Monday, 11 March 2013

Plan C blog

We hear a lot about Plan ‘A’ and Plan ‘B’ at the moment, as the downturn drags on. Plan A describes continuing austerity and Plan B (not to be confused with the successful band!) trumpets stimulus with, of course, the attendant increases in debt. Just now, with the UK, following France and the US, in losing its AAA credit rating the debate is intensifying in the run up to the budget next month. The official line is ‘stick to Plan A at all costs’. In fact, the debate in the UK has shifted to a more pessimistic note of whether or not to deepen and hasten the cuts.

But you could argue that Plan A and Plan B are two sides of the same coin, offering the same kind of progress, or lack thereof, through different means – if based on divergent economic philosophies. What people may prefer is a Plan ‘C’, with more fundamental re-thinking of what progress really means and how we achieve it, some clever alternatives based on pressing economic, social and environmental issues? Sustainable development provides us with underpinnings for such questioning. It focuses on intergenerational and intragenerational equity. It sets the stewardship of limit resources at the heart of the debate and seeks ways of co-operation ahead of exploitation and disproportional consumption.

May be sustainability offers a value as a source of important questions as much as it provides technocratic answers? It is easy to get sucked into detailed issues of low-carbon energy production or recycling – albeit important subjects (see the advice on this website) – without considering the bigger picture. As well as mastering the mass of information available, it is simply being involved in this debate that this site also tries to foster. This helps you to feel, and genuinely be, part of something important that affects us all.

We encourage you to get in contact with and preferably join or support local sustainability groups. There are many green business networks, sustainable/transition town initiatives, recycling schemes and school or college based projects. Let us know what you are doing, and what interests you. Tell us what’s going on out there (regardless of where you are) and how we either have helped or can help. Send us stories we can pass on. It is so encouraging for everyone else and provides a richness of practical detail too!

David Jackman

Friday, 8 March 2013

Cities lead the way

I read recently of the notion of London becoming separate from the rest of the UK, which tends to be rather jealous of its wealth and supposed privilege anyway, and govern itself as a city state – the Singapore of the West. In many ways this makes sense as London surely could hold its own as a global city, perhaps The global city.
When it comes to support for sustainability and international treaties, the cities of the world seem more nimble footed and, I understand, were far more pro-Kyoto than nation states. Since 2002, London has had its own Sustainable Development Commission (the LSDC) and on 30 January it launched its forth report on Quality of Life. This includes indicators on every aspect of sustainability from ecological footprint, bird populations and water consumption to volunteering, fuel poverty and housing affordability.  In terms of key environmental measurable, like air quality and carbon emissions, London has improved since 2009. But some economic indicators are unsurprisingly slightly down.

Other cities, Birmingham and Edinburgh, spring to mind in the UK, but there are many European and global examples, which have been able to unilaterally set sustainability measures and start up supporting schemes.

Perhaps the most interesting measure in the London survey is the falling level of democratic engagement expressed in voting. This significant fall could have many reasons but it highlights one of the main concerns with the overall notion that cities might be the more useful unit of global government than states.

Cities may have more coherent interests than the regions and are more easily organised. This shows up in their ability to ‘get up and go’ to support sustainability. But the concept of sustainability is based on equity and engagement. Larger states have to engage many more groups and balance a wide range of competing interests. They have to face the difficulties of spatial inequities and find ways of binding people together. This may make them (states) a bit sluggish at times but surely in sustainability mass co-operation is the key, bringing along the slowest if we can, rather than a few racing ahead?

David Jackman

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Flood warnings

The stream running through our garden flooded for the first time in 10 years. With over 250 flood warnings out in the UK I suspect we’re not alone in worrying about the rising waters. Fortunately our house is situated, sensibly, as old houses tend to be, above the flood plain on the higher ground of the river terrace. Many modern developments are much nearer major rivers, with or without levees, on land that was once supposed to flood. This cheaper flat land seemed a good place to build until recently. The folly of this disregard for nature is clear to see all over the country in TV pictures of homes now under water.

This recent downpour comes after the wettest summer I can remember; following a pretty wet summer last year and the year before. The problem is that the atmosphere has so much more energy to hold moisture meaning that more rain is inevitable. Sometimes the sun breaks through – remember the fear of a drought earlier in the year and the hosepipe bans of spring 2012?

The climate system’s need to disperse more energy also changes wind and pressure patterns so that these can become exaggerated and create more violent events – high winds, blizzards and hurricanes. We have seen some of these in the US recently and forecasters promise cold weather in a few weeks over here. That will bring a new round of meteorological headlines.

I can understand why some have a vested interest in denying climate change or those who want to maintain an air of scientific impartiality until the cause and effect links are proven, or not, beyond doubt. But it does seem likely that something is going on in our skies. Whether man’s activities are the major drivers of instability or this is a cyclical set of events doesn’t matter in principle (although it does limit the actions we take), the facts suggest that we need to be prepared to deal with more extreme climatic conditions. The repeated surprise of the media and the unpreparedness of local authorities will not wash.

