The case for a net zero climate change target


The Paris agreement now necessitates an increase in our long term climate target to 100%. Or, in other words, we now need to set a ‘net zero’ emissions target.

“The House of Commons should amend the 2015 Energy Bill to include a commitment to set a date by when the UK will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) should then be asked to advise on what the date for the target should be, with that date then set in secondary legislation.” – Sandbag, ‘The case for a net zero climate change target”, 2015

Paris was the first truly global effort to reduce emissions. It lays the foundations for increasing international action and aims to hold the increase in global temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C and to reach net-zero global emissions of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century.

This is more ambitious than the basis of the UK’s current statutory target for 2050, which is to reduce emissions to 80% and was based on the previous aim to hold the temperature rise close to 2C.

The Climate Change Act 2008

The UK signed up to the Kyoto Protocol in 1995 and The Climate Change Act was passed in 2008 to establish a framework to develop an economically credible emissions reduction path in line with that agreement. In doing so the UK showed leadership internationally by committing into law the action we would take in tackling climate change.

The Climate Change Act included a requirement on the Government to set legally binding ‘carbon budgets’ – a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the UK over a five-year period.

CCC_website_logoThe Committee on Climate Change (CCC) was set up to advise the Government on the carbon budgets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing emissions. 

The first four carbon budgets have been put into legislation and run up to 2027. The proposed fifth carbon budget’s 57% cut in emissions by 2032 was laid out before Paris by the committee, and has yet to be legislated on. In a letter yesterday to energy and climate change secretary, Amber Rudd, the CCC said that:

“…the pledged contributions by the EU and others have not yet changed. On that basis we repeat our recommendation that the fifth carbon budget be legislated at 1,765 MtCO2.”

This is of course very disappointing as we’re failing to increase the ambition in light of the Paris climate deal. Whilst we could take aim at the CCC for the advice given, as some campaigners have done, the fact of the matter is they are working to legislation that is now, quite frankly, out of date.

What should this mean for the UK?


Ed Miliband has the answer. The former Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, and more recently Labour Leader, wrote in the Guardian last November, even before the Paris summit had begun, conveying what the science was already telling us; that we would need to go further with our emissions targets to achieve net-zero emissions at some point in the second half of this century. The Paris Agreement has subsequently quite rightly acknowledged the very same thing.  

Initially, this means switching to 100% clean energy by 2050 and making our energy system more efficient and productive. It’s also about putting in place the right infrastructure – buildings and transport. Further down the line we will need to make more savings in emissions in more difficult ways and it will mean cancelling out any residual emissions from agriculture and industry by capturing carbon from the atmosphere through new technology and/or biological means – creating carbon sinks through reforestation and sequestration in the soil.

The net-zero emissions goal is crucial and already many cities and companies are adopting this goal. As Ed Miliband pointed out:

“…the right step now would be for Britain to become the first major country to enshrine net zero emissions in law, with the date determined by advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change.

He went on to say that that this:

“…would show our determination to face up to this existential challenge. It will provide an essential framework for business and government so that we make the right decisions now on key energy and infrastructure issues. And it will inspire the inventors, engineers and businesses that can deliver on this challenge.”

From Ed Miliband’s conversations with people across the House of Commons, including the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Caroline Lucas of the Greens and Conservatives such as Nick Hurd and Graham Stuart (chair of Globe, the international parliamentarians group on climate change), it is clear there is cross-party support.

Mr Miliband finished with this:

“Paris must be the start of a journey of the whole world towards this goal. And far from this commitment holding Britain back, we can be a leader again on climate change. Leadership which does not mean harm to our economy, but will put us ahead in the race for the new jobs, businesses and advantages of this new world. I hope the government will support this initiative. We can build an alliance, put aside our party differences as we have before, and seize this moment.”


Now that COP21 in Paris is over, we know the direction of travel, and attention is turning to the hard work of getting there. To use an analogy put forward by Anthony Hobley, CEO of Carbon Tracker at the Hub Eco Series event I attended last night at Impact Hub King’s Cross, it’s like we now have planning permission to build a house, but now we have got to get on and build it.

Before we start laying those foundations and building that house, we need to go back to the architect and make sure everybody’s got a copy of the plans. Paris was an amazing achievement, but it’s a global deal that is underpinned by individual countries all doing their bit to to achieve the same goals. The UK took the lead in producing GHG emissions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Industrial Revolution that began in the North West of England ultimately transformed society into the fossil fuel dependent society we have become.

It is right therefore that we also led the world in taking action to reduce emissions by becoming the first country to legislate for deep, long-term cuts and it is essential that we continue this leadership and remain on track by introducing updated legislation and making the right decision about the period to 2032, which the government now faces.  

Taking Action:


The Energy Bill is currently passing through parliament. This Bill is a public bill presented to Parliament by the Government and passed its second reading on 18 January 2016 without a vote. Ed spoke during the Energy Bill debate, making the case for putting zero emissions into UK law. The next stage is committee stage when MPs consider the Bill line by line.

