorb any renewables that we produce at home.
This ties in very well with calls from Davos for investment into infrastructure. If we can link investment required to stave off a deeper recession into beneficial climate activities ( positive infrastructure) then perhaps something good will actually come out of this total mess that we have found ourselves in.
And if not….
1st February 2009
p.s. 20cms of snow outside our front door, the world momentarily transformed into a clean white peaceful place where all the cares of the past months can be briefly forgotten. What is it about snow that does this?
The debate rages on. Here are a few snippets
Mark Trexler writes- Given the clear potential of carbon offsets to contribute to climate change mitigation objectives, any argument that offsets should be discarded must demonstrate more than that carbon offset systems have not been perfectly implemented. If we are going to slow climate change, we need every tool at our disposal.
JF Mernard writes- Offsets are the life-blood, the ultimate tool inherited and offered to all participating citizens and stakeholders in our society to curb the effect of global warming on our planet. For that reason alone offsets shall be an ever-increasing share of all GHG policy frameworks as this war on our changing climate is taking place. Quite simply, no other equivalent exists.
Ward Crawford writes- The proposition should therefore be opposed, not because offsets are ineffective in reducing emissions, but because an admirable objective has not yet been implemented effectively.
James Emanuel writes; In conclusion, the use of carbon offsets achieves a benefit to the environment (the reductions of GHG emissions that wouldn’t otherwise occur) together with a benefit to the economy (access to lowest cost compliance with carbon constraints). It appears to be a win-win situation.
At their very hypothetical best, then offsets would still only be a “zero-sum” game rather than a reduction in emissions levels, and reductions are what are urgently needed.
Carbon offsets are also being used indiscriminately by corporations and governments as a means of justifying the development or expansion of carbon-intensive infrastructure that will lock us into future decades of high emissions levels.
KFJ writes - My major concern with carbon offsets is that businesses think they can buy their way out of the problem completely rather than grasping the nettle of their own emissions. Businesses that emit carbon seek a PR benefit (if voluntary) or an economic benefit (if part of a mandatory scheme). They basically want the problem to go away with a simple declaration of ‘carbon neutrality’. But there are not enough projects to meet demand, due presumably to lack of resources, so new voluntary ‘rating agencies’ (those mentioned in some responses here) are set up, which essentially are there to give backing to projects which otherwise would NOT get approved by the UN.
Ken - It occurs to me that this form of free market approach fails as a mechanism for reducing CO2 emissions–namely, it is, as far as I can see, impossible to verify. Nor is there any regulatory body responsible for following up. Finally, it moves the responsibility away from the political process
And then this one from KiwiBuzz….. My inclination is to vote yes. However, this leaves me in a quandary. The debate is based on the assumption that man-made greenhouse gases cause dangerous global warming. The evidence against this hypothesis gets stronger every day that the world temperatures do not increase above the 1998 peak and the definite cooling trend that has set in since 2002 continues. Most of the so-called evidence for manmade GW consists of the output of computer models that failed to predict this cooling trend. For that reason, and for many others, they are worthless. Evidence based on sunspots predicts continued cooling.
i) That offsetting is bad because it persuades companies not to reduce
ii) That offsetting cannot be policed properly and that the rules of additionality do not work
iii) That even if companies go to zero then that is not enough.
My comments as follows
i) All companies need to reduce and most companies now see the benefit of being responsible with their emissions not least because it keeps their costs down and the costs of offsetting down. If not it is in the power of the consumer to show their displeasure.
ii) We have a system, it is working in that it is encouraging companies to engage. Agreed, it is not perfect, but let’s work together to fix it to ensure we get rid of those carbon cowboys
iii) I agree, zero is not enough. Every company should go beyond zero to operate in a carbon negative business environment to become Planet Positive
I also note Kevin Smith’s concern over the building of ‘carbon intensive infrastructure’ and this blog shares his concerns. We need Planet Positive Infrastructure ( see previous blogs)
And as to KiwiBuzz…are there really people out there who still believe this stuff!!!!
10th December 2008
A New Urban Paradigm
By 2050 80% of the world’s population will live in or around cities and how we manage their development will have a massive impact on the planet and its resources.
The social, environmental and economic consequences of the development cycle are considerable and have a global impact and if we continue to use the same urban models that have been used for the past 100 years then our future demise is sealed; carbon dioxide levels will increase above 750ppm and we will pass the point of no return when negative feedback loops will accelerate global warming beyond our ability to control it.
The time has come to recognize that we need a new model for urban planning that is based on the development of positive infrastructure solutions and collaboration across all nations for the good of the planet.
Planet Positive Cities
As cities grow and new cities are developed so we need to generate new models that encourage and incentivise new positive development. A Planet Positive city is defined as a development that has a net positive impact on the climate and would lead to a new concept in urban design and twin cities.
The new model would achieve the following
- Reduced footprint
- Dedicated urban sinks around or distributed throughout the city that would provide the following
- Net carbon absorbers
- Water and waste processing
- Biodiversity and ecological capacity
- Leisure and well being
- Clean air lungs/climatic moderation
- Where land is unavailable then a twinned city relationship would be adopted by linking with a city/town in a poorer nation that contracts to provide matching environmental services that take the net impact beyond neutral to Planet Positive
What is Positive Infrastructure?
