Category Archives: Energy

UK Government publishes ‘The Clean Growth Strategy’

DBEIS sets out “an ambitious blueprint for a low carbon future”

Clean growth now at the heart of the UK’s Industrial Strategy

November 22nd 2017

As part of its legal requirements under the Climate Change Act of 2008, the UK Government published a new Clean Growth Strategy last month, designed to “grow our national income while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.” In its Executive Summary, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) says: “Achieving clean growth, while ensuring an affordable energy supply for businesses and consumers, is at the heart of the UK’s Industrial Strategy. It will increase our productivity, create good jobs, boost earning power for people right across the country, and help protect the climate and environment upon which we and future generations depend.” [1]

The UK’s legal requirements under the Climate Change Act 2008

The Climate Change Act of 2008 committed the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 80% by 2050 when compared to 1990 levels, to be achieved by setting five-year caps on emissions known as carbon budgets. The Clean Growth Strategy is designed to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, covering the years 2023 to 2027 and 2028 to 2032 respectively. The fifth carbon budget was set in July 2016 and requires a 57% average reduction in carbon emissions across the UK, compared to the 1990 baseline. The 165-page strategy document sets out a total of 50 key policies and proposals designed to meet those targets.

The Government says that, in the context of meeting the UK’s legal requirements under the Climate Change Act, its approach to reducing carbon emissions has two guiding objectives: firstly, “to meet our domestic commitments at the lowest possible net cost to UK taxpayers, consumers and businesses”; and secondly, “to maximise the social and economic benefits for the UK from this transition”. The document also says that, in order to meet these objectives, “the UK will need to nurture low carbon technologies, processes and systems that are as cheap as possible.” It continues:

“We need to do this for several reasons. First, we need to protect our businesses and households from high energy costs. Second, if we can develop low cost, low carbon technologies in the UK, we can secure the most industrial and economic advantage from the global transition to a low carbon economy. Third, if we want to see other countries, particularly developing countries, follow our example, we need low carbon technologies to be cheaper and to offer more value than high carbon ones.”

The 50 policies and proposals cover all sectors that are responsible for carbon emissions. The sectors and policies are as follows:

• Business and Industry (25% of the UK’s total carbon emissions): 9 policies;
• Transport (24%): 10 policies;
• Power (21%): 6 policies;
• Natural Resources (15%): 7 policies;
• Homes (13%): 11 policies;
• Public Sector (2%): 3 policies.

Further policies include: setting up a Green Finance Task Force that will provide recommendations on how to deliver the public and private investment needed to meet the UK’s carbon budgets, and “working with businesses and civil society to introduce a ‘Green Great Britain’ week to promote clean growth.”

On transport, the policies are partly a response to the seven-year legal battle over the UK’s failure to meet EU targets for reducing nitrogen dioxide emissions, as we discussed in a recent article – see: ‘Air Pollution in the UK – Seven years of illegal NO2 emissions’. They include: ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040; supporting the take-up of ultra low emission vehicles; investing in the infrastructure to support electric vehicle charging networks; accelerating the uptake of low emission taxis and buses; establishing a new Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles; and investing in research and innovation in low carbon transport technology and fuels.

Improving energy efficiency

With regard to business and industry, the key policies include: a package of measures to support businesses in improving their energy efficiency; establishing an industrial energy efficiency scheme to help large companies reduce their energy use; publishing industrial decarbonisation and energy efficiency action plans for seven of the most energy-intensive industrial sectors; developing a strategic approach to greenhouse gas removal technologies; supporting the recycling of heat produced in industrial processes; phasing out the installation of high carbon forms of fossil fuel heating in new and existing businesses currently off the gas grid, starting with new build; and investment in research and innovation in energy, resource and process efficiency. The policies also include “demonstrating international leadership in carbon capture usage and storage by collaborating with our global partners and investing up to £100 million in leading edge technologies and industrial innovation to drive down costs.” The Government’s ambition is to have the option of deploying carbon capture usage and storage at scale in the UK, “and to maximise its industrial opportunity.”

The Clean Growth Strategy also sets out proposals to improve the energy efficiency of residential properties and to roll out low carbon heating, including: building and extending heat networks across the country; phasing out the installation of high carbon fossil fuel heating in new and existing homes currently off the gas grid, starting with new homes; improving the standards of new boilers; and investing in low carbon heating by reforming the Renewable Heat Incentive. On reducing the public sector’s carbon emissions, the policies include setting tighter targets for central government for 2020, and introducing a voluntary target of a 30% reduction by 2020 for the wider public sector.

“Making sure our energy is affordable”

On power, the Government says it attaches great importance “to making sure our energy is affordable”. With that aim in mind, it has commissioned an independent review into the cost of energy led by Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at Oxford University, which will recommend ways “to deliver the government’s carbon targets and ensure security of supply at minimum cost to both industry and domestic consumers.” [2] The Government says it wants to reduce energy costs for households and businesses by a number of measures, including smart meters and a draft bill that will require Ofgem to impose a cap on standard variable and default tariffs across the whole energy market. The proposals on power also include: phasing out the use of coal by 2025; delivering new nuclear power through Hinkley Point; improving the route to market for renewable technologies such as offshore wind; and investing around £900 million in research and innovation, including research on bioenergy, and methods to further reduce the cost of renewables, such as innovation in offshore wind turbine blade technology and foundations.

“Enhancing the benefits and value of our natural resources”

The Clean Growth Strategy includes seven policies and proposals designed to “enhance the benefits and value of our natural resources.” The first is a new system of future agricultural support, given the UK’s imminent departure from the EU. The new system will focus on “delivering better environmental outcomes, including addressing climate change more directly.” The second proposal concerns the Government’s aspirations regarding tree planting, as mentioned in a recent article (see: ‘Future of EU Nature Directives still uncertain following appointment of new Environment Secretary’). The plan is to establish “a new network of forests in England including new woodland on farmland” and to fund “larger-scale woodland and forest creation, in support of our commitment to plant 11 million trees, and to increase the amount of UK timber used in construction.” A third proposal is for a £10 million capital grant scheme to support peat restoration.

Three policies are concerned with waste management. Firstly, the Government has set a target of zero avoidable waste by 2050, which will “maximise the value we extract from our resources, and minimise the negative environmental and carbon impacts associated with their extraction, use and disposal.” Secondly, it aims to publish a new Resources and Waste Strategy, which will make the UK “a world leader in terms of competitiveness, resource productivity and resource efficiency.” Thirdly, it also wants to explore new and innovative ways to manage landfill emissions. A further proposal is to invest £99 million in innovative technology and research for agri-tech, land use, greenhouse gas removal technologies, and waste and resource efficiency.

Progress on cutting carbon emissions

The first chapter of the Clean Growth Strategy is titled ‘UK Leadership and Progress’. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) says UK emissions fell by 6% in 2016 compared to the year before. Overall, it says, emissions have been cut by 42% since 1990 while the economy has grown by 67%, demonstrating that progress towards a low carbon economy has not come at the expense of economic growth:

“Some of the largest falls in emissions since 1990 have been seen in the power sector, where emissions have fallen by almost 50% as the UK has switched away from coal and increased the share of renewables and gas in electricity generation. In 2016 nearly 25% of the UK’s electricity generation was provided by renewables, and on 7 June this year renewable energy sources supplied over 50% of UK electricity for the first time in history.”

There have also been significant reductions in waste and industry, “driven partly by a change in the UK’s economic structure from manufacturing to services but also by a large reduction in waste going to landfill.” Looking at the six sectors over the 25-year period from 1990 to 2015, the emission reductions break down as follows: natural resources by 50%; power by 49%; business and industry by 47%; the public sector by 40%; homes by 20%; and transport by 2%, giving an average reduction overall of 38%.

The falling costs of renewables

The DBEIS says progress has been aided by the falling costs of many low carbon technologies globally, “coupled with accelerating momentum in the deployment of the technologies we need to reduce emissions, as a result of early policy action by the UK, other governments, and substantial public and private sector investment.” It notes, for example, that the cost of solar cells has fallen by 80% since 2008, “meaning we are now beginning to see solar deployment in the UK without government support.” On wind power, it notes that the cost of onshore wind has fallen by 50% since 2009, while the cost of offshore wind has fallen even faster: “In the UK, government investment has helped to deliver a 50% drop in costs [in offshore wind] over just the last two years.” The result of this global investment is that “wind and solar energy are increasingly cost competitive with coal and gas in many countries.”

“An enormous economic opportunity”

On leadership, the DBEIS says that the UK played a central role in securing the 2015 Paris Agreement, “in which, for the first time, 195 countries (representing over 90% of global economic activity) agreed stretching national targets to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees. The actions and investments that will be needed to meet the Paris commitments will ensure the shift to clean growth will be at the forefront of policy and economic decisions made by governments and businesses in the coming decades. This creates enormous potential economic opportunity…”

The DBEIS argues that capturing a part of the global opportunity while continuing to drive down the UK’s own carbon emissions could provide “a real national economic boost”. It estimates that the UK’s low carbon economy could grow by 11% per year between 2015 and 2030, four times faster than the rest of the economy. It also estimates that a low carbon economy could deliver “between £60 billion and £170 billion of export sales of goods and services by 2030”. Technological innovation has helped to create new jobs, industries and companies in the UK, it says. The Office for National Statistics estimates that there are now more than 430,000 jobs in low carbon businesses and their supply chains, “employing people in locations right across the country”. The DBEIS says the innovation and investment needed to further reduce carbon emissions can create more “high-value” jobs as well as export opportunities.

“Leaving the environment in a better state”

Summarising the Government’s next steps, the DBEIS says that many of the future actions it will be taking will be set out in its 25 Year Environment Plan, which will be designed to be a sister document to the Clean Growth Strategy, and in its long-term strategy for the UK’s transition to zero road vehicle emissions (see: ‘Air Pollution in the UK – Seven years of illegal NO2 emissions’). “Taken together,” it continues, “these set out the Government’s approach to fulfilling its commitment to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited. Along with the Industrial Strategy White Paper, to be published later in 2017, these will form a critical part of our future progress.” [3]

RSPB welcomes the PM’s pledge on the natural environment

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said in a blog post that he was particularly heartened to see that clean growth is now being placed at the centre of the UK’s industrial strategy, and to see the Prime Minister’s acknowledgement in her Foreword to the Strategy that “we cannot sacrifice our natural environment”. [4] He said the RSPB’s engagement in the climate change debate is focused on the impact of climate change on the natural world, “and how we can ensure that actions to tackle climate change do not exacerbate wildlife loss.” In this context, he continues, “it was pleasing to see that the Clean Growth Strategy acknowledges the cost to nature of climate change and of poor infrastructure planning. The strategy also picked up on the climate benefits and other public benefits that nature can provide.” He then sets out three priority areas where the RSPB will be working with government “to ensure good outcomes for wildlife and the climate”. These are wind energy, land use, and bioenergy.

Offshore Wind: The dangers in “a drive towards lowest-cost”

On the proposal for a significant increase in offshore wind, Martin Harper says it is crucial that developments are sited carefully in order to avoid conflict with the seabirds and marine mammals that live off our coasts. “A drive towards lowest-cost could mean that wildlife is side-lined in site selection processes as priority is given to ‘easy’ near-shore locations,” he warns. He also expressed concern over onshore wind projects on remote Scottish islands, which include “some of the most important places in the UK for wildlife, with internationally significant populations of birds and sensitive habitats like peat lands.” On the other hand, he says the RSPB supports investment in floating offshore wind: “With its ability to be located in deeper water, away from bird breeding and feeding areas, we see considerable potential for large amounts of clean energy to be generated in harmony with nature,” he says.

Planting trees in the wrong places “can have a harmful effect on wildlife”

On land use, he welcomes the Government’s pledge to design a new system of agricultural support that places the natural environment at its core, and also welcomes a number of measures that will help conservation such as peat restoration, efficient chemical fertiliser use and soil management. On tree planting however, he is more cautious, stressing that while planting the right trees in the right places can benefit wildlife, planting trees in the wrong places can have a harmful effect. This is an issue that we have discussed in recent articles. A report on the causes of wildlife decline in the UK says that one of the drivers of change is forestry, which has had a positive and a negative effect on wildlife. While an increase in afforestation has increased the habitat for species using coniferous plantations and woodland edges, this has also reduced the habitat that plantations replace, particularly lowland heaths and upland habitats – see: ‘The State of Nature 2016 – New report examines the causes of wildlife decline in the UK’. Concerns have also been expressed about a consultation on lowering the threshold for afforestation projects, which could see trees planted in the wrong places – see: ‘Environmental Impact Assessments and Afforestation Projects’ in the article ‘EU Nature Directives “fit for purpose,” says Commission’.

Bioenergy: A limited role?

On a related note, Martin Harper says the RSPB has had concerns for several years over the role of biomass in our energy system. “Driving energy from organic matter (bioenergy) in an environmentally friendly way is a tricky one,” he says. “Felling trees, or converting land to crops, can harm special places for wildlife as well as, perversely, having negative climate impacts.” He says that, while the strategy downplays the role of biomass for electricity production, it gives biomass “an absolutely central role” in plans for decarbonising the industrial sector. As mentioned above, the policies on business and industry include publishing industrial decarbonisation and energy efficiency action plans for seven of the most energy-intensive industrial sectors, while the policies on power include investing around £900 million in research and innovation, such as research on bioenergy. Martin Harper says there is a large body of evidence to show the Government that bioenergy has a limited role, and the RSPB is planning to point this out while encouraging a focus only on truly sustainable supplies. He also says there are environmental risks in generating heat by wood burning and by using purpose-grown crops such as maize.

Money Matters

To achieve its ambitions, the Government plans to spend around £14 billion in total, according to the figures presented alongside the various proposals, including investment in research and innovation. Perhaps it is not surprising then that the first key policy is to “develop world-leading Green Finance capabilities,” including the establishment of a Green Finance Task Force that will provide recommendations on how to deliver the public and private investment needed to meet the UK’s carbon budgets. The Clean Growth Strategy acknowledges the challenge of managing the impact of leaving the EU, but deals only with regulatory details, and it fails to mention the uncertainty surrounding the economic impact. Will the finance necessary to fulfil its ambitions be forthcoming, or will the Clean Growth Strategy, or parts of it at least, remain a wish list?

A clue to answering this question is provided by a recurring emphasis in the strategy, namely: “Every action that we take to cut emissions must be done while ensuring our economy remains competitive.” A recent article in the Independent highlights this very point. Ian Johnston, Environment Correspondent, describes a government plan to give the UK’s most energy-intensive industries a £130 million exemption from the climate change levy because having to pay extra “can undermine competitiveness”. [5] He quotes from a document produced by DBEIS in July this year, which explains the reasoning for the exemption. It states:

“The Renewables Obligation (RO) is one of the policies that Government has put in place to incentivise investment in renewable electricity generation. The costs of these schemes are borne by electricity bill payers. For energy-intensive industries (EIIs), this can undermine competitiveness, as competing businesses in other countries may not be subject to similar energy and climate change policy costs. The Government has sought to lessen the cost disadvantage faced by EIIs as a result of energy and climate change policy costs, relative to their EU and international competitors, through a compensation scheme. A move to an exemption scheme is proposed in order to increase the certainty and effectiveness of support to EIIs.” [6]

Environmental campaigners have said the result of this policy means that some of the biggest polluters will pay less, while ordinary customers will end up making up the difference. Ian Johnston quotes Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Climate and Energy Policy at WWF-UK, who said the decision would reward firms that are contributing more than most to global warming: “It will add money to household bills and heap costs onto small businesses,” he said. “These costs would otherwise have been borne by large businesses, but now will be redistributed to be paid for by those who may already be struggling with high energy costs. Whilst energy intensive industries are important to our economy, they also contribute huge amounts of greenhouse gases to UK emissions. It is only right that they pay their fair share to support the building of the cleaner, greener energy infrastructure that we need for our future.”