The Public Bill Committee is to conclude by Tuesday 9 February 2016 but it may finish earlier. Check here to see if your MP is on the committee.

The best thing we can do now is write to our MPs (especially if they are on the committee) and ask them to write to Ed Miliband to offer their support for his campaign and his efforts to include an amendment to the Energy Bill (providing us with a copy of their letter and any response they get).

Looking further ahead, if an amendment to the Energy Bill is not achieved, then perhaps we need to look to history for how we improve current legislation. The 2008 Climate Change Bill was preceded by a Private Member’s Bill of the same name drafted by Friends of the Earth and brought before Parliament on 7 April 2005. Would FoE be willing to draft an amended 2016 Climate Change Bill based on the Paris Agreement?

A Private Member’s Bill needs a sponsor, who can be any member of parliament (Miliband, Nandy, or Caroline Lucas for example, though it might gain more traction if it came from one of the two Conservatives mentioned – Nick Hurd or Graham Stuart). 

Looking back again at the history of the the first Climate Change Act, shortly after the 2005 general election, 412 of the 646 Members of Parliament signed an early day motion calling for a Climate Change Bill to be introduced. Only three other early day motions had ever been signed by more than 400 MPs. On 8 June 2008, following the Second Reading of the Bill, only five members of the House of Commons voted against it.

I think this can be done, we just need to build the political will.

Let’s start today by writing to our MPs and asking them to write to Ed Miliband with their support (providing you with a copy too). If you do write, please let me know the outcome. 

Further Reading:

In January, a report was commissioned by Sandbag to explore why the UK, in the light of the Paris Agreement, could consider an additional ‘net zero emissions’ long-term goal.

Sandbag have also recently blogged about the inclusion of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) provisions, added to the Energy Bill in it’s initial passing through the Lords.


The Paris summit was a success because the world is now left in no doubt that a low-carbon planet is an inevitability

A climate change activist in Paris following the announcement of the Paris Agreement, showing her love for the planet.

It’s not perfect, we know that. It’s built on voluntary pledges, which at present are woefully insufficient to get us anywhere near a limit of 2°C, never mind the aspirational 1.5°C. Also, as George Monbiot points out in his typically cynical analysis on Saturday: “While earlier drafts specified dates and percentages, the final text stated only to ‘reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible’.”

But it’s a solid foundation on which we can build. As Ban Ki Moon said: “The current level of ambition is the floor and not the ceiling”.

The reference to a 1.5°C goal demonstrates the unexpected power and influence of the vulnerable countries in rooting the agreement in the realities they face. Even Monbiot conceded that the “aspirational limit of 1.5°C of global warming, after the rejection of this demand for so many years, can be seen within this frame as a resounding victory. In this respect and others, the final text is stronger than most people anticipated.”


The common transparency and rules that provide trust between countries have been outlined, but need more work. Although this reporting issue – the need to shine a light on what governments are doing – might, to an extent, be taken out of the hands of governments, because private groups like Climate Tracker and the World Resources Institute are doing their own calculations and increasingly governments have nowhere to hide.

John Niles teaches greenhouse gas accounting at the not-for-profit Greenhouse Gas Management Institute. In Paris he launched an international partnership with similar trainers around the world called the Carbon Institute. They’ll educate a generation of greenhouse gas accountants who can do the work in every country the Paris agreement demands. And if countries can’t or don’t report properly, or try to hide what they are really doing, Niles says the same accounting skills can reveal the truth anyway“Of course we can check on governments,” he says. “Satellites can check CO2 in the atmosphere … they can measure the size of a forest and take multidimensional pictures … they can create a pretty good picture of what a country is doing,” he says.

Climate Finance

In addition, there is a framework for new finance, providing poor countries with access to investment needed to leap-frog dirty energy and accelerate access to renewable energy as well as funding to adapt to the impacts. Rich countries have promised that by 2025 they will set a new goal for climate finance “from a floor of $100bn per year”, the figure first pledged at the Copenhagen climate talks six years ago. However, the commitment was offered as a non-binding decision that accompanied the binding text.

Finally, the agreement includes efforts to address the impacts of climate change and deal with irreversible damages. This was a big concession made by the US in the end and should be applauded. This ought to mark a turning point in how the international community prepares for and responds to extreme weather events.

The Long Term Goal

Crucially, the Paris Agreement contains a clear and science-based long-term goal. This is given teeth by a mechanism that ramps up ambition every 5 years, starting in 2018. These 5-yearly reviews are the only real teeth the agreement has, because the targets themselves have to sit outside the legally binding part of the document (so the deal doesn’t have to go to the US Congress where it would inevitably be scuppered). Also, any failure in terms of the implementation of emissions reductions won’t lead to any sanctions. Instead, the whole idea is that peer pressure holds countries to account and builds the trust that would hopefully lead them to agree to deeper cuts over time.

Far from ideal of course, but there is no doubt the the Agreement sends a strong signal to business and investors that there is only one direction of travel. It makes clear that developed countries should continue to lead, but shows that the world is acting together. There is the sense that we now all share a common direction, but with an acceptance that countries will travel at different speeds.

