Cabot Institute Blog

Find out more about us at www.bristol.ac.uk/cabot

Monday, 15 September 2014

The big commitment: How we're ensuring all our students encounter sustainability at Bristol

The University of Bristol has signed a UNESCO Global Action Programme commitment, in advance of there launch of the next UNESCO strategy for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

As the UNESCO decade for ESD draws to an end, UNESCO has reviewed progress, and will this November launch a new Global Action Programme focussed on four key areas which most urgently need more attention.

My own journey, and Bristol's very much reflects the picture UNESCO has found. A decade ago ESD was largely below the radar in Higher Education (HE).  Lots of great things were going on, but as local initiatives by keen academics. Typical of the time, we won our first Times Higher Award and Green Gown Award for what was then a very innovative interdisciplinary open unit on Sustainable Development, available to any student, whatever their degree. Nearly a decade later, UNESCO has set us all the challenge of moving from hot spots of excellence to whole institution approaches. Bristol has committed to meeting that challenge.

The University of Bristol collects
its 2nd Green Gown Award in
2013.
We changed gear to a whole institution approach about three years ago, when we were selected as  one of six Green Academies by HEA. I've never been a fan of labels, but in this case it was the catalyst for moving to a whole institution approach - and in 2013 the University was awarded another Green Gown, but this time for whole institution continuous change. The whole University  is taking education for sustainable development  seriously, every part of the institution is doing something. Our challenge now is to connect all of this is up, to deepen student opportunities to engage with uncertainty, with the challenges of sustainability in their studies, informal activity and in the subliminal curriculum. The key for me is ensuring our students have adaptive capacity - the ability to live with uncertainty and take decisions based on evidence. Without those skills the sirens of cosy avoidance of the crisis  facing our planet beckon. We can let the evidence speak for itself, as long as our students have the skills to listen.

Our UNESCO commitment is to ensure all students encounter sustainability through their formal studies, have opportunities to link theory and practice through informal activity or community based projects,  learn subliminally about sustainable lifestyles through the way the precinct is run (estates) and understand how central sustainability in its many aspects is to our research. This autumn in advance of the Nagoya launch, all Bristol students will be encouraged to take the Global Sustainability Literacy Test.  As one of the launch partners, the Cabot Institute  as a research institute is central to this - showing the importance of living with uncertainty and bringing people together on an interdisciplinary basis to address these challenges.

Whether your expertise is in environmental, social, economic or cultural sustainability you have an important part to play in building both the knowledge and skill sets to help achieve the UNESCO aims.

Bristol has pledged to play its part.

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This blog post is written by Cabot Institute member, Chris Willmore, University Academic Director of Undergraduate Studies, University of Bristol
Chris Wilmore

Further reading
Education for Sustainable Development at the University of Bristol
- Community Based Learning at the Cabot Institute

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The uncertain world

J.G Ballard's The Drowned World
taken from fantasticalandrewfox.com
Over the next 18 months, in collaboration with Bristol Green Capital 2015 artists, civic leaders and innovative thinkers, the Cabot Institute will be participating in  a series of activities in which we examine how human actions are making our planet a much more uncertain place to live.

Fifty years ago, between 1962 and 1966, J. G. Ballard wrote a trio of seminal environmental disaster novels: The Drowned World, The Burning World and The Crystal World.  These novels remain signposts to our future, the challenges we might face and the way people respond to rapid and unexpected change to their environment. In that spirit and coinciding with the Bristol Green Capital 2015, we introduce The Uncertain World, a world in which profound uncertainty becomes as much of a challenge to society as warming and rising sea levels.

For the past twenty years, the University of Bristol has been exploring how to better understand, mitigate and live with environmental uncertainty, with the Cabot Institute serving as the focus for that effort since its founding in 2010.  Uncertainty is the oft-forgotten but arguably most challenging aspect of mankind’s centuries-long impact on the environment.  We live our lives informed by the power of experience: our own as well as the collective experience of our families, communities and wider society. When my father started dairy farming he sought advice from my mother’s grandfather, our neighbours, and the grizzled veterans at the Middlefield auction house. Experience helps us make intelligent decisions, plan strategically and anticipate challenges.