A further example of the Government’s emphasis on competitiveness is its treatment of tidal power, which receives only the briefest of mentions in the Clean Growth Strategy. On page 99, we read: “We want to see more people investing in solar without government support and are currently considering options for our approach to small-scale low carbon generation beyond 2019, and will provide an update later this year. More nascent technologies such as wave, tidal stream and tidal range, could also have a role in the long-term decarbonisation of the UK, but they will need to demonstrate how they can compete with other forms of generation.” A review into tidal power, published earlier this year, recommended that a small-scale pilot project at Swansea Bay should commence as soon as possible, but negotiations were still continuing over the costs of energy delivery, the amount of subsidy required, and the environmental impact of the project: see ‘Tidal lagoon review says UK should set up a Tidal Power Authority’. From the Clean Growth Strategy, we gather that tidal power is basically too expensive an option at present to be taken seriously.

From this economic perspective then, it is somewhat surprising to see that the Government wants to demonstrate “international leadership in carbon capture usage and storage by collaborating with our global partners and investing up to £100 million in leading edge technologies and industrial innovation to drive down costs.” As we reported in 2015, a carbon capture and storage facility had been under development at Peterhead in Scotland by Shell and the energy company SSE, who said this would be the world’s first full-scale carbon capture and storage project: “Up to ten million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions could be captured from the Peterhead Power Station and transported by pipeline offshore for long-term storage deep under the North Sea” – see the article: ‘Carbon capture and storage – CCSA publishes report’. The companies were looking for government funding to develop a commercial scheme. However, in November 2015, the Government announced the withdrawal of funding for the CCS Commercialisation Competition which had seeded the project. Following the announcement, Shell issued a press release which said that the Peterhead CSS project would not now proceed. It seemed then that carbon capture was another technology to be unceremoniously ditched following a spending review.

In conclusion, given the Government’s track record of funding renewable technologies, and given the current uncertainty over the economic impact of EU withdrawal, the Clean Growth Strategy, though undoubtedly ambitious, does raise two questions: one, whether the funding necessary to achieve its ambitions will be forthcoming; and two, whether the pledge to “leave the environment in a better state” will be outweighed by the drive to enforce competitiveness by choosing the lowest-cost option. [7]

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Peterhead Power Station, Aberdeenshire, seen from the sea © Copyright James Allan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. In October 2015, Shell announced it would no longer be pursuing a carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility at Peterhead, following the Government’s decision to withdraw funding for CCS commercialisation projects. See Shell’s press release: ‘Peterhead CCS Project announcement’.

Notes

[1] See The Clean Growth Strategy: Leading the way to a low carbon future, HM Government, 12/10/2017, available as a PDF document from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/clean-growth-strategy.

[2] On his website, Dieter Helm says: “Professor Dieter Helm is an economist specialising in utilities, infrastructure, regulation and the environment, and concentrating on the energy, water, communications and transport sectors primarily in Britain and Europe. He is a Professor at the University of Oxford and Fellow of New College, Oxford. In December 2015, Dieter was reappointed as Independent Chair of the Natural Capital Committee.” Dieter Helm’s review of energy costs was published on October 25th 2017. The Executive Summary states: “This review has two main findings. The first is that the cost of energy is significantly higher than it needs to be to meet the government’s objectives and, in particular, to be consistent with the Climate Change Act and to ensure security of supply. The second is that energy policy, regulation and market design are not fit for the purposes of the emerging low-carbon energy market, as it undergoes profound technical change.” See http://www.dieterhelm.co.uk.

[3] A 25 year plan for the natural environment was proposed by Defra (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) two years ago, as discussed in the ENA article, ‘Defra responds to recommendations of Natural Capital Committee’. The pledge to ‘leave the environment in a better state’ is an extended wording of the Environment Agency’s motto, “Creating a better place”.

[4] Martin Harper, ‘The new Clean Growth Strategy: for nature and for the climate?’, RSPB, 19/10/2017. Retrieved from: http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/archive/2017/10/19/the-new-clean-growth-strategy-does-it-fulfil-its-potential.aspx. The Prime Minster’s Foreword says: “This Government is determined to leave our natural environment in a better condition than we found it. Clean growth is not an option, but a duty we owe to the next generation, and economic growth has to go hand-in-hand with greater protection for our forests and beaches, clean air and places of outstanding natural beauty.”

[5] Ian Johnston, ‘UK’s most energy-intensive companies to get £130m exemption from climate change fund’, The Independent, 20/07/2017. Retrieved from: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/uk-energy-intensive-pollution-companies-climate-change-fund-exemption-targets-regulation-global-a7851326.html.

[6] ‘Moving from compensation to exemption from the costs of the Renewables Obligation for energy-intensive industries’, DBEIS Impact Assessment, 19/07/2017. Retrieved as a PDF document from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/630246/EII_Exemption_RO_and_FIT_IA_Final_Stage_V1.6_3_.pdf.

[7] Writing a few days before the strategy’s publication, Jonathan Church, climate lawyer at Client Earth, says that the plans to reduce emissions are nine months overdue. He goes on to point out past failures to comply with the legal requirements of the Climate Change Act: “The difference between the emissions reductions needed to hit the fourth carbon budget, and the reductions that current policies will produce, is a legal failure and a clear breach of the Act,” he says. “The continued success of the Climate Change Act depends on the government complying with sections 13 and 14 of the Act. These require a plan that sets out a clear intended route to meeting the carbon budgets that have been set. In this respect, the 2011 Carbon Plan – the predecessor of the Clean Growth Strategy – was inadequate.” A significant problem in the past has been the Government’s failure to track progress against the plan, he says. Looking ahead, he says the proof of the pudding will be in the eating; “not just on arrival, but how it guides and drives government policy-making in the years ahead. When it comes to reviving the Climate Change Act, publication of the Clean Growth Strategy – after a long, long, long wait – is only the end of the beginning.” See: Jonathan Church, ‘UK Clean Growth Strategy is imminent – is this the end of the beginning?’, Client Earth, 09/10/2017. Retrieved from: https://www.clientearth.org/uk-clean-growth-strategy-is-imminent-is-this-the-end-of-the-beginning/.

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Air Pollution in the UK – Seven years of illegal NO2 emissions

UK Government publishes its latest plans to tackle air pollution

But compliance with legal limits is still a distant prospect

August 21st 2017

The UK Government has published its latest plans to tackle air pollution, following a long-running legal battle over its failure to comply with EU standards for air quality. The plans were published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Transport on 26th July and focused on curbing roadside nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations. In a press release, the Government announced that a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy will be published next year which will outline its plans to tackle other sources of air pollution. [1] The press release highlights the Government’s intention to end the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, whilst the current strategy on curbing NO2 levels places the onus on local authorities to produce action plans.

Client Earth v. UK Government: A seven-year legal battle

The UK Plan for Tackling Roadside Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations is the latest development in a seven-year legal battle between the UK Government and the environment law firm Client Earth, which began in 2010 as a collaborative venture with the campaign group Clean Air in London. [2] In an initial response to the latest plan, Client Earth has described it as lacking in urgency and apparently “little more than a shabby rewrite of the previous draft plans.” [3] Anna Heslop, one of the firm’s air quality lawyers, said: “Successive governments have failed to protect us from illegal air quality. We’ve had to return repeatedly to court to challenge the Government on its weak and incoherent air quality policies and yet, seven years on, we are still having to fight to protect people’s health.” [4]

Should the lawyers take further court action, it will be the eighth time that Client Earth has taken the UK Government to court over its plans to curb NO2 emissions. In summary, the legal saga is as follows:

• 2011: High Court
• 2012: Court of Appeal
• 2013: UK Supreme Court
• 2014: European Court of Justice
• 2015: UK Supreme Court
• 2016: High Court
• 2017: High Court

What follows is the background to the latest plans. This legal saga can best be summarised as a history of missed deadlines, deliberate procrastination, and persistence on the part of the UK Government in its refusal to comply with EU law. Its air quality plans have repeatedly been deemed unlawful by the courts, and the Treasury has been consistent in having the final say, placing economic and political considerations above public health.

January 2010: UK misses deadline for legal limits of NO2 emissions

The legal battle began in 2010 as a response to the UK’s failure to meet the requirements of the EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive which came into force in 2008. The 2008/50/EU Directive forms part of a body of legislation which sets out health-based standards and targets for a number of pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, benzene, and fine particles known as particulate matter. Under EU law “a limit value is legally binding from the date it enters into force subject to any exceedances permitted by the legislation.” [5] The limit value for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which came into force on January 1st 2010, is 40µg/m3 (40 micrograms per cubic metre), taken as the average measure over a twelve-month period. A recent report on the implementation of the Directive says that NO2 levels at the most polluted traffic site in London (Marylebone Road) were well above 100μg/m3 in the period 2003 to 2009. [6] In 2013, NO2 annual mean concentrations of 85μg/m3 were recorded. In short, the levels have been well over the legal limit of 40µg/m3, which should have been met by the start of 2010.

The impact of diesel

A recent study by the Royal College of Physicians says that every year in the UK “around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution” [7] Air pollutant emissions from road traffic are generally held to be the main source of the problem, with diesel vehicles in particular being the main source of NO2 emissions. The irony here is that in 2001 the Labour Government adopted measures to boost the sale of diesel vehicles on the grounds that this would cut carbon emissions and help to reduce the effects of climate change. Martin Goodman reports that the Government published guidance on NO2 levels in 2004, in which it claimed “the UK Air Quality Strategy aims to achieve its objectives earlier than the EU has set.” However, this optimism was based on old data which showed a 37% fall in NO2 emissions in the decade up to 2000, with the expectation of a further 25% fall by 2010. The calculations did not foresee the impact of the increased use of diesel. [8]

2011–2012: High Court judges say enforcement of legal requirement is a matter for the European Commission

The legal case first appeared before the High Court in 2011, with Client Earth launching a judicial review of the failure by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to comply with the legal limits for NO2 emissions as set out in the Directive. The judge presiding over the case found that the Government was indeed in breach of a legal requirement, but declined to rule on any remedy, saying that enforcement was a matter for the European Commission. In May 2012, Client Earth appealed to the Court of Appeal, but the Court upheld the decision of the High Court judge. [9]

2013: UK Supreme Court seeks advice from European Court of Justice

In 2013, however, Client Earth submitted an appeal to the newly formed Supreme Court, and the court found in Client Earth’s favour. The Court ruled that the UK Government was in breach of a legal duty to comply with NO2 limits in 16 cities and regions, including Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, as well as London. As for what action should be taken, the Court then sought advice from the European Court of Justice regarding the provisions of the Air Quality Directive and the role of national courts in providing appropriate remedies.

2014: European Court of Justice considers “the longest-running infringement of EU law in history”

The European Court of Justice considered a body of evidence in compiling its advice, including the available data on NO2 levels. Martin Goodman says scientists from King’s College London set up a monitoring station in Oxford Street which recorded an average level of 135μg/m3 in 2014, whilst a daytime reading peaked at 463μg/m3. As for the Government’s response: “Lawyers from the European Commission told the European judges that they were considering perhaps the longest-running infringement of EU law in history.” [10]

UK Government hopes to reach compliance by 2025… or 2030…

The provisions of the Air Quality Directive say that member states can apply for an extension of up to five years to meet limiting values in a specific zone, subject to an assessment by the Commission. [11] However, the Government had already missed its 2010 deadline and said to the EU that it was unable to meet the next deadline of January 1st 2015. It was hoping to reach compliance by 2025, but then admitted that the target for NO2 levels in London, Leeds and Birmingham would not be met until 2030. [12] The European Court of Justice delivered its ruling in November 2014. The judgement said that the UK was legally obliged to mitigate air pollution and was “wholly adrift of all procedures to fit such compliance to the given deadlines. Furthermore, it must produce a plan to keep the period in which NO2 pollution was breaking legal limits ‘as short as possible.'”

April 2015: UK Supreme Court orders Government to take urgent action on air pollution

The decision was sent back to the UK Supreme Court, which delivered its verdict in April 2015: “The Supreme Court unanimously orders that the Government must submit new air quality plans to the European Commission no later than 31st December 2015.” [13] The Supreme Court also demanded urgent action on the part of the Government with regard to NO2 levels, without setting a deadline for compliance. However, the parties were granted permission to return to the High Court for clarification of the order, with particular regard to the terms ‘urgent’ and ‘as soon as possible’ and how they were to be understood. A press release from Client Earth said: “The Supreme Court ruling means the Government must start work on a comprehensive plan to meet pollution limits as soon as possible. Among the measures that that it must consider are low emission zones, congestion charging, and other economic incentives. Client Earth is calling for action to clean up the worst polluting diesel vehicles, including through a national network of low emission zones.” [14]

December 2015: the UK Government continues to defy EU law on NO2 limits

Defra published a draft plan in September 2015. In response, Client Earth released a series of press statements which criticised the Government for a lack of joined-up thinking, saying that the Department for Transport and DECC (the now defunct Department for Energy and Climate Change) had failed to make any assessment of the impact on air quality when making major policy decisions, whilst Defra’s draft plans, published as a consultation document, did not meet the demand for immediate action:

“The Supreme Court ordered Liz Truss to come up with a plan to achieve legal levels of air quality as soon as possible. Instead, even under the Government’s own projections, many cities in the UK will still have illegal levels of diesel fumes until 2020 and beyond. In London the problem is even worse – Defra projections say the legal levels of air pollution will not be reached until 2025. The plans contain only one new national measure: ‘clean air zones’ which would restrict older vehicles entering the most polluted city centres – but leaving it up to overstretched and underfunded local authorities to implement them. We therefore don’t have any idea if or when these clean air zones will ever materialise.” [15]

Treasury reduces Defra’s plans for Clean Air Zones

Following the consultation period, the Government’s plans were finally published on 17th December 2015. The plans repeated much of what was said in the draft. So the Government had responded to the Supreme Court ruling by producing an air quality plan by the end of the year deadline, but the plan was to reach compliance with the EU’s limit values for NO2 by 2025. Client Earth said this amounted to a total defiance of the Air Quality Directive, the European Court of Justice, and the UK Supreme Court. According to Martin Goodman, government ministers had been advised by Defra’s head of air quality to implement clean air zones, which would bring forward compliance with EU NO2 limits “by directly removing the dirtiest vehicles from hotspot areas and by encouraging people to swap polluting vehicles for less polluting ones.” [16] However, the Treasury reduced Defra’s plans for 16 clean air zones outside of London to 5 (Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton), and also blocked an increase in charges for driving in city centres. [17] Client Earth responded to the plan’s publication with an announcement that the Government would face further legal action. The firm’s principal air quality lawyer, Alan Andrews, said: “The Government seems to think that the health of people in cities like Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol is less important than that of people in London. While London gets a clean air zone covering all vehicles, Birmingham gets a second class zone and Derby and Southampton third class, while other areas including Manchester and Liverpool are left out. We all have the same right to breathe clean air.” [18] The new legal challenge was launched in March 2016 when Client Earth lodged papers at the High Court, seeking a judicial review of the Government’s plans. [19]

April 2016: MPs declare UK air pollution to be a “public health emergency”

In April 2016, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee, which oversees the work of Defra, published a report on the state of air pollution in the UK and the Government’s attempts to tackle it, declaring that the situation amounted to a “public health emergency.” [20] The cross-party group of MPs called on the Government to introduce a scrappage scheme for old diesel vehicles which would target those older than ten years of age and offer drivers financial incentives to trade them in. The Efra report also says that UK ministers should argue robustly with the EU to set lower limits for nitrogen oxide emissions from new vehicles, as the EU’s ‘real world’ tests, to be implemented from 1st September 2017, would set initial emission limits that are twice as high as previous laboratory test levels and set limits into the 2020s which are 50% higher. [21] The report also reiterates Client Earth’s criticism of the lack of joined-up thinking from government departments: “Despite mounting evidence of the costly health and environmental impacts of air pollution, we see little evidence of a cohesive cross-government plan to tackle emissions.” The report says that the inter-ministerial ‘Clean Growth Group’, which is meant to be co-ordinating efforts to tackle air pollution, is seen as secretive and “does not publish information on its meetings, outcomes or action plans.”