The long-term goal itself is ‘to reach a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the second half of the century.’  This effectively means net zero GHG emissions, whereby anthropogenic (human-caused) GHG emissions will be reduced to the maximum amount possible whilst simultaneously driving towards the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere until such at time that emissions are low enough to be absorbed by carbon sinks (for example, creating carbon sinks through reforestation programmes).

This is way beyond expectations. Personally, I would have liked to have seen an interim goal of net zero carbon emissions by mid-century written into the agreement (in line with the Avaaz campaign for 100% clean that I’ve been actively involved in), but this longer term goal that has been adopted covers all GHG emissions and is consistent with protecting the planet from dangerous global warming.

In any case, by also including an ambitious temperature goal (limiting warming well below 2°C and trying to limit to 1.5°C), we can infer certain other goals. For example, scientists have established the following:

To have a likely chance of limiting warming to below 2°C:

  • Carbon dioxide emissions will have to drop to net zero between 2060 and 2075 (80% clean energy by 2050 compared to the current level of 30%)
  • Total GHG emissions need to decline to net zero between 2080 and 2090

For a likely chance of limiting warming to below 1.5°C:

  • Carbon dioxide emissions have to drop to net zero between 2045 and 2050 (100% clean energy by 2050)
  • Total GHG emissions need to decline to net zero between 2060 and 2080

So fossil-fuel-based electricity generation without CCS will need to be phased out by mid-century if we are to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C. Transformation of other sectors and enhanced carbon storage like that achieved by increased landscape restoration will also be required to offset other emissions, especially if removals are to be maximized.

Keep them in the ground

By way of further criticism, Mombiot claims that the “UN climate process has focused entirely on the consumption of fossil fuels, while ignoring their production.” He alleges  that “delegates have solemnly agreed to cut demand (by focussing on reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels, rather than keeping them in the ground in the first place), whilst at home still seeking to “maximise supply.” His prime example of course being the UK government’s legal obligation, put upon itself under the Infrastructure Act 2015, to “maximise economic recovery” of the UK’s oil and gas.

Mombiot’s point being that until governments “undertake to keep fossil fuels in the ground, they will continue to undermine the agreement they have just made.”

He’s right of course. The role of government in the modern economy is to set long-term goals and then put the right policies in place to give the market the steer it needs. Something the UK Government is failing to do with its proposals to review – and essentially bring to an end – support for rooftop solar through the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT).

To my mind, governments will have a choice now. They can either lead the way or be dragged along. Either way, we can now expect a significant shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. As Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever puts it:

“The consequences of this agreement go far beyond the actions of governments. They will be felt in banks, stock exchanges, board rooms and research centres as the world absorbs the fact that we are embarking on an unprecedented project to decarbonise the global economy. This realisation will unlock trillions of dollars and the immense creativity and innovation of the private sector who will rise to the challenge in a way that will avert the worst effects of climate change.”

Even the UK’s main business lobby group, the CBI, is calling on the UK Government to review it’s policies. Director-general, Carolyn Fairbairn, said the agreement “heralds an exciting opportunity for business” and called on the UK Government to do more to back clean technology:

“Businesses will want to see domestic policies that demonstrate commitment to this goal and none more so than in the UK”

As Simon Howard, chief executive of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association said:

“This is a better than expected deal which is really encouraging. It shows the world united, committed to beating climate change. The need now is for Governments and regulators to set consistent long-term policies on which investors can rely.”

Putting a price on carbon

One way in which governments can give businesses and investors the policy certainty they crave, is to put a price on carbon. The World Bank Group, business groups, and investors have called on governments and corporations around the world to support carbon pricing to bring down emissions and drive investment into cleaner options. Euan Munro, CEO at Aviva Investors said:

“The outcome of COP 21 is a significant step forward. There is increasing recognition among policymakers of the huge financial losses that climate change will cause. We now need real action by each country to cut emissions domestically and establish a material price for carbon. The UK government, for example, must move quickly to provide a credible plan for meeting its carbon targets.”

Picking up the pace

Bill Mckibben, writing in the Guardian following the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, believes that ‘pace’ is now the key word:

“Pace – velocity, speed, rate, momentum, tempo. That’s what matters from here on in. We know where we’re going now; no one can doubt that the fossil fuel age has finally begun to wane, and that the sun is now shining on, well, solar. But the question, the only important question, is: how fast.”

For him, that means no more drilling or mining in new areas, the Arctic will now have to be completely off limits, as will the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, the pre-salt formations off Brazil, and the oil off the coasts of north America. According to McKibben, we’ve got to “stop fracking right away (in fact, that may be the greatest imperative of all, since methane gas does its climate damage so fast)….The huge subsidies doled out to fossil fuel have to end yesterday, and the huge subsidies to renewable energy had better begin tomorrow. You have to raise the price of carbon steeply and quickly, so everyone gets a clear signal to get off of it.