Similarly, our weather projections, water management and hazard planning are also based on experience: tens to hundreds of years of observation inform our predictions of future floods, drought, hurricanes and heat waves. These records – this experience  – can help us make sensible decisions about where to live, build and farm.

Now, however, we are changing our environment and our climate, such that the lessons of the past have less relevance to the planning of our future.  In fact, many aspects of environmental change are unprecedented not only in human experience but in Earth history. As we change our climate, the great wealth of knowledge generated from human experience is losing capital every day.

The Uncertain World is not one of which we have no knowledge – we have high confidence that temperatures and sea level will rise, although there is uncertainty in the magnitude and speed of change. Nor should we view The Uncertain World with existential fear - we know that warm worlds have existed in the past.  These were not inhospitable and most evidence from the past suggests that a climate ‘apocalypse’ resulting in an uninhabitable planet is unlikely.

Nonetheless, increasing uncertainty arising from human-induced changes to our global environment should cause deep concern.  Crucial details of our climate remain difficult to predict, and it undermines our ability to plan for our future. We do not know whether many regions of the world will become wetter or dryer. This uncertainty propagates and multiplies through complex systems: how do we make sensible predictions of coastal flood risk when there is uncertainty in sea level rise estimates, rainfall patterns and the global warming that will impact both?  We can make predictions even in such complex systems, but the predictions will inevitably come with a degree of uncertainty, a probabilistic prediction.  How do we apply such predictions to decision making? Where can we build new homes, where do we build flood defences to protect existing ones, and where do we abandon land to the sea?

Methane escaping from Arctic
permafrost. Image: Treehugger.com
Perhaps most worrying, the consequences of these rapid changes on biological and chemical systems, and the people dependent upon them, are very poorly understood. For example, the synergistic impact of warmer temperatures, more acidic waters, and more silt-choked coastal waters on coral reefs and other marine ecosystems is very difficult to predict. This is particularly concerning given that more than 2.6 billion people  depend on the oceans as their primary source of protein. Similarly, warming of Arctic permafrost could promote the growth of CO2-sequestering plants or the release of warming-accelerating methane – or both. Warm worlds with very high levels of carbon dioxide did exist in the past and these do provide some insight  into the response of the Earth system, but we are accelerating into this new world at a rate that is unprecedented in Earth history, creating additional layers of uncertainty.

During late 2014 and 2015, the Cabot Institute will host a variety of events and collaborate with a variety of partners across Bristol and beyond to explore this Uncertain World and how we can live in it. How do we better explain uncertainty and what are the ‘logical’ decisions to make when faced with uncertainty? One of our first events will explore how uncertainty in climate change predictions should motivate us to action: the more uncertain our predictions the more we should employ mitigation rather than adaptation strategies. Future events will explore how past lessons from Earth history help us better understand potential future scenarios; how future scenario planning can inform the decisions we make today; and most importantly, how we build the necessary flexibility into social structures to thrive in this Uncertain World.

This blog is by Prof Rich Pancost, Director of the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol.

Prof Rich Pancost

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Responding and adapting to climate change: Recognizing and managing uncertainty in the physical, social, and public spheres

A meeting of international experts at the University of Bristol addresses one of the crucial issues facing humanity. 

“Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty … so why should we bother to act?”
Who hasn’t heard politicians or media personalities appeal to uncertainty to argue against climate mitigation? And indeed, why should we interfere with the global economy when there is uncertainty about the severity of climate change?

Some 20 leading experts from around the world will be meeting in Bristol late in September to discuss the implications of scientific uncertainty on the proper response to climate change.