May 2016: London Mayor Sadiq Khan joins Client Earth’s legal challenge

In May 2016, newly-elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced his intention to submit statements and evidence in Client Earth’s forthcoming legal case at the High Court. Speaking to the Guardian’s environment correspondent Damian Carrington, he said: “The government’s current air quality plan with respect to London is based on the very limited ambition of the previous mayor to tackle air pollution and isn’t enough to protect Londoners’ health.” [22] Earlier that month, the Guardian had revealed that Boris Johnson, Sadiq Khan’s predecessor, had commissioned a report on air pollution in London but the report had remained unpublished since its completion in 2013. The report showed that 433 schools in London are in areas that exceed legal limits for NO2 pollution and that 80% of those schools are in deprived areas. [23] On taking up his post as mayor, Sadiq Khan set out new plans to tackle London’s air pollution problem, which included doubling the size of the ‘Ultra Low Emission Zone,’ which Boris Johnson had planned to implement by 2020, and retrofitting 1,000 more buses with cleaner technology. Older, dirtier diesel vehicles will be charged £12.50 to enter the low emission zone. Sadiq Khan said to the Guardian: “It’s clear we need to speed up our efforts so I’m calling on government to match my new level of ambition for London and to work with me to improve our city’s dirty air and to make sure we get within legal limits much sooner – before the current target of 2025.” [24]

November 2016: Judicial Review finds Air Quality Plan is based knowingly on flawed data

Client Earth’s case was heard at the High Court in October 2016. In delivering the Court’s ruling, Mr Justice Garnham agreed with Client Earth that the Environment Secretary had failed to take measures that would bring the UK into compliance with the law “as soon as possible.” The judgement, published on 2nd November, said that the Government’s 2015 Air Quality Plan failed to comply with the Supreme Court ruling or relevant EU Directives and found that the Government had erred in law by setting compliance dates based on an over-optimistic modelling of pollution levels, using lab tests which they knew to be flawed. Instead of identifying measures that would achieve compliance as soon as possible, “it identified measures which, if very optimistic forecasts happened to be proved right and emerging data happened to be wrong, might achieve compliance. To adopt a plan based on such assumptions was to breach both the Directive and the Regulations.” [25] The judge said it was remarkable that the Government had acknowledged that its plan was built around a forecast based on figures which emerging data was undermining and that “if higher, more realistic, assumptions for emissions are made, the number of zones which will not meet the limit value in 2020 increases substantially.” [26]

Evidence suggests the Government’s timetable is motivated by the prospect of EU fines

The judge also commented on ministerial correspondence which suggested “that a principal driving factor in selecting 2020 was not the obligation to remedy the problem as soon as possible but to remedy it in time to avoid EU infraction proceedings.” [27] The correspondence said: “In developing potential measures for the plans we have used projected exceedances in 2020 as the basis for defining the worst areas. This is based on our understanding that 2020 is likely to be the earliest the EU will move to fines.” The judge said that, while there can be no objection to a member state having regard to cost when choosing between two equally effective measures, or when deciding which organ of government should pay, he rejected “any suggestion that the state can have any regard to cost in fixing the date for compliance or in determining the route by which the compliance can be achieved where one route produces results quicker than another.” [28] He continued: “In those respects the determining consideration has to be the efficacy of the measure in question and not their cost. That, it seems to me, flows inevitably from the requirements in the Article to keep the exceedance period as short as possible.”

Back to the drawing board

The ruling was welcomed by Client Earth whose air quality lawyer Alan Andrews said in a press statement: “We need a national network of clean air zones to be in place by 2018 in cities across the UK, not just in a handful of cities. The Government also needs to stop these inaccurate modelling forecasts. Future projections of compliance need to be based on what is really coming out of the exhausts of diesel cars when driving on the road, not just the results of discredited laboratory tests.” [29]

For the Government, it was a case of ‘back to the drawing board.’

UK Government is ordered to produce a draft plan by 24 April 2017…

The deadlines for the Government were delivered by Mr Justice Garnham at the High Court on 21st November. The judge, rejecting the Government’s suggested timetable of September 2017 to produce a final plan, ordered the Government to produce a draft plan by 24th April 2017 and a final one by 31st July 2017. The judge also requested that the Government publish the technical data on which it was basing its plans, and gave Client Earth permission to return to the High Court should there be any further problems with the draft plan. Responding to the ruling, Alan Andrews said that a total of 37 out of 43 zones in the UK had illegal levels of air pollution, and argued that a national network of clean air zones must be part of the Government’s plans, which meant far more than the six which were currently planned. [30]

But on 21 April 2017 the UK Government wants an extension

Following the PM's decision to call a general election on 8th June, the Government then made a last-minute attempt to delay publication of the draft plan, seeking 30th June and 15th September as the new deadlines. The application to the High Court was submitted late on Friday 21st April after the court had closed, and shortly before the original deadline of 4pm on Monday 24th April. Mr Justice Garnham ordered a hearing into the application for Thursday, 27th April. At the hearing, the Government claimed that "purdah rules" meant that they could not publish the plans until after the general election, but was forced to concede that the delay could have an impact on the implementation of measures to reduce air pollution "as soon as possible." Client Earth argued that air pollution was a matter of public health not politics. The judge agreed, but accepted that purdah rules would affect the local elections on 4th May. He ordered the Government to produce the plans by the new deadline of 9th May. The 31st July deadline remained in force. [31]

May 2017: Draft plans are “weak and incoherent”

The draft plans were finally published for consultation on 5th May, while the results of the local elections were still being counted. Client Earth’s CEO James Thornton gave an immediate response, saying the plans were weak and incoherent, and that the UK would still be faced with illegal air quality for years to come under the proposals: “We fail to see how the non-charging clean air zones, proposed by the Government, will be effective if they don’t persuade motorists to stay out of those areas. The Government seems to be passing the buck to local authorities rather than taking responsibility for this public health emergency,” he said. He also noted that the Government had failed to make any commitments to a diesel scrappage scheme. [32]

A flawed consultation

The draft plans were accompanied by a public consultation which ran from 5th May to 15th June. But on 31st May Client Earth said that the consultation did not include measures which the government’s own technical data showed were the best way to bring down air pollution as soon as possible. In particular, the evidence showed that a network of clean air zones which charged the dirtiest diesel vehicles for entering the most polluted areas of the UK would be the most effective solution, but the draft plans did not set this out as a proposal. Client Earth’s lawyers had written to Defra seeking improvements to the draft, but Defra had refused to modify the consultation. James Thornton said the consultation was flawed and that Client Earth would be seeking a ruling from the High Court on this issue. “The government’s plans and consultation do not match what its own evidence says needs to happen,” he said. “If the evidence shows that taking certain measures will be necessary to tackle the public health crisis of polluted air, then the plans and associated consultation needs to make that clear.” [33]

July 2017: Back to the High Court

A hearing at the High Court was set for Wednesday 5th July. Mr Justice Garnham ruled that the draft plan in itself was not unlawful, but suggested that the final plan could well be open to legal challenge if it did not deal with some of the concerns presented by Client Earth. [34] The judge also stated that any alternative measures to meet air quality limits would have to be equally effective or more effective than a clean air zone that charged polluting vehicles for entering.

The final plan was published on 26th July.

A “highly localised” problem, says Government

We return now to this latest plan, the UK Plan for Tackling Roadside Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations. In its press release, the Government’s use of statistics reduces the problem of air pollution to a relatively minor proportion of the country’s roads. It says that NO2 levels have decreased by 50% in the last 15 years, but 4% of Britain’s major roads (81 out of 1,800) are due to breach legal pollution limits for NO2, including 33 outside of London. Consequently, the Government’s press release describes NO2 pollution as a highly localised problem and places the burden on local authorities to sort this out: “Due to the highly localised nature of the problem, local knowledge will be crucial in solving pollution problems in these hotspots,” it says. [35]

Local authorities must take “robust action”

The Government says it will be providing towns and cities with £255m to implement local plans. Local authorities will be asked to produce initial plans within eight months and final plans by the end of 2018. Local councils “with the worst levels of air pollution at busy road junctions and hotspots must take robust action,” with the aim of delivering roadside NO2 compliance “in the fastest possible time.” In addition to the £255m implementation fund, the Government has also announced a new Clean Air Fund, the details of which will be announced later this year. The aim of the Clean Air Fund is “to support improvements which will reduce the need for restrictions on polluting vehicles.” Local authorities will be invited to bid for funds to carry out these improvements. The measures could include reducing congestion by changing road layouts or removing traffic lights and speed humps; upgrading bus fleets with new low emission buses or retrofitting older buses with cleaner engines; encouraging the uptake of ultra low emission vehicles; and introducing concessionary travel schemes and new park and ride services. A consultation is expected in the autumn to gather views on measures to support those affected by local plans, such as a targeted scrappage scheme for car and van drivers.

Charging polluting vehicles should be a last resort, says Government

The Government says local authorities should only consider restrictions on polluting vehicles if their action plans are insufficient to ensure legal compliance, and charging should only be considered as a last resort. In addition, “restrictions or charging on polluting vehicles should be time-limited and lifted as soon as air pollution is within legal limits and the risk of future breaches has passed.”

£2.7bn to improve air quality

The Government says it is committing £2.7bn in total to reducing vehicle emissions and improving air quality, including investments in the development and manufacture of ultra low emission vehicles, and a £100m Clean Bus Technology Fund grant scheme to fund new buses and retrofitting older buses, £40m of which was being made available immediately. A ring-fenced Air Quality Fund of £100m has been allocated to Highways England to help improve air quality on the national road network as part of the Government’s Road Investment Strategy. The fund will be available to 2021 and an article in the Independent reveals how Highways England may spend part of the money, following the publication of its air quality strategy. [36]

Highways England’s air quality strategy, published on 2nd August, says “emissions from diesel vehicles are a significant contributor to the poor air quality at the roadside” and contributes around 77% of the NO2 close to the motorway network. [37] The agency is investing in a three-year programme from 2015 to 2018 which will deliver around 50 continuous monitoring stations across the road network to provide real time air quality information. It is also exploring the possibility of using physical barriers to pollution by testing a a new polymer material with the potential to clean the air. If the tests are successful, it will consider using the material to build canopies which would cover stretches of its road network. The agency says it started trialling a physical air quality barrier in 2015 which covered a 100-metre stretch of the M62, “initially 4 metres high and raised to 6 metres in early 2016.” It then carried out a trial of a barrier incorporating an innovative polymer material with the potential to absorb NO2. The strategy document says: “We are using these trials to investigate if barriers can help contribute to improving air quality for our neighbours. The results from the monitoring of such trials will help us understand if this has been a success with the potential to implement barriers on our network. We are also investigating if we can reduce the costs to construct a canopy, which is a tunnel-like structure designed to prevent vehicle emissions reaching our neighbours, to make this a viable solution.”

The agency has also set a target of putting a charging point for ultra low emission vehicles every 20 miles on 95% of the road network. However, according to the Independent, the Automobile Association has expressed concern over the pressure a nation of electric cars would place on the National Grid, with a warning “it would have to cope with a mass switch-on after the evening rush hour,” whilst other estimates have suggested around 10 new power stations would need to be built to deal with the increased demand. [38]

The breakdown of the Government’s £2.7bn is detailed in its press release. [39]

Client Earth seeks urgent clarification on the Government’s plan

Reactions to the Government’s latest plans have been overwhelmingly critical. Client Earth’s CEO James Thornton issued a quick response, describing them as little more than a shabby rewrite of the previous draft plans, as mentioned above. “This plan is, yet again, a plan for more plans,” he said. “The Government is passing the buck to local authorities to come up with their own schemes as an alternative to clean air zones which charge the most polluting vehicles to enter our towns and cities. Yet Defra’s own evidence shows that charging clean air zones would be the swiftest way to tackle illegal levels of pollution.” [40] He highlighted the lengthy timetable for local authorities to develop their plans, the lack of attention to devolved regions, and described the 2040 diesel and petrol ban as a diversion because it failed to deal with the immediate problem of NO2 levels.

Last week, Client Earth wrote to Defra seeking urgent clarification on the plans. In particular, the letter asks for clarity on the guidance given to local authorities concerning how they will evaluate the best ways of bringing air pollution down as soon as possible, “as well as how ministers will ensure that air quality limits are met across England.” [41] Client Earth is also seeking clarity on how Defra will assess plans from the 23 local authorities and how quickly this will be done.

What about the devolved regions?

The law firm has also written to the devolved governments of Wales and Scotland, seeking clarification on their plans. Writing in theHolyrood Magazine, Liam Kirkaldy reports that there are currently 38 Pollution Zones in Scotland, which councils have said are at risk of dangerous levels of air pollution. [42] The number has risen from 35 in 2015. Client Earth has warned that “unless ministers take tougher action then Aberdeen and Edinburgh will not meet legal limits until 2020, and Glasgow will not comply until 2024.” The Scottish Government has published a proposal to trial a first Low Emission Zone in one Scottish city, and Client Earth questions how this will help reduce dangerous levels elsewhere. In a letter to the Scottish Government, the lawyers have asked for “further information on how limit values will be met in the shortest time possible in all parts of Scotland.”

Plan criticised by local authorities

The Government’s plan has been criticised by local authorities, politicians, environmental campaigners, and health experts. According to the Guardian, the leaders of Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Southampton, Leicester and Oxford city councils have written to the Environment Secretary Michael Gove, calling for urgent legislation and a comprehensive scrappage scheme to encourage people to give up diesel vehicles. [43] The plan proposes a limited version of a scrappage scheme targeted at those who most need support, such as people on lower incomes or those living in the neighbourhood of a clean air zone. The letter says that the “updated clean air plan, while indicating long-term ambition, still lacks some specific actions that would enable us to meet the legal limits and establish safer air sooner rather than later.” The article by Rowena Mason and Damian Carrington says that Sheffield Council has called the report “woefully inadequate,” with Jack Scott, cabinet member for transport, reportedly saying he was “highly sceptical that the Government’s announcement even meets their legal duties on air quality.”

Ban on diesel is “highly symbolic”

BBC News reports that Liberal Democrat and former energy secretary Ed Davey described the lack of a scrappage scheme as a “shameful betrayal” of diesel car drivers and said it showed “the utter lack of ambition” in the plan, whilst London Mayor Sadiq Khan said people in London were suffering right now because of air pollution and can’t afford to wait. [44] Sue Hayman, the shadow environment secretary, told the Guardian that here had already been “seven years of illegal air pollution under this Conservative government, who have only acted after being dragged through the courts.” [45] Speaking to Ian Johnston, environment correspondent for the Independent, Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate and energy at WWF-UK, said the proposed ban on petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040 might sound good but will end up being meaningless as drivers will be switching to electric vehicles in any case. “The Government’s been failing to comply with this law for seven years,” he said, “and then is setting itself a target so far in the future that it will be delivered even if the Government did nothing.” [46] Professor Alastair Lewis, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at York University, made a similar comment, describing the ban as “highly symbolic”: “Given the rate of improvement in battery and electric vehicle technology over the last 10 years, by 2040 small combustion engines in private cars could well have disappeared without any Government intervention,” he said.