“At the moment the world has no real plan to do any of those things. It continues to pretend that merely setting the goal has been work enough for the last two decades….Its governments are still listening mostly to the fossil fuel industry…”

Bill McKibben highlights a good case in point when he says that the Obama administration, even as it negotiated the new climate agreement, has been flirting with lifting a longstanding ban on oil exports, which would be the equivalent of “opening a hundred-odd new coal-fired power plants and operating them for a year.”

McKibben uses an analogy of governments as novice marathon runners who have now set themselves a goal to run a super-fast marathon and for the next few years, the  job of climate activists will be act as their personal trainers; to “yell and scream at governments everywhere to get up off the couch, to put down the chips, to run faster faster faster.”


We’ve had our say. Now it is up to world leaders to deliver

We’ve had our say. Now it is up to world leaders to deliver

After attending the London Climate March yesterday, it was good to hear this morning that the UK prime minister is seeking legally binding emissions targets at the Paris conference, along with help for poorer countries.

I was lucky enough to be at the front of the London Climate March, leading the way and leading the chants, along with around 50,000 other climate change campaigners in London, who were all demanding a strong global deal on climate action at the Paris conference, which opened today. 785,000 people marched worldwide – a record number overall and a record-breaking number in 20 of the cities that took part.

The People's March for Climate, Justice and Jobs – London. 29/11/15.
London, UK. 29/11/15. Tens of thousands march through central London ahead of the Paris Climate Conference. (© Rob Pinney / Avaaz)

COP21, as the conference is known, is seen as a make-or-break conference. The last chance for the two-decades-old UN process to bring nations together to tackle what many scientists regard as the biggest single threat to humanity. Nearly 150 heads of state and government officials from  countries around the world will attend the two-week talks, which are seen as crucial if we are to stand any chance of controlling greenhouse gas emissions before it’s too late.

Countries are aiming to agree on financial support to help poor nations to cut emissions and cope with the effects of extreme weather. They also hope to set targets on limiting global emissions that would come into effect from 2020, when current commitments run out.

Legal Framework

Nobody really believes that a plan will be put in place that will lead to a world of zero emissions or one that will limit global warming to within the so-called danger level of 2C. As such, whatever happens, many will condemn the process as a failure. What is really important though, is that leaders agree a robust legal framework that will ensure that targets are improved upon on a stepped basis, as technology develops.

As the UN General Secretary pointed out in his opening speech today, the agreement must be lasting and must not need continually renegotiating. It must be a credible starting point, with a mechanism that includes five year review cycles at the very least. Crucially though, it must balance responsibilities of developed and developing countries.

The UK’s Climate Change Act is a strong domestic framework to deal with emissions and we need to see a similarly robust system at the international level.

Climate Aid

Developed countries must also keep their promise of delivering $100bn of climate aid per year to poorer countries by 2020. Ban Ki-moon has correctly called for the climate deal to include a framework for monitoring those financial flows. This money will go to helping countries adapt and strengthen their infrastructure to cope with the effects of extreme weather.

Will the climate negotiations succeed?

Elements of an agreement are slowly falling into place. Almost every country in the world, including all the biggest economies, have submitted their individual plans on how they will reduce emissions from 2020 onwards, when current comitments expire. The US and China, the two biggest emitters, made a joint announcement on their emissions, for the first time, in a marked show of unity.

They must do better than the last big summit in Copenhagen in 2009 when all that was achieved was a “political declaration”. Whilst major developed and developing countries jointly agreed emissions targets for the first time, it fell short of the formal treaty that many had hoped for.

Many things are expected to be different this time. At Copenhagen, the text of a potential deal was too unwieldy to produce a formal treaty. Whereas the text for Paris has been slimmed down to just over 20 pages, which will hopefully make it possible to get it signed off in the two weeks of the talks.

Most of the world’s biggest economies have now publicly declared they want a deal. However, at the UN talks, small and desperately poor countries have just as much say as the richest. They may not be so happy to oblige if they don’t feel they are getting fair treatment. It’s all to play for. For now, all we can do is hope.

A global shift to 100% renewables is within sight

A year ago I started campaigning for Manchester to commit to become 100% clean by 2050. A growing number of cities, regions and even countries were committing to such a transition and I hoped the new ‘Northern Powerhouse’ could be one of them. I still do…

To meet the internationally agreed climate goal to limit global warming to below 2°C, the science is clear: take carbon emissions to zero by roughly 2070 which means you need 100% clean energy by 2050.   

At the Climate Summit in New York last September, the task given by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was simple. Heads of States had to promise the delivery of a global action plan by 2015 and this needed to target a fully decarbonised energy sector based on 100% renewable energy by 2050. That means no new carbon put into the air by the way we power our lives. Homes, transport and businesses – everything needs to be powered by clean, renewable energy.

Is this possible? Yes. Remember we have 35 years to get there. Think of all the technology we have now that didn’t exist 35 years ago: computers, the internet, smartphones etc. We can create even more solutions that we haven’t even thought of yet.

The EU has said it will push for at least 27% of the EU’s energy to come from renewables by 2030, but that’s not enough. The G7 have said they will commit to ‘strive’ towards transformation of the energy sector by 2050, but this is too loose. We can do so much better than this when you look at the progress made already.