Positive infrastructure may be defined as follows:-
‘Infrastructure solutions that have a net positive impact and support mankind in their movement away from a resource consumptive life-style towards a one that reduces our resource dependency’
The theory looks fine but as I have laid out below, it is much harder to draw the line in practice, for instance;
- New wind farms that displace fossil fuelled power stations
- Waste to energy infrastructure
- Public transport investment
- Infrastructure upgrades including roads and water distribution systems (as long as not rebuilding flawed solutions)
- New communication systems (as long as they do not include energy intensive data centres)
Hard to fit – Positive locally but negative globally
- A new road where a road did not exist before (think of Africa)
- An airport that allows goods to reach isolated areas without the need for new roads
I include a more detailed list of positive examples at the end of this blog, but it quickly becomes clear that a strict definition is extremely difficult and that any definition must take into account regional priorities as well as broader social objectives.
And so it seems that we need a different yard stick that builds on the concept of environmental debt and surplus where a country with surplus may develop new infrastructure that increases net emissions but a country in debt must always take development decisions that decrease its overall eco-footprint. This concept could be taken even further to apply to creation of Planet Positive cities , the subject of my next blog.
I would be interested in your view on my list
My full list of Positive Infrastructure ( with thanks from my colleagues at the WEF)
- Optimizing low carbon logistics
- Optimizing existing Infrastructure
- Retrofitting and upgrading existing buildings., particularly in making them radically more resource efficient. (Residential/ commercial/mixed use etc)
- Improving Healthcare and Education facilities (and making them disaster-proof)
- Enhancing or restoring natural infrastructure such as flood plains, mangrove forests, watershed restoration and aforestation
- Energy efficient and decarbonized energy infrastructure: Renewable Energy sources such as wind parks, sensitive hydropower, utility grids that allow for feed-in and decentralized electricity generation.
- Avoiding new Roads, Airports and traditional Power Plant/ utilities
- Expanding Public/ Mass Transport
- Creating integrated utilities
- Creating sustainable waste management
- Optimizing Urban development (optimal density – about 150 people per hectare, residential/ work/ leisure/ pedestrian)
- Reducing the impact of the Supply Chain (Forest Stewardship Council, Low carbon life cycle material, Carbon positive data centres)
‘We cannot move to a positive future without revolutionizing construction’
During the forum the group had to answer two key questions
What is the impact of Construction on the state of the world and how has the economic crisis impacted this issue? and What should be done to improve the state of the world on Construction?
We started by reminding ourselves of the definition of the construction process; A cyclical activity being Planning – Design – Build – Use – Retrofit – Demolish – Recycle – and back again to planning.
Globally, the construction industry has a significant impact on the world economy, resource uptake and economic performance
- Up to 44% of world GDP
- Affects 40% of the global GHG emissions
- Affects 70% of cities GHG
- Consumes 12% of the world’s water
- Employ’s 10% of the world’s work force
In this context the answers to our questions took on a new importance and in response to the first question we concluded two principle outcomes.
The global financial crisis will have a major impact on the industry
Create a significant slow-down in private sector development and focus attention on short-term horizons.
Initiate a redirection of capital into public infrastructure in an attempt to initiate economic recovery. This must be Positive Infrastructure (i.e., infrastructure that does not lock us into resource consumptive life-styles but reduces our resource dependency)
The first conclusion was unsurprising but should ring alarm bells none the less for it is clear that the present momentum for green needs to be accelerated not slowed down.
The second conclusion is less obvious and provides us both an opportunity to totally rethink how we develop the built envoironemnt but also a massive challenge. How do we ensure governments take the opportunity to develop with the long term ‘positive infrastructure’ in mind rather than going for a short term fix?
It was clear that this process must begin by recognising the difference between good (net positive impact) and bad ( net negative impact ) infrastructure solutions. Our goal should be to encourage investment into Positive Infrastructure Initiatives that improve society and reduce global impact.
And so onto our second challenge - What should be done to improve the state of the world on Construction?
It is clear that the future depends on developing a sustainable vision for urban renewal and growth and that any future must be founded on a revolution within the construction cycle that is integrative and regenerative. Decision makers will need to plan at a macro and micro level, monitor and report against those plans whilst respecting limits and embracing opportunities.
What is needed is a clear set of guiding principles that may be embraced by planners across the world. Our initial thoughts on this were based on biomimicry
1. Enhances the systems of which it is part
2. Runs on clean, renewable energy
3. Recycles and reuses everything
4. Uses only the resources it needs (better than zero carbon - Planet Positive, water neutral)
5. Contributes to biodiversity and food security
6. Celebrates form and function in response to environmental forces
7. Makes the best use of local resources
8. Adapts and evolves with climate, economic and social change
9. Ensures human health and well being
10. Facilitates the effective movement of people and goods
And so we came up with 2 key questions for future debate
- What is positive infrastructure and how can we make sure investments will flow to positive, rather than negative infrastructure projects?
- Is it possible to create a set of guiding and binding principles that can be adopted by government and planners worldwide.
Guy Battle 18.11.08