Doctors demand a “more robust response to this public health emergency”

According to the Guardian, senior doctors specialising in child health have also expressed their disappointment at the failure to take more decisive action. [47] Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said there was indisputable evidence demonstrating the tragic effects that air pollution has on the development of the lungs and hearts of children. “Having been told to go back to the drawing board so many times, that the Government’s final air quality plan still lacks sufficiently strong measures to clean our air is frankly inexcusable,” she said. Professor Jonathan Grigg, from the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, also said more urgent action was needed: “The 2040 target means that several generations of children will suffer the long term consequences of inhaling sooty particles and oxides of nitrogen,” he said. “The Government needs to act now, with a faster and more robust response to this public health emergency.”

Other commentators have pointed to the lack of attention to other sources of air pollution. Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst, said the Government’s plan did not address pollution from construction, farming and gas boilers. [48] Professor Alastair Lewis, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at York University, told the Independent: “There still remain many other urban sources of pollution not only from transport, but also heating, construction, domestic emissions, and external sources of pollution that drift into cities from outside, most notably from the agricultural sector. Some other urban sources of pollution are even on an upwards trend, most notably from wood burning stoves.” [49]

Plan criticised by transport unions

Unions representing the car manufacturing sector have expressed concern over the potential impact on employment when conventional vehicles are phased out. Speaking to the Guardian, Tony Burke, assistant general secretary of Unite, said: “The announcement has wide-ranging implications for the UK economy and future employment prospects of hundreds of thousands of skilled workers. We are calling for a national debate embracing employers, unions and ministers.” [50] And unions representing rail workers have also condemned the Government’s plan, pointing to the recent decision of the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to abandon plans to electrify parts of the rail network. Speaking to the Independent, Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said the proposed ban on petrol and diesel vehicles “exposes the rank hypocrisy of their decision to shelve long-planned rail electrification works. Puffed up news announcements about plans that are a generation away will not mask the reality of scrapped modernisation programmes on our railways in the here and now,” he said. [51]

Environment Secretary responds: “It’s up to local councils to do the hard work,” he says

The Environment Secretary Michael Gove responded to some of these criticisms on the Today programme on BBC Radio Four. [52] On charging motorists to enter clean air zones, he said the idea had been rejected and that it was up to local authorities to come up with imaginative solutions. “I don’t believe that it is necessary to bring in charging, but we will work with local authorities in order to determine what the best approach is,” he said. He described charging as “a blunt instrument,” saying he would prefer to use “a series of surgical interventions.” “That’s both fairer to drivers and also likely to be more effective, more quickly in the areas that count,” he said. On the idea of a scrappage scheme for old diesel vehicles, he said he had no ideological objection to the idea but insisted it was up to local councils to do the hard work and put them forward. “Everyone acknowledges that scrappage schemes in the past have been poor value for money,” he said. “Essentially they pay people for something they are already going to do.”

But speaking for Client Earth, air quality lawyer Anna Heslop said the plan would fail without a national network of clean air zones, which the Government’s own evidence showed would be the most effective option. “We will be holding the Government to account on this,” she said. “They have been in breach of these limits for seven years, and we will continue to do that.” [53]

European Commission: The Final Word?

Whilst the Government’s air quality plan shifts the burden of responsibility onto local authorities, its press release also places part of the blame for rising NO2 levels on the EU. It states: “The UK is one of 17 EU countries breaching annual targets for nitrogen dioxide, a problem which has been made worse by the failure of the European testing regime for vehicle emissions.” Given the fact that the Government was aware of the flawed data in its projections of NO2 emissions, as mentioned above, one can only describe this comment as somewhat hypocritical. It is also ironic given the fact that in February 2014 the European Commission began infringement proceedings against the UK for its failure to reduce NO2 levels. The EC issued a “letter of formal notice” to the UK Government, which is the first stage in a process that could culminate in the imposition of fines by the European Court of Justice. [54] And in February this year, the EC issued the UK with a final warning to comply with air quality laws that have been breached for the last seven years. [55] In a press release, the EC said NO2 emissions were over the legal limit in 16 air quality zones in the UK, including London, Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow. According to BBC News, Alexander Winterstein, speaking on behalf of the EC, was asked whether the UK would remain bound by any legal proceedings after leaving the EU. “For as long as the UK is a member of the European Union, rights and obligations apply,” he said. [56] As mentioned above, evidence submitted in court has suggested that the Government’s timetable on this issue is motivated by the prospect of EU fines, rather than the need to comply with a legal requirement in as short a time as possible, and the latest plan does little to suggest otherwise.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Hope Street, Glasgow © Copyright Thomas Nugent and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The caption says: “According to Friends of the Earth, this is the most polluted street in Scotland for nitrogen dioxide, resulting from vehicle exhaust fumes.” In 2016. the nitrogen dioxide level at Hope Street, Glasgow, was an average of 65µg/m3. See ‘Scotland’s Most Polluted Streets Revealed – 5 New Pollution Zones Declared’, Friends of the Earth Scotland press release, 15/01/2017. Accessed from: https://foe.scot/press-release/scotland-s-most-polluted-streets-revealed-5-new-pollution-zones-declared/.

Notes

[1] ‘Plan for roadside NO2 concentrations published’, UK Government press release, 26/07/2017. Accessed from: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/plan-for-roadside-no2-concentrations-published.
[2] See Martin Goodman, ‘An Air That Kills’, in Client Earth: Building an ecological civilisation, Martin Goodman and James Thornton, London: Scribe Publications, 2017.
[3] ‘Gove falls at first hurdle on air pollution, say environmental lawyers’, Client Earth press release, 26/07/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/gove-falls-first-hurdle-air-pollution-plans-environmental-lawyers/.
[4] Quoted by Ian Johnston in ‘Why the Government’s plan to ban petrol and diesel cars may not achieve anything’, The Independent, 26/07/2017. Accessed from: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/petrol-diesel-car-ban-government-air-pollution-2040-may-not-achieve-anything-environment-a7860971.html.
[5] ‘Air Quality Standards’, European Commission, last updated 22/09/2017. Accessed from: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/quality/standards.htm.
[6] Implementation of the Air Quality Directive. A study for the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. Nagl, C., Schneider, J., and Thielen, P. April 2016. Accessed as a PDF from: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/578986/IPOL_STU(2016)578986_EN.pdf.
[7] Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution, Royal College of Physicians, February 2016. Available as a PDF from: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution.
[8] Ibid: see [2].
[9] For a summary of the steps leading up to the UK Supreme Court ruling in 2015, see The UK Supreme Court ruling in the ClientEarth case: Consequences and next steps, Client Earth, September 2015. Accessed as a PDF from: https://www.documents.clientearth.org/wp-content/uploads/library/2015-09-17-the-uk-supreme-court-ruling-in-the-clientearth-case-consequences-and-next-steps-ce-en.pdf.
[10] Ibid: see [2].
[11] Ibid: see [5].
[12] As reported by Martin Goodman: see [2].
[13] Ibid: see [12]. For the judgement, see ‘R (on the application of ClientEarth) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Respondent)’, Supreme Court Judgements, 29 April 2015. Accessed as a PDF from: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2012-0179-judgment.pdf.
[14] ‘UK Supreme Court orders Government to take “immediate action” on air pollution’, Client Earth press release, 29/04/2015. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/uk-supreme-court-orders-government-take-immediate-action-air-pollution/.
[15] ‘UK Ministers facing new legal action over air pollution’, Client Earth press release, 14/09/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/uk-ministers-facing-new-legal-action-over-air-pollution/. See also the earlier statements: ‘Government Ministers ignoring ruling on air pollution’, Client Earth press release, 11/09/2015, at https://www.clientearth.org/government-ministers-ignoring-ruling-on-air-pollution, and ‘Government releases air pollution plans’, Client Earth press release, 12/09/2015, at https://www.clientearth.org/government-releases-air-pollution-plans/
[16] Ibid: see [2].
[17] Evidence of the Treasury’s involvement emerged at a hearing at the High Court in October 2016. See: ‘Government denied clean air zones to dangerously polluted UK cities’, Client Earth press release, 26/10/2016. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/government-denied-clean-air-zones-dangerously-polluted-uk-cities/.
[18] ‘”Arrogant” UK Government response to air quality will face court challenge’, Client Earth press release, 17/12/2015. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/arrogant-uk-government-response-to-air-quality-will-face-court-challenge/.
[19] ‘ClientEarth takes government back to court over killer air pollution’, Client Earth press release, 18/03/2016. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/clientearth-takes-government-back-court-killer-air-pollution/.
[20] Air Quality, House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, 27 April 2016. Accessed as a PDF from https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmenvfru/479/479.pdf . For a summary, see Damian Carrington, ‘MPs: UK air pollution is a “public health emergency”‘, The Guardian, 27/04/2016, at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/27/uk-air-pollution-public-health-emergency-crisis-diesel-cars.
[21] Ibid [20], Paragraph 43. The EU’s decision to implement ‘real world’ tests was announced in a press release in February 2016. See: ‘Vehicle emissions in real driving conditions: Council gives green light to second package’, European Council press release, 12/02/2016. Accessed from: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/02/12-vehicle-emissions-in-real-driving-conditions-2nd-package/. The European Commission’s regulations on vehicle emissions are summarised in ‘Air pollution from the main sources – Air emissions from road vehicles’ at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/sources/road.htm. The EC says: “To deal with high on-road emissions from passenger vehicles, where a significant discrepancy with the laboratory testing has been confirmed in recent years, the Commission has developed the Real-Driving Emissions test procedure, which will apply from 1 September 2017.” On emission limits, the EC says: “Euro 5 and 6 Regulation 715/2007/EC sets the emission limits for cars for regulated pollutants, in particular nitrogen oxides (NOX, i.e. the combined emissions of NO and NO2 ) of 80mg/km.” Part of the problem of setting emission limits is the availability of accurate data on ‘real world’ driving conditions. However, an article in the Guardian which appeared shortly before the Efra report reported that “the most comprehensive set of data yet published” showed that “97% of all modern diesel cars emit more toxic nitrogen oxide pollution than the official limit when driven on the road.” See Damian Carrington, Gwyn Topham and Peter Walker, ‘Revealed: nearly all new diesel cars exceed official pollution limits’, The Guardian, 23/04/2016. Accessed from: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/apr/23/diesel-cars-pollution-limits-nox-emissions. The Guardian report says that the new data followed the publication earlier in the week by the Department for Transport of emissions results for 37 vehicles, “all of which emitted more NOX on the road than the official limit – but the new data covers more than 250 vehicles in more stringently standardised road conditions. The data was collected and published by testing specialists Emission Analytics and is available at http://equaindex.com/.
[22] Damian Carrington, ‘Sadiq Khan joins air pollution court case against UK government’, The Guardian, 26/05/2016. Accessed from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/26/sadiq-khan-joins-air-pollution-court-case-against-uk-government.
[23] Adam Vaughan and Esther Addley, ‘Boris Johnson “held back” negative findings of air pollution report’, The Guardian, 17/05/2016. Accessed from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/17/boris-johnson-held-back-negative-findings-of-air-pollution-report.
[24] Ibid: see [22].
[25] Paragraph 86 in ‘Approved Judgment of the High Court: ClientEarth (Claimant) v Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defendant)’, Citation Number: [2016] EWHC 2740, Case Number: CO/1508/2016, 02/11/2016. Accessed as a PDF from: https://www.documents.clientearth.org/wp-content/uploads/library/2016-11-02-high-court-judgment-on-clientearth-no-2-vs-ssefra-on-uk-air-pollution-plans-ext-en.pdf.
[26] Ibid [25], Paragraph 85.
[27] Ibid [25], Paragraph 66.
[28] Ibid [25], Paragraph 50.
[29] ‘ClientEarth wins air pollution case in High Court’, Client Earth press release, 02/11/2016. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/major-victory-health-uk-high-court-government-inaction-air-pollution/.
[30] ‘High Court gives UK Government 8 months to draw up fresh air quality plan,’ Client Earth press release, 21/11/2016. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/high-court-gives-uk-government-8-months-draw-fresh-air-quality-plan/.
[31] The procrastination episode is detailed in a string of press releases from Client Earth. See:
(a) ‘UK Government makes last-ditch bid to delay essential clean air plans’, Client Earth press release, 25/04/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/uk-government-makes-last-ditch-bid-delay-essential-clean-air-plans/.
(b) ‘High Court orders UK air pollution hearing’, Client Earth press release, 25/04/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/high-court-orders-air-pollution-hearing/.
(c) ‘High Court rules air pollution plans must be published before General Election’, Client Earth press release, 27/04/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/judge-refuses-uk-government-permission-delay-air-quality-plan-til-general-election/.
The UK Government chose not to appeal the High Court ruling. See: ‘Government will not appeal High Court ruling on air pollution plan deadline’, Client Earth press release, 02/05/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/government-will-not-appeal-high-court-ruling-air-pollution-plan-deadline/.
[32] ‘UK Government releases ‘weak’ air quality plans’, Client Earth press release, 05/05/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/uk-government-releases-weak-air-quality-plans/.
[33] ‘ClientEarth challenges UK government’s air pollution consultation’, Client Earth press release, 31/05/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/clientearth-challenges-uk-governments-air-pollution-consultation/.
[34] ‘High Court judgment on air pollution a “shot across the bows” of government’, Client Earth press release, 05/07/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/high-court-judgment-air-pollution-shot-across-bows-government/.
[35] Ibid: see [1].
[36] Grace Rahman, ‘Motorways could be covered with large tunnels to trap pollution’, The Independent, 03/08/2017. Accessed from: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/pollution-motorway-tunnels-cover-roads-air-quality-highways-england-a7874221.html.
[37] Highways England Air Quality Strategy, 02/08/2017. Available as a PDF from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/highways-england-air-quality-strategy. The agency also says it has previously trialled paint that ‘eats’ oxides of nitrogen alongside the road network.
[38] Rob Merrick, ‘Petrol-diesel car ban: Government plan dismissed as “smokescreen” after key air pollution policies dumped’, The Independent, 26/07/2017. Accessed from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/petrol-diesel-car-ban-government-air-pollution-2040-policies-michael-gove-environment-groups-deaths-a7860361.html.
[39] Ibid: see [1].
[40] ‘Gove falls at first hurdle on air pollution, say environmental lawyers’, Client Earth press release, 26/07/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/gove-falls-first-hurdle-air-pollution-plans-environmental-lawyers/.
[41] ‘ClientEarth demands urgent clarification on UK government’s air quality plans’, Client Earth press release, 16/08/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/clientearth-demands-urgent-clarification-uk-governments-air-quality-plans/.
[42] Liam Kirkaldy, ‘ClientEarth calls for clarity on Scottish Government air pollution plans’, Holyrood Magazine, 03/08/2017. Accessed from: https://www.holyrood.com/articles/news/clientearth-calls-clarity-scottish-government-air-pollution-plans. In an earlier press release, Client Earth said the Government’s air quality plan “fails to ensure proper measures will clean up illegal pollution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” and that it would be raising the lack of detail about the devolved regions at the High Court hearing on 5th July 2017. See: ‘UK Government has a duty to protect all UK citizens from pollution’, Client Earth press release, 03/07/2017. Accessed from: https://www.clientearth.org/uk-government-duty-protect-all-citizens-air-pollution-environmental-lawyers/.
[43] Rowena Mason and Damian Carrington, ‘Government’s air quality plan branded inadequate by city leaders, The Guardian, 26/07/2017. Accessed from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/26/governments-air-quality-plan-is-cynical-headline-grabbing-say-critics.
[44] ‘Diesel and petrol car ban: Clean air strategy “not enough”‘, BBC News, 26/07/2017. Accessed from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40731164.
[45] Ibid: see [43].
[46] Ian Johnston, ‘Why the Government’s plan to ban petrol and diesel cars may not achieve anything’, The Independent, 26/07/2017. Accessed from: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/petrol-diesel-car-ban-government-air-pollution-2040-may-not-achieve-anything-environment-a7860971.html.
[47] Ibid: see [43].
[48] Ibid: see [44].
[49] Ibid: see [46].
[50] Ibid: see [43].
[51] Ibid: see [46].
[52] For a summary, see [38].
[53] Ibid: see [38].
[54] ‘Environment: Commission takes action against UK for persistent air pollution problems’, European Commission press release, 20/02/2014. Accessed from: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-154_en.htm. The Commission gave the UK two months to respond before raising the issue with the European Court of Justice, but Client Earth reported in September 2015 that the case was on hold pending the conclusion of the Client Earth case (see [9]).
[55] ‘Commission warns Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom of continued air pollution breaches’, European Commission press release, 15/02/2017. Accessed from: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-238_en.htm.
[56] ‘Air pollution “final warning” from European Commission to UK’, BBC News, 1151/02/2017. Accessed from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-38980510.