Since the Copenhagen climate summit 6 years ago…

In the last six years since that now infamous and disastrous Copenhagen climate summit there has been a huge amount of investment in renewable energy, spectacular growth in the amount of solar and wind generated power, with renewables now the world’s second largest source of electricity. The prospect of a renewably-powered future is now much more tangible.

In 2009, there was 1,223GW of renewable power capacity installed globally (including hydro and traditional biomass), according to REN21, a thinktank. By 2014 that had risen 28% to 1,560GW, equivalent to 780 average sized (2GW) coal power plants. That’s in just 6 years.

2013 was the first year that more renewable capacity was built than fossil and nuclear combined: 56% of the electricity generating capacity built in 2013 was renewable.

China increased the amount of renewable power it generated by more than three times as much as the rest of the world put together in 2014.

Investment in renewables grew significantly in the years following Copenhagen, according to figures from BNEF. $196Bn was invested in 2009. In 2013 it stood at $254Bn, a 30% increase.

The growth of wind and solar power has consistently outstripped projections from the influential International Energy Agency. Renewables have even grown faster than predicted by Greenpeace.

Wind Power

Global wind power capacity more than doubled between 2009 and 2014. By 2014 China had installed more than four times the wind generating power it had in 2009. India doubled its wind capacity in the same five years.

Solar Power

Global solar capacity saw even faster growth between 2009 and 2014 – growing by 91% in 2010 alone. In 2014 China had achieved a staggering 94-fold increase in solar capacity since 2009. Solar capacity grew 15-fold in the United States between 2009 and 2014, with a third of that installed in 2013/2014 alone.

And now?

The latest figures on renewable energy trends from the UN Environment Programme (Unep) reveal a striking turnaround after a period in which low oil prices and policy uncertainty pushed investment down, threatening the sector. Even though oil prices remain low, world investment, largely in solar and wind, went up by 17% to $270bn last year, reversing a two-year dip. The new generating capacity that represents is about the same as the total output of the current US nuclear system.

The cost of renewable electricity has fallen rapidly over the past six years, particularly for solar power, where cost reductions have been dramatic and unexpected. IRENA says solar PV module costs have fallen 75% since the end of 2009 and the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar PV by 50% since 2010.

Of course it’s tough for politicians trained to look only to the next election cycle, but we are starting to see progress. At least 16 cities already have 100% targets. Copenhagen, San Francisco, Munich and Frankfurt were the first to commit to going 100 % Clean – Copenhagen even a lot earlier: by 2030!

Costa Rica may have relied on its very particular topography to have its energy system powered 100% by renewable energy in 2015, but it is symbolically powerful and Costa Ricans are enjoying falling energy prices. Also, the best energy systems should always be locally tailored.

Under very different circumstances, the district of Rhein-Hunsrück in the industrial giant of Germany achieved 100% renewable status and exports surplus clean energy to the grid. The €290m (£213m) it used to spend on importing energy is being turned into value for the local community by an energy system based on efficiency and local, renewable sources.

One in four UK homes now benefits from wind power, a rise of 15% on last year, and Scotland is generating enough clean energy to be used in 98% of its homes.

Solar entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett argues in his forthcoming book, The Winning of the Carbon War, that three mostly independent dynamics are at play driving the change. Firstly, the numbers no longer add up in the old fossil fuel model. The costs of new acquisitions become unmanageable in a system that feasts on debt. Secondly, costs in solar and the vital link of a green energy system, battery storage, are plummeting while the sector offers attractive, reliable rates of return to investors. The Swiss bank UBS famously predicted the rapid “extinction” of the old fossil fuel system as battery costs as much as halve over the next five years.

And, finally, there is movement internationally on climate policy. “We are now in danger of winning the carbon war,” says Leggett. ”Would I like to be running an oil company now? Defending their case is becoming untenable.”

Here are three recently reported examples of how local economies can be strengthened by transitioning to 100% renewable energy:

Frankfurt, Germany

By 2050, Frankfurt will produce 100% of its energy consumption from local and regional renewable sources bringing down its current energy import costs from €2bn a year to zero. Thanks to its public local utility which drives this transition, the city not only benefits from these savings but generates additional income in the form of revenues and tax incomes. By prioritising energy production from within the city and the surrounding region – while still being connected to the larger national grid – the money will stay in the region.

Energy efficiency measures have saved Frankfurt €100m in energy costs, a number that is projected to rise. The city has also reduced emissions by 15% between 1990 and 2012, while its economy grew by 50% for its 715,000 inhabitants.

Vancouver, Canada

One city leading the movement in North America is Vancouver. Widely recognised as the most livable city in the world, its environmental footprint is currently three times larger than it can sustain. Mayor Robertson and his team are committed to changing this, by putting the city on track to become the greenest in the world. By 2050, Vancouver will obtain 100% of the energy it uses from renewable sources and emit 80% fewer greenhouse gases than in 2007.

