Monday, 10 February 2020

Environment Monday - Are the UK's carbon targets too little, to late

Did you know that the average UK citizen generates as much CO2 in twelve days as many people in African countries emit in a year? I read this report in The Independent and was quite shocked. Over the weekend, I saw some criticism of Greta Thunberg, saying that she needs to say more about population control, as this is a contributing factor to climate change. My view was that the criticism was unfair, as if you criticise teenage schoolgirls for what they haven't said, then we really have lost the plot as a society. I don't expect Greta Thunberg to have all the answers, I don't really expect her to have any of the answers. Her role is to ask the questions, as a spokesperson for her generation. It is up to scientists, politicians and business leaders to answer them and provide the answer. Maybe you think teenage girls aren't entitled to ask questions or hold the rich and powerful to account. If that is the case, that is a very dangerous road to walk. I expect her to be wrong about many things, but she is 100% right to start asking the questions and forcing the debate forward.

If the average UK citizen produces around sixty times more CO2 than developing African nations, the 60 odd million people in the UK are producing nearly as much C02 as two billion Africans in developing countries. That is shocking. We really need to get our own house in order, before we start lecturing anyone about anything. Of course we should be assisting developing countries with educational programmes etc, but we should start here. We really should be education our own young people in schools about leading lower carbon lifestyles. Small changes could make huge differences. Turining off lights when we are not in the room, not leaving engines idling in cars whilst we check our pockets, turning off/on gas rings only when there is a pan on them, using the timers on our central heating and water heating efficiently. All of these are things which will put pennies in our pockets, and if we all did them we'd make a difference to the UK's carbon footprint.

Boris Johnson has taken a step in the right direction with his plans to phase out new petrol and diesel cars by 2035. I am not entirely sure that battery powered cars are the way to go, given the issues around mining heavy metals needed for the big batteries required to charge them. I have long thought that we should be looking at hydrogen cell technologies as a preferred way forward. I also beleive that we need a step change in investment in public transport. About twelve years ago, I had a long conversation with the then Labour MP for Hendon about public transport. He was a passionate advocate for buses. My view is that whilst buses are a good solution for some areas, they are too slow to drag people out of their cars. We need new networks of high quality, fast transit systems, be they rail or tram. In Mill Hill, people will take Thameslink if they need to get into central London, as it takes 18 minutes, which is far quicker than driving, and there is no congestion charge. However to get to Barnet General hospital by public transport requires three changes of bus and an average journey of over an hour. That will never entice anyone out of their car. The sensible solution would be a tramn system, linking up the Borough's east and west sides, taking in important locations such as Brent Cross, The RAF museum, Saracens Rugby Ground and Barnet General and Edgware Community hospitals. If you could get from Mill Hill/Edgware/Burnt Oak to Barnet General by public transport in 15-20 minutes, it would make a huge difference. I'm not a transport planner, so I don't know whether that is something that could be done feasably, but what we need to do is to take such traffic flows into account when plans for major developments are made.

When the Northern Line was opened to Edgware in  1924, supporting the development of the Watling Estate. Since it was opened, we've seen Brent Cross shopping centre, huge developments in Colindale and Edgware now also being planned, there has been no upgrade in capacity of local public transport. In fact there is less now, as when the Northern Line was opened, you could also take a train from Edgware to Mill Hill East and Finchley Central, along the now abandoned LNER line. We've even seen the Saracens stadium opened next to the disused trackbed. How many other countries would we have a major sports stadium opened next to an abandoned suburban railway?

The UK has no coherent plan for decarbonising. We have no compulsory education on the syllabus, the planning regime has nothing that requires developers to make decarbonising part of plans. We have no coherent London plan for a carbon neutral London. There is a woeful lack of thought about the wider consequences of what we are doing. Last night on Top Gear, they previewed the new Porsche Taycan electric car. It was a magnificent vehicle. They have developed a fast charging regime, that will charge the car in under 20 minutes. The thing which shocked me was that this uses 273Kw of power. That is about as much electricty as my house uses in a month. If such cars become popular, this will require huge electricty generation capacity and may well require more fossil fuel based generation plants.

Until we have a coherent plan, backed with the force of the law, encompassing planning, transport, education and economic development, we will miss all of out targets and it will be too little, too late. We should be developing new technologies, that we can export and build our wealth sustainably. We would also see all manner of gains as a society. A lower cost for the NHS as pollution related lung diseases etc are  reduced, less heart disease if we walk more. It should be a win/win but for reasons I can't understand, our leaders are simply not getting it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. I agree we certainly need to address how we generate the electricity that charges the car as the vehicle is only as green as the powerplant.

Not sure you are right with the way you quote energy figures though. Conflating power and energy is a sure way to lose credibility.