Tidal lagoon review says UK should set up a Tidal Power Authority

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project should begin as soon as possible as a “pathfinder project,” says the Hendry Review

But negotiations continue over the ‘green subsidy’ and the environmental impact

January 25th 2017

In March 2015, we published an article on a company’s plans to build a series of six tidal lagoons in the UK. At the time, the company (Tidal Lagoon Power) was awaiting a decision from the Planning Inspectorate regarding planning consent for the first in the series, Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. The planning application was then in the final stages of the National Infrastructure Process, according to which the relevant Secretary of State is the ultimate decision maker on all national infrastructure applications for development consent. The Swansea Bay project was approved by the Planning Inspectorate on March 10th 2015 and its recommendations were passed on to the then Energy Secretary Ed Davey, who had three months to reach a decision whether the project should go ahead. [1]

Tidal lagoons have been in the news again recently with a debate in Parliament in December and this month’s publication of an independent report on the feasibility and practicality of tidal lagoons as a strategic choice for UK energy policy. So, almost two years on from the Planning Inspectorate’s decision, what has been happening to the plans?

Planning permission is granted…

As we entered May 2015, Ed Davey had yet to reach a decision on the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project, at which point the decision was taken out of his hands following a general election and a Cabinet reshuffle. Amber Rudd was appointed as the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and gave the project her approval on 9th June 2015, just within the three-month deadline. The news was welcomed by the Welsh Government, Swansea Council, environmentalists including Friends of the Earth (Cymru), and the CEO of Tidal Lagoon Power, Mark Shorrock.

But negotiations continue over the ‘green subsidy’

However, a number of problems were still to be resolved. Firstly, the question of funding. As we reported in March 2015, the project had been successful in gaining funding commitments from a number of investors for the construction work, but “the government must also agree a price for the power generated by the lagoon before work can start, and negotiations are still ongoing.” The negotiations concerned the amount of funding provided by the Government under its ‘Contract for Difference’ arrangement, whereby the Government guarantees a certain amount (commonly known as the ‘strike price’) that the power generator will receive for its electricity; and consequently, the amount it is prepared to pay (the ‘green subsidy’) for the energy generated by the lagoon. [2]

It was widely reported in the press that Tidal Lagoon Power’s starting position in these negotiations was a ‘strike price’ of £168 per megawatt hour over a period of 35 years. To quote one source, this was Sion Barry in June 2015, following the Energy Secretary’s decision to award planning consent: “It’s far from being a done deal yet. It will require an estimated green subsidy (known as a strike price or contract for difference) of £168 per megawatt hour. That’s more expensive than for offshore wind and nuclear.” The Citizens Advice Bureau (the statutory consumer body for energy proposals) had registered its discontent with the likely cost, but Tidal Lagoon Power said subsequent lagoons, such as the larger lagoon off the coast of Cardiff, the second in its plans, will be able to produce electricity much more cheaply. [3]

The funding argument

Gavin Miller, Policy Manager for the Institution of Civil Engineers, discussed these funding arrangements in a blog post in July 2015. He said the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), “alongside other media commentators,” had branded the lagoon funding proposals as “appalling value for money” for a “relatively mature technology.” He went on to provide a counter-argument to these two points. Firstly, he said that the CAB judgement was based on a comparison with other recent Contract for Difference agreements: “For example, the planned nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset recently secured £92.5 per MWh, large-scale solar PV receives around £100 per MWh, and new offshore wind averages £140 per MWh.” However, a strike price is meant to reflect the cost of investing in a particular low carbon technology, and Gavin Miller argued that, though individual bits of the technology may not be new (such as breakwater walls, sluices and hydro turbines), the project as a whole is the first of its kind. He also compared tidal lagoons with nuclear power and with wind and solar energy and said that nuclear power is relatively inflexible whilst other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, though clean and efficient, are also variable and unpredictable. In contrast, tidal lagoons are both predictable and flexible, he said: “This predictability has the obvious advantage of allowing the long-term grid-balancing calculations not possible with other renewables.” He also reiterated the point that future lagoons would be able to produce electricity much more cheaply. The implication here is that, in the long-term, tidal lagoons do provide ‘value for money.’ [4]

However, the negotiations over subsidies continued, whilst the company was also involved in another set of negotiations. These were concerned with the potential environmental impact of the Swansea Bay project.

Environmental Impact

Writing for Wales Online in June 2015, Robin Turner explained that, although the project had been awarded planning consent, Tidal Lagoon Power still needed a marine license from Natural Resources Wales before any construction work could start. Concerns had been expressed over the potential impact on marine creatures, including fish and porpoises, and on the migration of sand and silt, he said. The Angling Trust, Fish Legal, and the Porthcawl Environment Trust were all cited as expressing these concerns.

On the potential impact on fish, Mark Lloyd, CEO of the Angling Trust, “said there was a lot of uncertainty about the impact of generating power from tidal lagoons on fish. He said there could be significant damage to local and regional populations of fish already under threat like bass, flounder, cod, eels, lamprey, shad, salmon and sea trout.” And on the potential impact on porpoises, Brian Saunders of the Porthcawl Environment Trust said the group would formally complain to the EU if the developer was granted a marine licence without also getting a European Marine Species licence and “ensuring that piling work would not harm harbour porpoises in Swansea Bay.”

Tidal Lagoon Power responded to both these points. On the first, the company said it had worked for several years with independent experts on the environmental impact of the lagoon and concluded that the impact on migrating fish would be “manageable and minimal.” And on the second, the company said it had carried out a shadow Habitats Regulation Assessment for harbour porpoise, “despite this not being a legal requirement as Swansea Bay is not designated under the Habitats Directive for harbour porpoise.”

It was also reported that Friends of the Earth (Cymru) were concerned about the source of the rocks to be used in the project, whilst Gavin Miller of ICE remarked that the company still had to negotiate an agreement for a foreshore lease from the Crown Estate. An article in Western Morning News explained that Shire Oak Energy, a shareholder of Tidal Lagoon Power, had bought a quarry in Cornwall with a view to extracting rock for the project, but the quarry location has AONB and SSSI status and is also important for marine life. The local community is waging a campaign against the re-opening of the quarry, situated in St Keverne on the Lizard peninsula.

Expectations and Delays

In that blog post written in July 2015, Gavin Miller summarised the company’s expectations. Tidal Lagoon Power expected the Contract for Difference negotiations to be completed in the autumn of 2015, he said, with pre-construction work starting in 2016. “If all goes according to plan,” he continued, Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon “should be able to connect to the National Grid in 2019.”

However, by October 2015, an agreement over the ‘green subsidy’ had still not been reached, and the company announced that the start of construction work on the Swansea Bay project would be delayed for a year owing to a stalemate in its negotiations with the Government. In January 2016, Tidal Energy Today reported that an agreement “was on the horizon,” with Tidal Lagoon Power reportedly seeking a Contract for Difference agreement that would last 90 years.

However, it appears that this horizon was still a distant one because in February 2016 the Government announced it would be conducting “an independent review into the feasibility and practicality of tidal lagoon energy in the UK.” In a news story, the Government said: “Tidal lagoons have the potential to provide the country with clean and secure energy. Whilst progress has been made to understand this technology, more work needs to be done to determine whether they present value for money. In recognition of this, we have commissioned a review of the technology to improve our understanding of how tidal lagoons could contribute to the future of the UK’s energy mix in the most cost effective way. The review will commence this spring and it will help establish an evidence base to ensure all decisions made regarding tidal lagoon energy are in the best interest of the UK. We expect that Tidal Lagoon Power, the proposed developers of Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, and other industry stakeholders will take part in the review while discussions about Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon continue.”

The news story quoted Energy Minister Nicholas Bourne, who said: “Tidal Lagoons on this scale are an exciting, but as yet an untested technology. I want to better understand whether tidal lagoons can be cost effective, and what their impact on bills will be – both today and in the longer term.” In March 2016, the issue was debated in Parliament, and Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom said: “The simple truth is that the developer’s current proposal for a 35-year contract is too expensive for consumers to support.” [5]

Charles Hendry, former Energy Minister and President of the British Institute of Energy Economics, was appointed in May 2016 to carry out the review. In his call for evidence, he referred to the review’s terms of reference, saying: “My review is not targeted at any particular project but, in considering these issues, I am mindful that Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd, the proposed developers of Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, are in ongoing discussions with government about the terms of a potential Contract for Difference that might support the financing of the project. However, I nonetheless wish to receive evidence from both Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd and others about the costs, benefits and opportunities of tidal lagoons. I am also seeking evidence of other potential sites, developers and opportunities, and the feasibility and practicalities of a wider UK tidal lagoon programme including, but not limited to, environmental and grid issues, navigation and ports impacts, supply chain and export opportunities and financing arrangements.”

The review was expected to be complete by the autumn of 2016. However, on December 6th 2016, there was a debate in Parliament on ‘Tidal lagoons and UK energy strategy,’ called by Stephen Crabb, formerly Secretary of State for Wales. The briefing paper said the review had yet to report, but it was expected by the end of 2016. [6] In fact, Tidal Energy Today reported that the review was submitted to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the 6th December, the day of the debate.

Meanwhile, by the end of the year, Tidal Lagoon Power had announced a further delay. A news story by Tidal Energy Today said that on-site construction, scheduled to begin in the spring of 2017, had been postponed to the new start date of 2018 at the earliest. The news story turned to an item in the Telegraph for an explanation, which said that the Government had yet to make a decision on the ‘green subsidy’ and it would take at least a year from reaching an agreement to starting construction work; further delays could be expected should no decision be made on the subsidy in early 2017.

However, there were also further reasons for a delay. Earlier in December, Natural Resources Wales said that the construction work could have an adverse effect on fish in the area. Its figures of potential fish deaths were disputed by Tidal Lagoon Power, who described them as “unrealistic and grossly misleading.” As mentioned above, the developer will need a marine license from Natural Resources Wales before starting any marine works.

For the UK Government, it was the Contract for Difference issue that was the main problem. Speaking during the parliamentary debate on December 6th, Energy Minister Jesse Norman said that the most recent proposal put forward by Tidal Lagoon Power would be a very significant deviation from current government policy. He was unable to comment on details of the negotiations due to “commercial sensitivity” but said that the company’s proposal, though not impossible, would require careful consideration: “We have always been clear that we will consider the findings of the independent review of tidal lagoons and all other relevant factors in deciding whether to proceed with negotiating a Contract for Difference on this project. The developer is aware of that. The issue of value for money quite properly remains at the forefront.”

At the beginning of 2017 then, all interested parties were waiting for the Charles Hendry Review.

The Charles Hendry Review

Charles Hendry’s final report and recommendations were published on January 12th 2017. In summary, the review has concluded that “tidal lagoons can play a cost effective role in the UK’s energy mix.” The report makes over 30 recommendations but the one that has attracted the most attention is the recommendation for a “pathfinder project” to begin as soon as possible. He states the reasons for such a recommendation as follows: “A programme of tidal lagoons that could deliver the goal of providing constant power, or as near as possible to constant power, would be an absolutely huge undertaking, requiring tidal lagoons around much of the country. It is my belief that this is too ambitious a goal to be set at this time, before even one has been built, and could only be considered properly when more progress has been made on building a number of tidal lagoons.” Charles Hendry says the term ‘pathfinder project’ rather than ‘first of a kind’ is a better description of the Swansea Bay project: “It better reflects the value that a smaller first lagoon could bring: it will establish the technology and prepare the supply chain to reap later benefits; yet follow-on projects will be different – in particular bigger – and therefore will face challenges of a different nature.”

In his summary, Charles Hendry said: “I conclude that tidal lagoons would help deliver security of supply; they would assist in delivering our decarbonisation commitments; and they would bring real and substantial opportunities for the UK supply chain. Most importantly, it is clear that tidal lagoons at scale could deliver low carbon power in a way that is very competitive with other low carbon sources… Tidal lagoons can be an important and exciting new industry for the UK. We are blessed with some of the best resources in the world, which puts us in a unique position to be world leaders.”

And on the pathfinder project, he said: “I believe there is considerable value in a small (less than 500 MW) pathfinder project. The aim now is that we should move to secure the pathfinder project as swiftly as possible, so the learning opportunities it offers can be maximised. I have, however, also concluded that the smaller pathfinder project needs to be operational before we move to larger scale projects. This means that a clear long-term Government strategy in favour of tidal lagoons will be required if the full supply chain and cost reduction opportunities are to be realised. The costs of a pathfinder project would be about 30p per household per year over the first 30 years. A large scale project would be less than 50p over the first 60 years. The benefits of that investment could be huge, especially in South Wales, but also in many other parts of the country. Having looked at all the evidence, spoken to many of the key players, on both sides of this debate, it is my view that we should seize the opportunity to move this technology forward now.”

Among the recommendations, the review suggests that the Government set up an independent “arms-length” Tidal Power Authority to oversee a UK Tidal Lagoon Programme. Charles Hendry also recommends that the Authority should undertake some of the environmental assessment work for the lagoon locations, “or incentivise the Crown Estate to do this on a commercial basis, and seek to recover these costs at financial close within the strike price. The results of these environmental assessments should be made available to those bidding in the tender process, rather than requiring each developer to do this work themselves and individually.” On the potential environmental impact, he says that “the Government should require a high level of on-going monitoring of environmental impacts to ensure that mitigation can be put in place where impacts are judged to require it.” He also recommends that developers should be required to demonstrate, “as part of the planning and consenting process, that they have taken full account of potential deposition rates.”

The review also makes favourable comments on the ‘value for money’ issue. On the Contract for Difference (CFD) arrangement, he concludes “that the potential impact on consumer bills of large-scale tidal lagoons appears attractive, particularly when compared to nuclear projects over a long time period; and that a measure of CFD cost per MWh over project lifetimes indicates that a tidal lagoon programme has potential to be very valuable and competitive.”

The review has been welcomed by Tidal Lagoon Power CEO Mark Shorrock, who described it as a “watershed moment for British energy, British manufacturing, British productivity and our coastal communities.” Its publication meant there is now a “peak consensus,” he said: “Communities and investors, conservationists and industrialists, politicians of all persuasions and now an independent government review, are all singing from the same hymn sheet.”

According to Adam Vaughan, however, writing in the Guardian, conservationists are divided over the environmental impact of the Swansea Bay project. On the one hand, the World Wildlife Fund (UK) said tidal power had “considerable potential for generating clean electricity” and Greenpeace said the Swansea project was “an opportunity to lead in generating clean power from Britain’s tides.” On the other hand, Wildlife Trusts Wales and the RSPB have expressed concerns about the potential ecological impact of the proposed Swansea and Cardiff lagoons. In response, Charles Hendry said that the Swansea Bay lagoon could be operational by 2022, after which there should be a pause of up to two years before the five bigger lagoons were approved, and any environmental problems could be assessed then. BBC News reports that Natural Resources Wales will be looking at the impact on flooding, fish, birds and marine habitats before it awards a marine licence.

Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark welcomed the review and said the UK Government’s energy planning was focused on ensuring affordable, secure, low-carbon energy. Quoted by the BBC, he said the Government will now consider the report’s recommendations “and determine what decision is in the best interests of the UK energy in the long term.”