It is not only the environment that motivates the government to take this action; Vancouver is a great example of how climate and environmental protection, and economic growth, can complement each other. A study by Brand Finance estimates that Vancouver’s brand is valued at $31bn due to its reputation as a “green, clean and sustainable” city. Steering the city towards 100% renewable energy and focusing on local sustainability, has helped create more than 3,000 new local green jobs in only five years.

Kasese, Uganda

The district of Kasese in Uganda (of approximately 130,000 households) is radically transforming. By 2020, Kasese will supply the energy needs of its population by only renewable sources. This ambitious target will be achieved by adopting a people-centered approach, with a wide variety of renewable sources such as biomass, solar, geothermal and mini-hydroelectric technologies. This will help the region overcome health issues strongly connected to the uncontrolled use of charcoal, firewood and kerosene, the main energy sources used for cooking and domestic electricity production.

By implementing a decentralised renewable energy system in the region, several clean energy businesses have been started since 2012, creating jobs for locals. They sell solar equipment, construct solar hubs, build biogas systems, improve cook stoves and deliver mini-hydro projects. The number of businesses in the local green economy has increased from five to 55 since 2012, and at least 1,650 people have been trained in the process.

So why Manchester?

Well for starters thousands of people from Manchester have already signed our petition demanding a 100% clean energy future. We are a city region intent on achieving a better future for our children.

Significantly though, politically, Greater Manchester is perfectly placed for this. The ten local authorities have come together to create the first city-region and a new elected mayor will be appointed from 2017. This will lead to a city region with greater freedoms, which will ultimately control all public spending in Greater Manchester. With responsibility for local transport (something which is already making great strides through the expansion of the successful Metrolink tram network), along with devolved planning freedoms and control of funds for housing, Manchester will be able to control much of its own destiny.

As part of this process, 17 Priorities have been outlined as part of the Greater Manchester Strategic Framework. One of these is ‘Building our global brand’ and another is ‘Seizing the growth potential of a low carbon economy’.

The economic argument

Some countries have begun to realise the benefits. A recent German study [pdf] reveals that some €5.4bn was generated in Germany in 2012 through projects that were partially or fully owned by local investors, including citizens. Local private investments created a total of around 100,000 jobs that year in both the construction sector and operation.

It is doable – the weight of scientific opinion leaves no doubt. Professor Mark Jacobson from Stanford University has outlined a vision to power the entire United States, including the transport sector, by 100% renewables by 2050. We don’t lack the ability, we lack political will.

Taking Action

Online petitions are a growing political movement all on their own and fast becoming a proven way to make real change happen, but they are at their most powerful when they are directed at local actors by people in their community. I like the idea of a cascade of campaigns in cities and towns across the world calling for local pledges for 100% clean energy by 2050. Together we can turn our countries green from the inside out and show national politicians that climate action is possible and popular.

Cities contribute two thirds of the world’s energy use and 70% of carbon pollution, so the commitments our mayors make has a major global impact. Getting our towns & cities to promise a clean, sustainable future is an important step towards stopping runaway climate change, and together we can make it happen. That’s why I created a petition to specifically get Manchester to commit to 100% clean energy.

The more of us who take action, the more likely it is our leaders will listen. Please sign the petition here and share as widely as possible.

Where next for climate campaigners in the UK?

By Jon Crooks

The divestment campaign has been a great way for campaigners to target local government, universities and charitable foundations and our communities have been doing their own things to address the challenges we face, but as we now approach Paris the spotlight needs to swing back onto our national governments once again.

We are facing a climate crisis that will cause increasing global instability, famine, poverty, environmental degradation and loss of species, and we are aware that the pledges made by the governments around the world fall far short of what is needed to avert this crisis.

We are taking action at a community level to address climate change and we know that this problem can be solved, but where should our focus now turn and what should we be demanding from our Government?

The UK joined up with the rest of the EU back in March in putting forward their collective Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which was to achieve an at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030.

The interesting word there is ‘domestic’. Emissions come from a number of sources, such as the energy supply and transport sectors, but emissions are measured at the point in which they are produced, such as from a power station or from a road vehicle. The problem with this is that countries like the UK are net importers of goods. A great deal of what we consume has been manufactured or grown abroad. We are therefore effectively outsourcing our emissions, making it harder for countries who manufacture, grow and export more to make similar commitments.

So whilst the European Commission gloated that the INDC puts the EU “on a cost-effective pathway towards long term domestic emission reductions of 80%” by 2050 and that the goal put the bloc on track for a 60% cut v 2010 levels by 2050, which was “at the upper end” of the IPCC’s range of 40-70% emission reductions necessary worldwide to limit global temperature to 2C, it clearly ignores this issue of outsourcing of our emissions based on our high consumption levels.

Even based on this pledge from the EU, as is the case also with China, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and the US, it could only be considered sufficient if all other countries put forward a similar level of ambition. This of course hasn’t happened, with countries like Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Russia all falling a long way short. Then of course there is the fact that over history we are responsible for most of the carbon in the atmosphere and should shoulder most of the responsibility for putting things right.