It would be ‘nice’ to get away from the ‘climate change doubt’ and get on with joined up, long term strategies rather than piecemeal responses and knee-jerk technologies as we may well have seen in the craze for unsightly onshore wind farms. When I sit and watch the rain stream down the windows, as now, I wonder, may be the climate will be our most eloquent advocate for wholesale change?

David Jackman

Friday, 1 March 2013

Kyoto – rides again!

We should be celebrating the (last minute) revival of the Kyoto Protocol, signed recently by nearly 200 nations in Doha. The UN Convention on Climate Change – the only international agreement that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – will now run till 2020 when the Durban Platform should take up the strain. This depends on agreements being in place in time to bind both rich and developing nations in a global effort.

It was close, and talks in Doha over-ran, and still the two main emitters, the US and China did not buy into the process. Now Canada has ducked out and the whole thing is looking more fragile. That’s not to say that the Obama administration has not done a lot of good things on car emissions and funded developing world schemes, but the world is not operating as one – yet.

The statements from the closing session declared it unlikely that, on the current path, the world would be able to keep global temperatures from rising less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit from pre-industrial times, a central goal of the UN process.

Some walked away from the talks deeply disappointed, like the Foreign Minister of Nauru whose low-lying country may not get much passed 2020, and who was speaking for Pacific Island nations. Europe has gone further and faster but that is not enough on its own. I suspect that talks will continue behind the scenes in the margins of other debates perhaps. This is not on top of all politicians’ agendas right now – war and economics are in the forefront – but climate change awareness is growing as the issues remain.

It is likely by 2020 the rules of the game we now play by will have to change; meanwhile, we all need to keep the pressure up!

David Jackman

Being green pays!

Corporations often see being green as ‘soft and fluffy’; a cost not a benefit....
For four years now I have been analysing corporate governance with master’s students of Edinburgh University Business School and others universities around the world, including from the US and the Netherlands, for a US consultancy. The reports remain the property of the universities but a summary will be out soon and it makes interesting reading for us at green24.

It is only one element, and I’d be the first to be cautious about any set of data, but one side line of the survey – which looks at everything from compliance with governance codes to senior pay and board behaviour – is worth noting here if it is only in the small print elsewhere.

That is that by measuring data from the public reports and accounts from the FTSE 100 and Eurostoxx 50 Indices we have found a reasonable correlation or statistical relationship between the sustainability parts of the index – environmental responsibility, emissions data, community investment and such – and long term financial performance.

In brief, it appears that being green pays!

It should be noted that the financial return is seen in long-term return on assets, and not immediate profitability, but that is what you might intuitively expect and that is what shareholders often really want to see. We need to do more research in 2013 and extend our reach into Asia, as we are now doing, but it is a glimmer of an important argument that will help put to bed the old ‘business case’ requirement that is often used as a defence.

Correlation is not causation but it gives us a start!

David Jackman

Snowed in

Snow is gently fluttering down passed the window pane. The view is beautiful, the trees and hillsides shining in their white robes. Sheep sit and watch the icy skies, seemingly perplexed.

Somehow snowy weather seems all right in rural areas. Life goes on, pretty much unaffected. A tractor just passed by, as normal, and here 4x4’s are not the incongruous luxury they might be further south. The recycling van may not have made it up the valley, but the postman is made of tougher stuff. We cope.

In cities, however, it seems everything falls apart! The news is chock solid with stories of trains not running, planes not flying, schools closed and chaos on the roads. How can this be? We’ve had about two to three inches in most places. Accepted, South Wales has been badly hit, but for others the fall is not much more than usual at this time of year. I am sure we had more in my youth – and still went to school!

Part of the reason is that many of our support systems we rely on are so highly tuned – a bit like racehorses and not an old packhorse. Nowadays risk is measured to the endth degree so there is no slack, no waste, no unnecessary cost. And we can see why. But the schedule is so tight that if snow comes along at Heathrow beyond the expected norm and planes have to take more time to land, delays and cancellations lead to knock-on chaos.

I am currently working for the UK on new International Standards (ISOs) for ‘Smart City infrastructure’ to help manage all this stress and make cities more sustainable. We call this making cities ‘smarter’. These Smart City standards will aid planners and city mangers to cope with new crises, including climatic events, and reduce their emissions and energy needs. Standards involve countries coming together and this in itself is a good thing in tackling global problems. They are also designed to reduce risks and provide comparable, standardised indicators so we can measure what is going on.

There is a long way to go and the UK is playing its full part. Maybe we will not collapse under the weight of a few inches of snow forever.

This initiative is being led by France and Canada. Any input is always welcome.

David Jackman
Chair of BSI TC 268 mirror committee (sustainable communities)