How long will the Government take to respond? Will it follow the recommendations of the Hendry Review? The saga continues – but many are hoping that we are witnessing the start of a new chapter.

Notes

[1] See our article “World’s first energy-generating tidal lagoons planned for UK”.

[2] The UK Government’s explanation of a ‘Contract for Difference’ arrangement is as follows: “A Contract for Difference (CFD) is a private law contract between a low carbon electricity generator and the Low Carbon Contracts Company (LCCC), a government-owned company. A generator party to a CFD is paid the difference between the ‘strike price’ – a price for electricity reflecting the cost of investing in a particular low carbon technology – and the ‘reference price’ – a measure of the average market price for electricity in the GB market. It gives greater certainty and stability of revenues to electricity generators by reducing their exposure to volatile wholesale prices, whilst protecting consumers from paying for higher support costs when electricity prices are high.” It is important to note here that the ‘green subsidy’ refers, not to the ‘strike price,’ but to the difference between the ‘strike price’ and the ‘reference price’. See the policy paper by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, last updated on 9th November 2016.

[3] Tidal Lagoon Power plans to build a “fleet” of six tidal lagoons off the coast of the UK. The proposed locations are Swansea Bay (the first), Cardiff Bay, Newport (South Wales), Colwyn Bay (North Wales), Bridgwater (Somerset) and Workington (Cumbria). The company claims its Cardiff lagoon would be large enough to generate enough electricity for all homes in Wales. The Swansea Bay project would involve the construction of a U-shaped breakwater across the bay and using the incoming and outgoing tides to turn a bank of 16 hydro turbines along the breakwater to generate enough electricity for 150,000 homes. Adam Vaughan in the Guardian, cited above, says that the company has already spent £35m on the Swansea project. The total cost is estimated at £1.3 billion. For an “all you need to know” guide to the Swansea Bay project, see Chris Kelsey’s article for Wales Online, written in June 2015.

[4] The article “Swansea tidal lagoon: What is a fair price?” by Gavin Miller appeared on the Institution of Civil Engineers infrastructure blog on July 28th 2015.

[5] See the House of Commons debate pack ‘Tidal lagoons and UK energy strategy’ (CDP 2016/0236) which is available as a PDF document from the UK Parliament website.

[6] Ibid (as note 5).

Sustainability in Construction – The Climate Change Challenge and a Circular Economy

The Green Construction Board has set UK construction firms a target of a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025

And the EC has set member states a target of a 70% recycling of construction waste by 2020

November 23rd 2016

In a recent article, we looked at a number of localised renewable energy schemes, taking as our cue the slogan of “thinking globally, acting locally.” In this article we look at sustainability in the construction industry, where action requires not only local partnerships but also collaborations and initiatives that can cut across national boundaries as well as industries. A number of events have been held this year which have highlighted the need for cooperation in tackling the dual challenge of climate change and of managing resources in construction.

The Construction Climate Challenge: Reducing carbon in infrastructure construction

Companies working in the UK construction industry came together this month for a seminar titled Reducing Carbon in Infrastructure Construction. The seminar was held in Birmingham on November 10th and was hosted by Volvo Construction Equipment with support from the Green Construction Board as part of its ‘Construction Climate Challenge.’ The Green Construction Board was set up by the UK Government to provide leadership to the construction industry on reducing carbon emissions and to promote the use of low-carbon growth opportunities. The Board also has a role in monitoring the implementation of the Government’s ‘Low Carbon Construction Action Plan.’

The Climate Change Act of 2008 set an industry target of a 35% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025 and an 80% reduction by 2050. In 2013, however, the Green Construction Board published an industrial strategy for construction titled Construction 2025 which sets out the more ambitious target of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. To help the industry meet this challenge, the Board launched a new standard for carbon reduction in May 2016, which is designed to encourage “a consistent approach to the management of carbon by all involved in infrastructure.”

This month’s seminar was an opportunity for construction companies to share best practice in reducing carbon and meeting the targets of the Construction Climate Challenge. As reported by Agg-Net, the key message to emerge from the event was that “reducing carbon emissions in infrastructure construction does not necessarily mean higher costs.” Other themes to emerge were the need to encourage collaboration, the need to adopt change, and to convince the industry of the cost-saving potential of such change. About a hundred business leaders from major infrastructure projects attended the event, as well as research bodies and government agencies. The seminar covered a wide range of topics, including the challenges of reducing carbon in major infrastructure projects; guidance on how to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint; tools to measure carbon reduction; and how new technology and low-carbon materials can help deliver substantial carbon reductions, while at the same time reducing costs and delivering higher performance.

The seminar was introduced by the Vice-President of Volvo Construction Equipment, Bill Law, who said “sustainability is too big an issue to be dealt with through the resources of one company alone.” The company’s Director of Emerging Technologies, Jenny Elfsberg, said that Volvo Construction Equipment had been developing engines that operate with alternative renewable fuels including HVO, methane and even electricity. “Our preferred choice is HVO,” she said, “a high-performing oil made from vegetable oils and fats that is also a carbon-neutral solution.” The company showcased a number of its projects at its ‘Xploration Forum’ held in Sweden in September, including the Electric Site Project, which aims to transform the quarrying and aggregates industry “by reducing carbon emissions by up to 95% and the total cost of ownership by up to 25%.”

The closing speech came from Andy Mitchell from the Thames Tideway Tunnel project, who reiterated the message that lower carbon means lower cost and said that, with collaboration, the industry might succeed in meeting its targets.

The latest news on the ‘Construction Climate Challenge’ is displayed on its Facebook page.

A Circular Economy in Construction: the European Dimension

To tackle the challenge of sustainability with regard to resources, the European Commission has been promoting the idea of a circular economy, in which one industry’s waste can be turned into another industry’s raw materials. As part of the transition to a circular economy, the EC Waste Framework Directive stipulates that member states “shall take the necessary measures designed to achieve that by 2020 a minimum of 70% (by weight) of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste shall be prepared for re-use, recycled or undergo other material recovery.” [1] To further stimulate the transition, the EC adopted a Circular Economy Package in December 2015 which includes not only revised legislative proposals on waste but also measures to promote re-use and recycling across industries, such as technological investment and training courses. [2]

The move to a circular economy is supported by EQAR, the European Quality Association for Recycling, which was founded in 2006 as an umbrella organisation for construction material recycling and to represent the interests of the recycling sector. EQAR held a congress in September, where companies and organisations from the waste management industry came together from various EU member states to discuss progress in the establishment of a circular economy in construction across Europe. EQAR says that more than a billion tonnes of mineral-based construction and demolition waste is produced in Europe each year, and a circular economy in construction is therefore of critical importance for a resource-efficient Europe.

A review of the congress by Agg-Net says that some EU member states had not reached the targets set by the Waste Framework Directive, whilst the level of construction and demolition waste recycling varies dramatically across Europe. The EC says the level ranges from less than 10% to over 90%. [3] This has led EQAR to reiterate a call made at a previous congress for the improvement and unification of the framework conditions for construction material recycling:

“EQAR believes that by creating a single European market for recycled construction materials, utilization rates could be markedly increased. EQAR says regional demand for recycled construction materials is frequently subject to fluctuations which could be compensated for by exchanging recycled products across Europe’s internal borders. EQAR is therefore calling for standardization of environmental compatibility classes for aggregates, to bring about a harmonized product status for recycled construction materials on a European level. To help increase acceptance of recycled construction materials, in 2013 EQAR adopted a European quality assurance system for recycled construction materials, which aims to ensure uniformity of quality through independent external monitoring of recycled products.”

Speaking at the September event, Vincent Basuya, EC Policy Officer for Sustainable Construction, provided an update on the progress of the Construction & Demolition Waste Management Protocol, which is expected to contain numerous examples of best practice in construction and demolition waste recycling and to serve as an essential guide for action in EU member states. However, EQAR is concerned over the lack of urgency in the standardisation of quality-assured recycled construction materials, which has prompted the organisation to reiterate its call for EU-wide regulation in this area, to run in parallel to the protocol. According to Agg-Net, so far only five EU countries have adopted their own end-of-waste criteria with varying levels of regulation.

A Circular Economy in Construction: the UK

The EC’s Circular Economy Package, published in December 2015, followed a series of consultations which asked member states for their views on the technical workings of existing waste legislation; the functioning of waste markets in the EU; and measures that might be adopted to expedite the transition to a circular economy. In particular, member states were asked: “What are the most successful measures taken in your country, at national, regional, or local level, to facilitate the transition to a circular economy? (These can include legislative initiatives, financial instruments such as taxation, support programmes, awareness campaigns, public procurement, etc.). Are there any particular lessons learned from these measures, and could they in your view be usefully replicated in other countries or regions?”

The UK Government published two documents which set out its response to the consultations. In summary, it highlighted three measures which had been adopted in the UK and could be usefully replicated elsewhere in the EU: the facilitation of resource-efficient business models (through resource-efficient production techniques and technological solutions, for example); the adoption of a systems approach that makes better use of data; and the promotion of voluntary agreements. It provided a number of examples of government actions, including the Construction 2025 industrial strategy, and government funding of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which helps businesses, local authorities and households to become more efficient in their use of resources.

Among its recommendations, the Government said that EU funded research, pilot projects and case studies had the potential to deliver practical solutions to increasing resource efficiency, and this research should be disseminated to a wider audience. It also argued that the EU should adopt “a holistic approach to developing the new circular economy package as a whole – the impact of waste prevention actions needs to be taken into account in considering the ‘waste part of the circle.'” A further recommendation was that “the EU should support the establishment of EU-wide networks to promote industrial symbiosis” (i.e. the process whereby one industry’s waste becomes another industry’s raw materials):

“The network should engage traditionally separate industries and other organisations to foster innovative strategies for more sustainable resource use (including materials, energy, water, assets, expertise, logistics, etc.). Through the network, business opportunities would be identified leading to mutually advantageous transactions for innovative sourcing of required inputs and value-added destinations for non-product outputs. Organisations would also benefit from being exposed to best practice and knowledge transfer, resulting in cultural and process changes. An industrial symbiosis methodology has been pioneered in the UK and we would be happy to share our experiences.”

In short, the views of the UK Government in 2015 appear to be in harmony with the views of EQAR on the need for a single European market for recycled construction materials. Given the referendum result, it is also interesting to note that another recommendation was that the EU “should maintain the integrity of the EU single market and support measures to deliver growth and innovation, avoiding and where appropriate reducing burdens on business, especially SMEs.”

‘Carbon-negative’ manufacturing and recycled aggregates

In February this year, one company that specialises in aggregate production in the UK said it was uniquely placed to benefit from the EC Circular Economy Package, having obtained planning permission to build a third ‘carbon-negative’ manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Leeds. Carbon8 Aggregates have a facility at Brandon in Suffolk and their second plant was built at Avonmouth in 2015. The £4m. plant at Leeds is the result of a joint planning application with local independent block makers Thomas Armstrong who will build a new plant alongside Carbon8’s aggregate operation. Thomas Armstrong, trading as Stocks Blocks, will use the aggregate in the production of construction blocks.

Carbon8 says that the new facility will be capable of transforming 50,000 tonnes of waste flue-gas treatment residues, derived from energy-from-waste facilities, into approximately 110,000 tonnes of lightweight secondary aggregate. Stephen Roscoe, Carbon8’s technical director, said: “We are already in advanced discussions regarding contracts for more than 50% of the residues into Leeds and, due to the imminent closure of coal-fired power stations in the region, we’re also seeing strong demand from block makers for our aggregate, which will replace the power station ash frequently used in block manufacture.”

Carbon8 use an award-winning patented process known as accelerated carbonation technology (ACT) to manufacture a high-quality lightweight aggregate called C8Aggregate (C8A). The company says that by permanently capturing more carbon dioxide than is generated during its manufacture, the ACT process means C8A is the world’s first truly carbon-negative aggregate. The three sites will have a combined capacity of more than 130,000 tonnes of flue-gas treatment residues a year, and the Leeds site is said to mark a significant step in Carbon8’s strategy to develop five sites nationally with a total capacity of 250,000 tonnes a year. Work on the Leeds site was expected to begin in August this year. [4]

Also in the UK, the company Powerday opened a new materials recovery facility in December 2015 which the company says will be able to process 330,000 tonnes of waste a year from the London area. Located in Enfield on the site of a former waste transfer station operated by the company, the facility will process construction and commercial waste, “producing high-quality recycled materials and renewable fuel.” Mick Crossan from Powerday said the facility “provides greater options for clients and a further high-volume production site for refuse derived fuels (RDF), making it an attractive collection point for RDF collectors currently exporting to Europe and Scandinavia via the London ports.” [5]

Also in London, the company Brett Aggregates is making a contribution to the development of the circular economy through its involvement in the restoration and regeneration of Battersea Power Station. The Grade II* listed building and its surroundings are being transformed into a new residential area comprising over two million square feet of offices, apartments, retail and leisure outlets, cultural venues, and eighteen acres of public space. An article by Agg-Net says that the company is working in close collaboration with the McGee Group, “one of the contractors on the Battersea Power Station site given the task to excavate 400,000 tonnes of materials and to build a huge basement area.” All excavated material is transported by McGee to a Brett facility in West London, “where it is crushed and screened to produce recycled aggregates ready for use in the redevelopment project. The two companies are working together to ensure that this process is achieved with maximum efficiency and with as few truck movements as possible in order to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Finally, a major exhibition for the waste management and recycling industry was held at the NEC in Birmingham in September. ‘Recycling and Waste Management’ is an annual event organised in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Waste Management which the organisers say attracts more than 500 exhibitors and 13,000 visitors. The event showcases the latest innovations in recycling and reprocessing technology, including the recycling of electrical and electronic waste, as well as developments in ‘Energy from Waste’ technologies such as anaerobic digestion and biomass. The event also showcases the latest machines for sorting and separation, size reduction, and the movement of materials within materials recovery facilities, waste transfer stations and other recycling facilities. The event was held in parallel with three other major exhibitions, also at the NEC: The Energy Event, The Renewables Event and The Water Event. For the latest news on this annual event, see the RWM Exhibition website.

Notes

[1] For details of the EC Waste Framework Directive as regards construction and demolition waste, see this article on the EC website.

[2] For details of the EC Circular Economy Package, see the EC Press Release, published in December 2015.

[3] Ibid (as note 1).

[4] An article by Agg-Net summarises a report by Off-Highway Research, a provider of market intelligence for the construction equipment sector, titled The Impact of Brexit on the UK Construction Equipment Industry. The summary says: “The unexpected result of the June referendum has already had a number of effects on the industry, including lower than expected equipment sales and price pressure on imports due to the depreciation in the pound.” There is now a large question mark over the impact of a UK withdrawal and the potential loss of EU incentives such as the EC Circular Economy Package.

[5] The family-run firm was also ordered to pay a fine this year of £1.2m. for two historical waste offences, dating from 2010, following an investigation and prosecution by the Environment Agency. See the article on letsrecycle.com.

Photograph

Photograph: Battersea Power Station, ‘Spot the Difference’ © Copyright Paul Farmer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. This photograph was taken in 2014 and the caption says: “The four chimneys of Battersea Power Station are going to be dismantled and rebuilt.” A shared description says: “Battersea Power Station is a former power station on the south bank of the Thames. Battersea A was opened in 1935 and Battersea B in 1955. The power station stopped generating in 1983. It is a Grade II* listed building and an iconic landmark. Many plans for its redevelopment have come and gone.” However, the current plans are in progress: work began in 2013 and Phase 1 of the project is scheduled for completion in 2017. The building and its surroundings are in the process of being transformed into a new residential area comprising over two million square feet of offices, apartments, retail and leisure outlets, cultural venues, and eighteen acres of public space. All excavated material from the site is being recycled into aggregates ready for use in the redevelopment project.