As things stand, when combined, the promises made so far by governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions come nowhere near what is required to stop global warming rising above the 2C so-called dangerous level.

So what now?

Well now that these commitments have been submitted, I can’t imagine that our Government or the EU as a whole are going to revise their pledge between now and the Paris talks, with the deadline for submitting having already passed. EU leaders patted themselves on the back over their 40% reduction pledge and certainly it’s more of a commitment than many other major players among the big economic powers.

It could be argued that whilst the combined INDCs are nowhere near the level they need to be, the important thing that needs to come out of COP21 is for world leaders to agree on a legally binding mechanism for improving their INDCs periodically until we do get to a point where they are sufficient.

From a UK point of view we could ask our government to openly call for such an agreement ahead of the talks and to commit to fight for the same in Paris. We have to be realistic though. This is the Tories. They won’t lead the way in this respect. In fact, let’s face it, we need to fear the opposite.

Should we start by questioning the UK’s commitment to 40%?

Based on the last two months activity from Osborne and Cameron, we should be seriously concerned that the UK may try to lead a deviation from this EU commitment. Certainly beyond Paris you could envisage this government backtracking on previous commitments agreed through the EU on the basis of UK sovereignty from Europe.

Between now and Paris it may be unlikely that we would deviate from the EU INDC in the short term, but there’s certainly concern that the majority think it’s an adequate pledge. We need to keep up the pressure and ensure the UK supports the EU commitment as a minimum and gets behind the the legally binding deal that has been drafted.

We want a global agreement that will measure up to the size of the crisis we face. Nothing less will do.

Taking Action:

Please sign and share our petition calling on the Secretary Of State for Energy & Climate Change, Amber Rudd to honour the UK’s commitment to a “fair” global climate deal.

Demonstrating a leadership position from the UK and strengthening its pledge at the COP21 Paris Climate Conference would encourage others in the EU to do what is necessary to keep global temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees. We are therefore requesting the UK Government pledges to cut UK CO2 emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, including land use emissions.

This is supported by the Committee on Climate Change who state the UK would need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 51-57% by 2030 to play its part in stabilizing global temperatures.

The following measures can support this target:

  • Reinstate the domestic Feed-In-Tarriff (FIT) which is proposed to be cut by 87%. This is projected to result in at least 20,000 jobs losses and 1 million fewer solar schemes being installed by 2020, increasing carbon emissions by 1.6 million tonnes
  • Remove the £910m-a-year tax on renewable energy imposed via the Climate Change Levy, a tax developed for imposition on fossil fuels. Reinstate the Levy Exemption Certificate for renewables
  • Maintain support for the Green Deal through a review of its implementation and continue support for energy efficiency measures in domestic and commercial applications that will facilitate reductions within our existing building stock.
  • Reinstate subsidies for onshore wind, the UKs cheapest low carbon electricity source.



Currently our approach to energy policy is regressive and out of step with the times and what other EU countries are doing. We call on the UK to emulate those countries who are leading the way, such as Denmark who will meet 100% of their energy needs from renewables by 2050 and plans to stop using coal by 2025, which currently makes up 20% of its current energy supply, and who’s parliament has divested its fossil fuel endowment of $900 billion.

Why we must fight the Tories on every front – Reason #2 – The Environment

Why we must fight the Tories on every front – Reason #2 – The Environment

By Jon Crooks

Our environment is our human life support system. A healthy planet is needed to support future generations and it’s in free-fall, but it’s not a priority for the Tories.

It’s also a marginalised issue for most of the electorate; perhaps because it doesn’t get the debate it should either in Westminster or in the corporate media. This needs to change.

We won’t save the planet by putting the country out of business – George Osborne, 2011

There’s no economy on a dead planet” – Jon Crooks, 2015

We know The Tories think of our country as UK Plc and will always put profit before people and planet, but since they were re-elected in May they seem to be going much further.  Craig Bennett, CEO, Friends of the Earth recently wrote that the Tories are sticking two fingers up to everyone fighting climate change. It certainly seems that way at times.

The irrepressible Frack Free Lancashire, a residents group that formed to campaign against fracking in their community
The irrepressible Frack Free Lancashire, a residents group that formed to campaign against fracking in their community

On-shore wind subsidies have been cut despite now being the cheapest form of UK electricitythe Green Deal has been scrapped and fracking, despite having been roundly rejected by the communities it’s continually foisted upon, is still being forced on us and will now even be allowed in our most precious wildlife sites. Two new gas power stations have been given the nod and George Osborne has even introduced a new carbon tax for renewables! The “Climate Change Levy” designed to penalise polluting power plants is now going to be applied to clean energy!! As Friends of the Earth said:

“…it’s like putting an alcohol tax on apple juice.”


Then there is the shocking recent proposal to cut support for solar. The Government has proposed huge cuts to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) – the scheme introduced by the Labour government in 2010 which supports small scale renewables.