Sustainability in Action – Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

Local projects across the UK are demonstrating the effectiveness of innovation in renewable energy and sustainability

October 19th 2016

‘Think global, act local’ is a slogan that has been taken up by the green movement as encapsulating the need to develop local initiatives in order to tackle the dual challenge of climate change and of protecting the planet’s resources for future generations. Local initiatives can include a range of activities that encompass personal and social behaviour, such as what we buy, what we eat, and how we travel. In this article we look at a number of local initiatives that may be small-scale in nature, but demonstrate “big ideas” in their ambition to develop alternative sources of energy.

Wind and Solar: the Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck is a small island off the coast of Scotland, neighbouring the Isle of Eigg and lying south of the Isle of Skye. At two miles long and a mile wide, the Isle of Muck is tiny in comparison with its neighbours. It has one sheep farm, one hotel, and about 40 inhabitants. Until the spring of 2013, the island was dependent for its power on diesel generators, the fuel for which was shipped from the mainland. Electricity was rationed, with power only available from 8am until 11am and from 5pm until midnight.

All of this changed when the islanders were successful in obtaining a grant of £978,840 from the Big Lottery Fund to build a source of renewable energy that could power the entire island. Their plans were based on a similar scheme on the neighbouring Isle of Eigg, which was designed by the renewable energy company Wind & Sun. The islanders contracted the same company to design and build the plant on the Isle of Muck. The scheme uses wind turbines from the UK manufacturer Evance Wind (now Britwind), alongside solar panels and a backup diesel generator. The wind and solar system now provides 24hr electricity.

John Balson from Evance Wind was on the island to supervise the installation of the last wind turbine and to show the islanders how to maintain the equipment. On the system’s effectiveness, he said: “I’m pleased to say once we put the turbines and the solar panels in at the beginning of March, the generator has only been on for a short period on one occasion when there was very little wind and no sun.” The story was reported in a news item and a video by the Telegraph in June 2013.

Evance Wind subsequently entered administration in May 2014, just when the development of a design for a new innovative horizontal-axis windmill was 90% complete. However, the renewable energy company Ecotricity stepped in to rescue the company and Evance Wind, under the new name of Britwind, continues to manufacture small windmills for its target market. The company specialises in small windmills that provide on-site wind power for small and medium-sized enterprises and a variety of properties such as schools, community centres, sport centres, farms and other landholdings. Its R9000 windmill is the most popular small windmill in the UK market. [1]

Water: Ludlow Hydro

For the inhabitants of a remote island, far removed from the National Grid, necessity – rather than global thinking – may be the “mother of invention.” But in Ludlow, a small market town in Shropshire, this is not the case. Ludlow has a long tradition of local initiatives that encompass the ‘think global, act local’ philosophy, such as farmers’ markets, cycle to work schemes, and renewable energy schemes. Many of these initiatives are coordinated by Ludlow 21, an organisation that takes its name from Agenda 21, the action plan for sustainable development adopted by the United Nations in 1992.

One such initiative is the Ludlow Hydro Co-operative, who this year launched a scheme using the power of water to generate enough electricity to supply about 40 households. The power comes from the natural flow of the River Teme as it passes the Horseshoe Weir at Ludford, and the scheme uses an Archimedes screw which allows fish to pass through safely. Local MP Philip Dunne attended the launch to switch on the scheme. He said it had been a huge achievement to introduce a twenty-first century energy generation scheme to the River Teme without spoiling the aspect of the Horseshoe Weir, as “the weir is one of the most sensitive heritage assets within the historic town of Ludlow.”

“As a member of the co-operative myself,” he said, “I was very pleased to switch on Ludlow’s latest renewable energy scheme, not least because I have for some time called for more energy to be harnessed from our local rivers. The UK renewable energy market has developed markedly over the past decade, with renewable electricity capacity in the UK trebling since 2010. Renewable schemes like Ludlow Hydro, with the consent and support of the local community, will play an increasingly important role in delivering energy in the UK as older, less clean sources of electricity come offline.”

“Our aspiration is sustainable mobility”

The River Teme features again in another story of innovation with regard to sustainability, in this case a car that makes carbon emissions a thing of the past. The car designer Riversimple established an office in Ludlow some years ago, overlooking the river. It also has a design centre in Barcelona and an R&D centre in Llandrindod Wells in Powys. The company says its purpose is “to pursue, systematically, the elimination of the environmental impact of personal transport.” To this end, it has manufactured a car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The prototype is called the Rasa, named after the Latin tabula rasa, meaning ‘a blank slate’:

“We began with a hydrogen fuel cell, a manifesto for sustainable design and a blank sheet of paper. Every aspect of the Rasa has been created and interrogated for simplicity, efficiency, lightness, strength, affordability, safety and sustainability… This first car is a two seater ‘network electric’ car, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The engineering prototype has clocked over 60mph and has been weaving neatly through the traffic in London, as well as gliding down the country lanes of Powys.”

The Rasa has a range of 300 miles, refuels in a few minutes and has no cost premium compared with a conventional car. As for how the technology works, the company says: “The hydrogen passes through a ‘proton exchange membrane’ in the fuel cell where it combines with oxygen to form water and electricity. The electricity then flows to the motors in each wheel. These motors are small, lightweight and give the car four-wheel drive. When the car brakes, the kinetic energy which is normally lost in the form of heat is captured as electricity. As the car slows, this electricity floods into a bank of super-capacitors at the front of the car. Unlike a battery, these super-capacitors can take a huge charge very quickly, but they don’t store a lot of energy. The energy they take in is sent back to the motors again and provides the energy to accelerate. The reason we are calling it a ‘network electric’ car is that the energy is networked around the car. It can flow in any direction on any path apart from back into the fuel cell.”

Riversimple says its aspiration is “sustainable mobility” and has set a target to go into production towards the end of 2018, rolling out the car across the UK town by town, in tandem with hydrogen refuelling stations. “Further Riversimple vehicles will follow as the infrastructure matures,” the company says: “The next step is to build a series of Rasa cars for the public to test and refine in a twelve-month trial.”

The twelve-month trial is due to start in 2017, thanks to a partnership with Monmouthshire County Council. The company will supply 20 hand-built hydrogen cell cars to residents in the county for them to test. The trial marks the first phase of a longer-term plan to develop a community of users around a single hydrogen refuelling station. As part of this initiative, a self-service, mobile refuelling point is planned for a council car park at Monmouth or Abergavenny.

Riversimple brought their car to Parliament in July to explain their long-term plans to MPs, including Ludlow MP Philip Dunne. Riversimple founder Hugo Spowers said the MPs were overwhelmingly supportive of both the company’s ethos and its radical business approach, which involves crowd-funding and investment from the general public. “The UK government has recognised the potential of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles,” he said, “and has already implemented forward-thinking projects that are promoting this cleaner alternative.”

The Government plans to make nearly every vehicle in the country zero-emission by 2050 and in May the Department of Transport launched a £2 million fund to encourage more businesses to switch to hydrogen-fuelled vehicles. The scheme allows local authorities, health trusts, police forces, fire brigades and private companies to bid for funding to add hydrogen-powered vehicles to their fleets. The fund builds on a previous commitment of £5 million in 2014 to the ‘Hydrogen for Transport Advancement Programme’ for twelve hydrogen refuelling stations. Announcing the scheme on the 10th of May, the Government said: “Today, Transport Minister Andrew Jones opened the second of these stations at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. All 12 stations are expected to be open by the end of the year, which is a significant step towards a national network.”

Meanwhile, on the roads…

On a related note, an innovative scheme has been installed in another small market town in Shropshire, which is designed to prevent traffic incidents that occur when two large vehicles, such as buses, coaches, or heavy goods vehicles, are travelling in opposite directions and find themselves meeting at a narrow stretch of road. This has been causing problems on a particular road in Much Wenlock, with large vehicles being forced to manoeuvre to pass each other, either by mounting the pavement or by forcing all vehicles to reverse.

In a news item, Shropshire Council explains how the problem has been resolved by installing an automated detection system in the road surface. The detection equipment will determine if two large vehicles are likely to meet at the narrow point. If so, one set of traffic signals will change to red to stop one direction of traffic and allow the other, including the large vehicle, to pass through without meeting opposing traffic. Additional detection equipment in the road surface will determine when the large vehicle has passed through the narrow point; the traffic signals will then change to green to allow the opposing traffic to continue. The traffic signals will only stop traffic when it is predicted that both large vehicles are due to meet at the narrow point. At all other times the two-way traffic will not be impeded.

Shropshire Council says, using sample traffic data, an incident involving large vehicles is expected to occur four or five times within peak morning and afternoon periods, and less frequently at other times, but this will vary depending on the time of year and what vehicles are using the road at the time.

The scheme was designed for Shropshire Council by Mouchel Consulting and constructed by Dynniq UK, and the traffic signals were switched on in September following a period of testing. Such a scheme would be an obvious benefit to other market towns in the county and elsewhere, such as Ludlow, where large vehicle incidents in the past have caused damage to historic buildings. It remains to be seen however whether exporting the system to a different location would be as simple as it sounds.

Notes

[1] When the takeover was announced in November 2014, Ecotricity said it had a small vertical-axis turbine at a similar stage of development to the Evance model, and the two new windmill designs were going through the final accreditation under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme before being launched onto the market under the Britwind label. Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said of the new company: “Britwind will design and manufacture 100% British windmills that are some of the most innovative in the world – they will bring big wind performance to small wind.” The two new designs, which were planned for delivery in 2015, are Ecotricity’s V6, a vertical-axis 6kW windmill known as the Urbine, and Evance Wind’s H15, a, horizontal-axis 15kW windmill which, according to Ecotricity, will cut the cost of producing electricity by about 40% compared to the R9000.

Photograph

Photograph: Sunset over the Isle of Muck © Copyright Keith Duncan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The photograph was taken from Fascadale on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The islanders obtain their power from a wind and solar system that provides 24hr electricity.

The Referendum Fallout – Rising concerns for nature conservation and climate change

Alarm bells ring as new PM abolishes Department of Energy and Climate Change

But some environmentalists take a more positive view

July 20th 2016

Environmentalists were quick to respond to the result of the EU referendum last month, which was held on June 23rd 2016. The turnout was 72.21% of the registered electorate, with 51.89% of the turnout voting for the UK to leave the EU and 48.11% voting to remain. [1]

Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth CEO, issued a ‘red alert’ for the environment and said in The Guardian that around 70% of the UK’s environmental safeguards are now at risk. Mike Clarke, CEO of the RSPB, said nature transcends national boundaries and expressed the organisation’s belief that it needs a common set of international standards to enable it to thrive. In a blog post, he says: “We need clean air and water, and we want an attractive countryside rich in wildlife. It is essential that we do not lose the current hard-won level of legal protection. Given the current state of nature, we should be looking to improve the implementation of existing legal protection and, where necessary, to increase it.” The Independent reminded its readers that the environment secretary Liz Truss signed an open letter to the newspaper claiming a vote to leave would be “a backwards step for the protection of the countryside.”

What future for the EU’s Nature Directives?

Veteran campaigner Sir David Attenborough expressed his sadness at the referendum decision to The Guardian and voiced his hopes that collaboration on conservation issues will transcend political divisions. [2] He also hoped that the UK will continue to enact the EU’s Nature Directives. The EU’s Nature Directives, consisting of the 1979 Birds Directive and the 1992 Habitats Directive, form the basis for nature conservation across the EU and place a responsibility on all member states to protect the most threatened species and the most important sites. Both directives are currently under review and the World Wildlife Fund has managed to obtain a consultants’ report on whether the laws are “fit for purpose.” As explained in an article by Alistair Taylor, Senior Policy Officer for the RSPB, the report confirms that the Nature Directives are “delivering for nature.” The report states: “The balance of the evidence shows that the Directives are fit for purpose, and clearly demonstrate EU added value.”

The RSPB also points out that the Directives are intended to give effect to EU commitments under international conventions and agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on European Wildlife, among others: “While leaving the EU may mean the UK is no longer bound by EU environmental policy objectives, our international obligations under these and other international environmental treaties will remain. It is vital that any emerging legal protection for our most special places for wildlife across the UK is consistent with international best practice, and at least equivalent to that currently provided by the EU Nature Directives.”

“It’s often UK interpretation and implementation that’s more of a problem than EU regulation,” says MPA CEO

Business leaders have also expressed concerns about the referendum result. Nigel Jackson, CEO of the Mineral Products Association (MPA), said in a statement: “We are not convinced that any objective evaluation of EU ‘red tape’ has been undertaken and certainly no informed assessment of 43 years of transposition of EU regulation into UK law. We believe that it will not be easy, quick or even desirable to try and unpack the current corpus of regulation without knowing what will supersede it. It is often UK interpretation and implementation that is more of a problem than EU regulation and the distinction needs to be clear.” He also expressed the MPA’s concern that decisions on major energy and infrastructure projects could be at risk of further delay because of the tasks now facing the Government. “Key strategic initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse must remain high on the Government’s agenda,” he said.

Brian Berry, CEO of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), also expressed a concern about the impact of the decision on infrastructure projects as well as house building, and issued a reminder that the construction industry faces a skills shortage: “The UK construction industry has been heavily reliant on migrant workers from Europe for decades now,” he said. “If ministers want to meet their house building and infrastructure objectives, they have to ensure that the new system of immigration is responsive to the needs of industry. At the same time, we need to ensure that we invest in our own home-grown talent through apprenticeship training. We need to train more construction apprentices so we are not overly reliant on migrant workers from Europe or further afield.”

Ministers express concern and astonishment as the Department of Energy and Climate Change is abolished

Prior to the vote, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas called the referendum a “climate referendum” and warned that leaving the EU could be detrimental to tackling climate change. [3] Alarm bells have now started ringing with the news that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is to be abolished and that its functions will be transferred to other government departments, principally the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The decision came on July 14th following the appointment of the new Prime Minister Theresa May and the subsequent ministerial reshuffle, with Andrea Leadsom MP being appointed the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Angus MacNeil MP, Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, whose role is to hold the Government to account on its energy policies and their implementation, was swift to issue a statement, declaring his astonishment at the Prime Minister’s decision. “DECC’s disappearance raises urgent questions,” he said. “To whom falls the central statutory obligation, contained in the Climate Change Act 2008, to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 80% from their 1990 baseline? Which department will take responsibility for the energy and climate aspects of negotiations to leave the EU? Who will champion de-carbonisation in Cabinet? Who will drive innovation in the energy sector?”

In his statement, he also pointed out that the Paris agreement on climate change still requires ratification by the UK Government, and the fifth carbon budget is still to be set in law. On a more positive note, he said there will be no immediate change to the remit of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, which can only be altered by the House of Commons, and he pledged his determination to see the continuation of effective Parliamentary scrutiny of energy and climate change issues.

“Shocking news,” says Friends of the Earth CEO

Former ministers and environmental groups have been quick to criticise the decision to abolish the department because of what it says about the Government’s attempts to tackle climate change. Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett commented: “This is shocking news. Less than a day into the job and it appears that the new Prime Minister has already downgraded action to tackle climate change, one of the biggest threats we face.” Other groups expressing similar views include the Green Party, the New Economic Foundation think tank, and ClientEarth, a group of environment lawyers who won a legal challenge in 2015 concerning the Government’s record on reducing air pollution.

New department will deliver a “comprehensive industrial strategy,” says Minister

The revamped Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be led by former Communities Secretary Greg Clark MP, who served as Shadow Energy and Climate Secretary for the Conservative Party from 2008 to 2010. In a press statement, he said: “I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change.”

The BBC’s environment analyst Roger Harrabin points to Greg Clark’s credentials as a writer of papers on a low-carbon economy and says his opening remarks suggest an alternative and more positive interpretation of the decision to abolish DECC. “If you really intend climate change to drive an industrial transformation,” he says, “why not embrace it within a powerful department that’s developing the sort of industrial strategy needed to forge a genuine low-carbon economy?”