The proposal suggests that the domestic FiT will be cut by 87%, decimating the rooftop solar industry in the UK. This will put at least 20,000 people at risk of job losses, result in almost one million fewer solar schemes being installed by 2020 and increase our annual carbon emissions by 1.6 million tonnes. It will take longer than 20 years for solar panels to pay for themselves, and only those with thousands of pounds of disposable income will be able to install them. Most families, schools, council tenants and community groups will be forced out of the solar revolution. The proposed cuts will only save at most £6 from annual household utility bills – far less than the £230 that energy companies routinely over-charge their customers. Even The Telegraph agree that this proposal will leave the UK trailing behind in the global solar revolution, and needlessly threaten jobs that will be vital to our future low-carbon economy.

Green Jobs

Almost 1,000 redundancies have already been made by the solar panel installers Mark Group and Climate Energy. No one in the industry believes this will be the end of the sad story.

Thousands of workers are employed in the green economy (this is the bit of the economy that grew 5% a year during the double dip recession). These are the jobs that can usher in a clean, long-term rejuvenation of the UK’s industrial towns and ports. Why crush them?

Energy Saving

We all know that the most effective way to reduce bills is to conserve energy, to use less of the stuff through upgrades to boilers and insulation in our homes. The cost of building renewables is high in the short term and negligible in the long term – the fuel is free, after all. So killing energy efficiency projects and clamping down on renewables is inviting charges of hypocrisy when the changes are made in the name of “protecting consumers” and “bringing down bills”.

Nuclear power

If it’s really about cutting subsidies to save the public money on their energy bills, why don’t the Tories withdraw support in the same way from the 70-year-old nuclear industry, whose costs continue to soar despite once promising electricity too cheap to meter? Where’s the insistence that it, too, must stand on its own feet? Could it be that there are deeper links between Britain’s nuclear deterrent and our government’s commitment to nuclear power? The financial support is eye-watering: 35 year contracts at twice the wholesale market price, representing bill-payer funded subsidies running into billions, most of which will line the pockets of state-owned utility companies abroad.

Oil and gas

And what does the Government have to say about all the hidden subsidies for oil and gas, totalling £3bn in new tax breaks in the last parliament alone? Or the Capacity Market, an obscure mechanism designed to keep old power plants hanging on, whose funding – via consumer bills, just like renewables – has quietly increased to £1.3bn? Right now, there’s little to stop our oldest and dirtiest coal plants seeking these taxpayer handouts this autumn. It’s clear as day: one rule for fossil fuels, another for renewables and energy saving.

Why, why, why?

The Tories know we have to take action on climate change, but they choose to go down the route of backing the old industries as a way of reducing our emissions in the short term (the nuclear industry and fracked gas) instead of investing in the new technologies that we need for the future. Why?

It could be a combination of reasons. The influence of money and power on  the Tory party cannot be underestimated. It could also be about military might where the nuclear industry is concerned. It could be an ideology built our of a misplaced faith in big old-fashioned industries and a lack of respect for smaller scale newer industries like solar and wind.

What worries me most though is that the Tory mentality might be that we are already on course to exceed our emission reduction targets for 2020, for a variety of reasons including the downturn in the economy in 2008, and so we can afford to ditch renewables for a few years and maximise the profits of our oil and gas industries – this latter point was even written into legislation with the Infrastructure Bill earlier in the year! It’s classic Tory thinking of putting profit before people and planet. 

Craig Bennet, CEO, Friends of the Earth, sums up what we need to do:

“Get off fossil fuels fast, ramp up clean energy and hugely invest in energy saving. But David Cameron is wilfully ignoring it, delivering instead an agenda that neatly sums up the zealous, anti-renewables, anti-environment ideology of a small handful of what he would probably once have called swivel-eyed loons on his own back benches. These same voices are those who shout loudest about the energy crisis we are facing. They are right: after decades of this country prioritising fossil fuels, nuclear and ignoring energy saving, we are facing an energy crisis. Their solution? To continue prioritising fossil fuels, nuclear and ignore energy saving. It’s old, failed thinking stuck on repeat.” 

As divestment campaigns around the world gather momentum, in Manchester we are demanding that the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, the biggest local authority pension fund in the country, stops investing in fossil fuels, with over £1 billion invested in companies like Shell and BP -
As divestment campaigns around the world gather momentum, in Manchester we are demanding that the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, the biggest local authority pension fund in the country, stops investing in fossil fuels, with over £1 billion invested in companies like Shell and BP.

We need to start thinking about the long-term interests of the planet rather than the short-term interests of corporate profits. Public ownership of railways and the energy sector, divestment from fossil fuels and investment in energy saving initiatives for our homes, sustainable transport and renewables.

Not more in a series of cuts, not just to solar but also to onshore wind, at a time when it seems maximum effort and financial support is being expended on removing roadblocks to fracking and nuclear power and when new figures out this week from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show the cost of building nuclear or gas-fired power stations is rising – as wind and solar costs fall.

“We are the builders,” Osborne claimed at the Tory party conference last week. But government cuts and tinkering are destroying the renewables industry, not building it.

Take Action:

Please share the map and help keep building the pressure on councils across the UK to #DivestPensions

Sign the FoE petition to divest the GMPF

Help Save our Solar industry