An opportunity for a “joined-up” climate policy, say environmentalists

Roger Harrabin’s view is echoed by a number of environmental groups who also provide a more positive view about the decision to merge DECC with the Department of Business. Richard Black, Director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “Greg Clark is an excellent appointment. He understands climate change, and has written influential papers on the benefits of Britain developing a low-carbon economy. Importantly, he sees that economic growth and tackling climate change are bedfellows not opponents – and he now has the opportunity to align British industry, energy and climate policy in a way that’s never been done before.”

Richard Howard from the Policy Exchange think tank commented: “Rather than bemoaning the demise of DECC, we should embrace the creation of BEIS. DECC has always been regarded as something of a minnow in departmental terms. By merging with BIS, energy and climate change issues can be elevated to a much higher level politically.” Juliet Davenport, CEO of the renewable energy supplier Good Energy, said: “In some ways, the name above the door of the civil service department doesn’t matter.” David Nussbaum, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund (UK), said: “The new Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy can be a real powerhouse for change, joining up Whitehall teams to progress the resilient, sustainable, and low carbon infrastructure that we urgently need.” [4]

However, Roger Harrabin also says that the new department faces formidable problems getting the UK on track with its long-term ambitions to cut carbon: “Decisions on Hinkley Point nuclear station and the government’s low carbon strategy due later this year will offer genuine pointers to the significance of the death of DECC,” he says.

DECC’s track record

DECC’s track record on tackling climate change has given environmentalists a great deal of concern in recent times. In an article for edie.net, George Ogleby and Matt Mace catalogue the decisions that have caused mounting controversy: “DECC has recently faced strong opposition for subsidy cuts for onshore wind and solar; the scrapping of a tax exemption for renewable energy; the postponement of the next Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction; the removal of zero-carbon homes standards; scrapping the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) completion; the reform of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), and the sell-off of the Green Investment Bank.”

It remains to be seen whether the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will manage to achieve a better record.

Notes

[1] For full details of the results, see BBC News. 27.79% of the registered electorate did not turn out to vote, which means that 62.53% of the registered electorate either voted to remain in the EU or abstained from voting, whilst 37.47% of the registered electorate voted to leave (clearly a minority). There is now a legal dispute on the status of the referendum, with some legal experts pointing out that the referendum is not legally binding but merely advisory. The new Government, however, has said it is committed to carrying out the wishes of the people, as expressed by those who voted.
[2] Also reported in The Independent.
[3] Ibid [2].
[4] See the article in edie.net for more responses to the announcement.

Photograph

Photograph: View across Llyn Morwynion, looking east towards Rhinog Fawr (Gwynedd, Wales) © Copyright Nigel Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Located roughly in the centre of the Snowdonia National Park, North Wales, Rhinog is a designated Special Area of Conservation, protected under the EU Habitats Directive. The listing on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website says Rhinog is representative of upland European dry heaths and contains high-quality examples of
old sessile oak woods, among other features.

In or Out? Environmental campaigners discuss the EU referendum

How will Thursday’s vote affect environmental policy? The RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth examine the evidence

June 22nd 2016
On Thursday 23rd June, the UK is holding a referendum on its membership of the European Union. Two issues have tended to dominate the debate. For those who want Britain to leave, the main issue is immigration; for those who want Britain to remain, it’s the economy. But how will the outcome affect environmental policy?

Organisations such as the RSPB and Friends of the Earth have been working to ensure that the environment is not forgotten in the debate about EU membership. The RSPB has canvassed views from representatives of the two official campaigns, ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ and ‘Vote Leave,’ asking them to explain how their proposals would help protect the environment. [1]

Speaking on behalf of the remain campaign, Caroline Lucas MP gave three reasons why staying in the EU would benefit the environment. Firstly, it meant Britain was party to a set of common rules that serve environmental protection and set limits to pollution and waste; the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives and the EU’s Maritime Safety Agency were cited as examples. Secondly, she argued that the EU helps to tackle climate change by setting ambitious plans for reducing energy consumption, limiting carbon emissions, and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Thirdly, she referred to EU’s funding for research on environmental protection: “The EU LIFE programme,” she said, “worth over £600 million, backs 11 UK environment projects in the areas of environment policy, nature and biodiversity. In addition to this, the EU’s research programme is expected to provide £8.3 billion in funding for cutting edge research at our universities, which will help us develop new sustainable technology and further our understanding of our planet and habitat.” She also mentioned EU’s action to regulate pesticides that are known to kill bees, and work on banning the hunting of seals and dolphins.

George Eustice MP, Minister for Farming, Food & the Marine Environment, spoke on behalf of the leave campaign. He said: “It is time to question the lazy assumption that environmental improvement can only occur when democratic government is set aside in favour of a pan-European legal system, and when the public are disempowered… We should not seek to side step the public through technocratic EU law. Instead we should engage the public to secure genuine, politically-led change.” He referred to the Berne Convention and its legally-binding commitments to improve habitats and protect wildlife, which the UK signed up to in the late 1970s. If the UK had stuck with that model, he said, and taken responsibility ourselves for delivering improvements through tailored national legislation, progress would have happened more effectively and perhaps faster. “Instead,” he said, “we abdicated all responsibility to the EU and sat on our hands like infants waiting to be told what to do. It’s time to grow up and take control.”

How do these arguments stack up? The RSPB says EU policy has had both positive and negative consequences for the environment: “Current evidence suggests that the EU has had a positive impact through some of its environment policies, most notably through the Birds and Habitats Directives but also by setting water quality, climate change, air quality and renewable energy targets. However, significant concerns remain about some sectoral policies (such as for agriculture and fisheries) and environmentally harmful subsidies.”

The RSPB highlights two aspects of EU policy to illustrate this point. Firstly, farming policy; and secondly, nature legislation. [2]

On farming policy, the RSPB says: “Agriculture policy in the EU was historically about driving up food production. As a result trees, hedgerows and wild flowers disappeared from our countryside – squeezed out by bigger fields, ever-bigger farm machinery and an increasing reliance on pesticides. This intensification of agriculture is the number one cause of declines in the UK’s wildlife in recent decades… Changes have reduced some of the harmful impacts, and a small proportion of the EU Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) budget does now go towards supporting nature-friendly farmers and the great work they do. But the EU’s agriculture policy continues to fail farmers and our wildlife, whilst accounting for almost 40% of the EU budget – there’s a long way to go to reach a truly sustainable agriculture policy for the EU.”

On the other hand, the RSPB says the EU’s nature conservation laws “have been a driving force for establishing and strengthening nature conservation measures in the UK and other Member States. These laws provide protection for wildlife, in particular by safeguarding places that are important for them. Over 20,000 square kilometres of land are protected in the UK alone – including the New Forest, Ramsey Island, and the Moray Firth. These laws have been a lifeline for otters, marsh fritillary butterflies and bitterns, among many others.”

To examine these issues in more detail, the RSPB joined forces with the Wildlife Trusts and the World Wildlife Fund in March to commission a report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), an independent research institute. [3] The report examines the EU’s track record on the environment and produces the evidence which is summarised above. In addition, the report looks at different UK exit scenarios and considers the arrangements that would need to be established to maintain some of the existing environmental protection provided by EU membership.

Two exit scenarios are examined: one is leaving the EU but staying in the European Economic Area or European Free Trade Association; the second is a complete exit and total independence. On these exit scenarios, the report says: “Recent UK government policy has tended to favour deregulation and competitiveness over environmental regulation, so leaving the EU would result (in the immediate term at least) in considerable uncertainty for wildlife, and for business investment in green infrastructure.”

This last point is taken up in a blog post by RSPB Chief Executive Mike Clarke. He says the RSPB is delighted that both campaigns responded positively to the challenge to set out how their respective positions will deliver for nature. “However,” he says, “no one from the ‘Leave’ campaign has yet been able to reassure us that we wouldn’t need to start again from scratch were we to leave the EU. What will happen to nature in the meantime? Recent calls from supporters of ‘Leave’ to scrap the Nature Directives – which have been proven to work so effectively where properly implemented – are of great concern.”

The IEEP report says that “Britain’s membership of the EU has, on balance, delivered benefits for our natural environment that would be hard to replicate if we left,” and this view is echoed by Mike Clarke. He concludes: “In weighing up the current evidence, the uncertainties and the balance of risks, we have concluded that the safer option for nature is for the UK to remain a part of the European Union.”

Friends of the Earth: “If we leave the EU, the impact on our environment will be negative and long term.”

In July 2015, Friends of the Earth produced a policy position paper on the UK’s membership of the EU. [4] The paper summarises the environmental gains but also points out the problems: “the Common Agriculture Policy, for example, has proved an environmental disaster.” It also points to the potentially damaging effects to the environment of the TTIP negotiations, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership currently under discussion with the EU and the USA as trading partners. The paper calls for the EU to change its priorities, improve existing legislation, and reinvigorate democracy.

Leaving the EU, however, would have a negative impact on the environment. The paper states: “To protect the environment and human health, we need to take action before damage occurs. Yet UK politicians routinely argue against precautionary decision-making… Fortunately, the precautionary principle is enshrined in EU treaties. EU-wide laws also prevent countries gaining a competitive advantage in their industries by setting lower environmental standards. If we leave the EU, the impact on our environment will be negative and long term.”

In a series of blog posts, Friends of the Earth campaigners describe the environmental gains of EU membership in more detail:

  1. Cleaner Beaches: Campaigner Anna Baum says the UK pumped untreated sewage into the sea until 1998, longer than any other country in Europe. Successful legal action by the European Commission to enforce the EU’s 1976 Bathing Water Directive resulted in improvements to many of the UK’s beaches, but only 60% meet the new ‘Excellent’ standard of the revised 2006 Bathing Water Directive: “If the UK leaves the EU, we will no longer be subject to the Bathing Water Directive. Without external EU pressure it seems likely that standards will slip.”
  2. Protecting Bees from Harmful Pesticides: In 2013 a majority of EU member states voted to restrict the use of three pesticides known to be harmful to bees, following a report by scientists across the EU into the reasons for declining bee populations, with 33 species considered to be under threat of extinction. Sam Lowe says: “If we weren’t in the EU, these dangerous pesticides would never have been restricted in the UK. The UK vigorously opposed the introduction of the restrictions despite the scientific evidence.”
  3. Protecting Biodiversity and Natural Habitats: The EU is currently reviewing its Nature Directives and is under pressure to relax them, on the grounds that they hamper development and economic growth, and impose costs and regulatory ‘red tape’ on business. Sam Lowe says the UK has a poor track record of putting nature first: “The farming minister and prominent leave campaigner, George Eustice, told The Guardian that the birds and habitats directives would go if we vote to leave the EU, describing them as ‘spirit crushing’.” [5]
  4. Rethinking Waste: The Circular Economy: EU Directives such as the Landfill Directive and the Waste Framework Directive have set targets for recycling and the amount of waste going to landfill sites. “All of this has led to a cultural shift in favour of recycling,” says Henry Chown, with the UK close to meeting the target of recycling 50% of household waste by 2020. However: “If we left the EU, the first thing we’d miss out on would be the Circular Economy Package.”
  5. Tackling Climate Change: Reducing carbon emissions and the burning of fossil fuels will help to tackle climate change. In 2009, the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive set a European-wide target of achieving 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. It also set national targets and requested member states to produce action plans setting out how they would meet their obligations. Sam Lowe says: “This has had a huge impact on the UK. It has been largely responsible for the rapid growth in renewable electricity that we have seen in the last five years.” However: “The UK has been one of the fiercest critics of renewable energy targets. As a result, the next phase of the Renewable Energy Directive looks to be far weaker than what is needed… Recent government attacks on solar and onshore wind suggest an uncertain outlook for UK renewables post-Brexit.”
  6. Improving Air Quality: Sam Lowe says: “EU action on pollution has led to big improvements in the quality of our air but much more needs to be done.” For example, the UK has broken EU safety limits for nitrogen dioxide emissions for a number of years, which led environmental law firm Client Earth to take the UK Government to court. This resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that the government must take “immediate action” to meet EU safety standards. Given the UK’s track record, it seems highly likely that leaving the EU would lead to a lowering of safety standards.
  7. Protection from Harmful Chemicals: Dr Michael Warhurst is an Executive Director of CHEM Trust, a UK charity that aims to prevent chemical products from causing long-term damage to the environment and human health by ensuring that safer alternatives are used instead of more harmful ones. Writing for Friends of the Earth, he says EU chemical regulations in the form of REACH represents the world’s leading chemicals regulatory system. The system improves our knowledge of chemical hazards, helps companies use chemicals more safely, and restricts the use of some of the worst chemicals. “The UK has not been at the forefront of trying to ensure tight controls over chemicals (unlike Sweden or Denmark),” he says, “so we consider it unlikely that a UK outside the EU would put in place measures comparable to those in the EU.”
  8. Sustainable Fishing: Finally, in a guest post, Griffin Carpenter and Bryce Stewart, two academics working in environmental economics and maritime ecosystem management, unravel some of the misconceptions surrounding the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. A recent analysis of 118 years of statistics revealed that the vast majority of the decline in fish stocks occurred prior to the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy in 1983: “In fact, the policy is now overall helping, not harming, the country’s fisheries. Since EU policy was reformed in 2002, the health of many fish stocks has improved. By 2011 the majority of assessed fisheries were considered to be sustainably fished… The Water Framework Directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive commit EU members to restore and protect the environment. It is therefore unclear why the UK would want to abandon ship at this point.”

Acknowledgement

Photo: Cors Caron and the Afon Teifi near Tregaron, Ceredigion © Copyright Roger Kidd and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The photo shows the River Teifi “flowing through the extensive raised bog of Cors Caron at its southern end, seen from the old Teifi bridge at Pont Einon. Cors Caron is a raised bog system covering more than 325 hectares. It is 6 kilometres in length and provides a habitat for a wide range of wildlife and plants. The bog itself was formed 12,000 years ago when the last of the Ice Age glaciers melted away. A large shallow lake was left, which very gradually filled with sediments and vegetation, forming peat and later, acid peat. In 1955, Cors Caron was declared a National Nature Reserve in order to preserve this increasingly scarce land form. In 1993, Cors Caron was placed on a list of wetland sites of international importance under the terms of the Ramsar Convention.”

The Afon Teifi / River Teifi is listed as a Natura 2000 site, protected under the EU Habitats Directive since 1998. The EU data says the site covers a total of 715 hectares and protects 8 species of the Nature Directives and 6 habitat types of the Habitats Directive. Natural Resources Wales says: “Wales has 20 Special Protection Areas for vulnerable birds and 92 Special Areas of Conservation for other rare species and threatened natural habitats. Together they are known as Natura 2000, and along with areas across Europe, they form an unparalleled network of international importance for nature conservation. Wales’ Natura 2000 network covers more than 700,000 hectares (8.5% of Welsh land area and 35% of territorial waters).” Management of these sites was helped by funding from the EU’s LIFE Programme.

References

[1] ‘The RSPB: EU referendum: Statements from the official campaigns’.

[2] ‘The RSPB: EU referendum: What does the EU do for nature?’

[3] The EU, the environment and potential consequences of a UK departure from the Union, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP). Available as a PDF download from the IEEP website. The report is summarised in ‘The EU & Our Environment: What UK membership means for the environment, and potential consequences of a UK departure from the Union’ (a joint publication from the RSPB, WWF and The Wildlife Trusts, 1 June 2016). Available as a PDF download from the RSPB website.

[4] ‘Our Position Paper on EU Membership,’ Friends of the Earth, July 2015. Available as a PDF download from the Friends of the Earth website.

[5] ‘Brexit would free UK from ‘spirit-crushing’ green directives, says minister’, Arthur Neslen in The Guardian.