This is particularly crucial because in contrast to the widespread public perception that uncertainty is an invitation to delay action on climate change, recent work suggests that scientific uncertainty actually provides an impetus to engage in mitigative action. Specifically, the greater the scientific uncertainty, the greater are the risks from climate change.

This conflict between people’s common perceptions of uncertainty and its actual implications is not altogether uncommon, and there are many situations in which people’s risk perception deviates from best scientific understanding.

The Bristol meeting brings together scientists and practitioners with the goal of (a) developing more effective means to communicate uncertainty and (b) to explore how decision making under uncertainty can be better informed by scientific constraints.

To address the scientific, cultural, health, and social issues arising from climate change requires an in-depth and cross-disciplinary analysis of the role of uncertainty in all of the three principal systems involved: The physical climate system, people’s cognitive system and how that construes and potentially distorts the effects of uncertainty, and the social systems underlying the political and public debates surrounding climate change.

The results of the meeting will become publicly available through scientific publication channels, with the details to be announced closer to the time of the meeting. In addition, two attendees at the meeting will be presenting public lectures at the University of Bristol:

Friday 19 September, 6:00-7:30 pm. Dogma vs. consensus: Letting the evidence speak on climate change.


In this Cabot Institute public lecture, we are pleased to present John Cook, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, and owner of the Skeptical Science blog, in what promises to be a fascinating talk.

In 2013, John Cook led the Consensus Project, a crowd-sourced effort to complete the most comprehensive analysis of climate research ever conducted. They found that among relevant scientific articles that expressed a position on climate change, 97% endorsed the consensus that humans were causing global warming. When this research was published, it was tweeted by President Obama and received media coverage all over the world, with the paper being awarded the “best article” prize by the journal Environmental Research Letters in 2013. However, the paper has also been the subject of intense criticism by people who reject the scientific consensus. Hundreds of blog posts have criticised the results and newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe have published negative op-eds. Organisations who deny or reject current science on human-caused climate change, such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the UK and the Heartland Institute in the US, have published critical reports, and the Republican Party organised congressional testimony against the consensus research on Capitol Hill. This sustained campaign is merely the latest episode in over 20 years of attacks on the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming. John Cook will discuss his research, both on the 97% consensus and on the cognitive psychology of consensus. He will also look at the broader issue of scientific consensus and why it generates such intense opposition.

Register for this free event.

Tuesday 23 September 2014, 6 pm to 7.30 pm. The Hockey Stick and the climate wars—the battle continues…


In this Cabot Institute lecture, in association with the Bristol Festival of Ideas, Professor Michael E Mann will discuss the science, politics, and ethical dimensions of global warming in the context of his own ongoing experiences as a figure in the centre of the debate over human-caused climate change.

Dr. Michael E Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. He is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center. He is author of more than 160 peer-reviewed and edited publications, and has published books include Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming in 2008 and The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines in 2012. He is also a co-founder and avid contributor to the award-winning science website RealClimate.org.

Register for this free event.

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This blog is by Cabot Institute member, Prof Stephan Lewandowsky of the School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol.  You can also view this blog on the Shaping Tomorrow's World blog.
Prof Stephan Lewandowsky

Friday, 1 August 2014

Prospects for Paris 2015: some thoughts on climate risk management with heterogeneous countries

Dr Simon Buckle, Policy Director at the
Grantham Institute
Dr. Simon Buckle, Policy Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change (Imperial College), presented at the Cabot Institute his view about credible and viable mitigation commitments in view of the COP 21 on Climate Change that will take place in Paris in 2015. Dr. Buckle’s presentation developed around a political question: do countries want the same climate? In particular, he explained that countries have different attitudes towards risks and this, coupled with the absence of a supranational legal authority, makes climate negotiations particularly complex. So far, such different priorities have caused the failure of UN international negotiations on climate, and countries have systematically missed their targets to limit their carbon emissions. In spite of this, media coverage and public engagement in this topic are sluggish and this undermines the effectiveness of climate policies. I think that the political nature of the issue should be highlighted and critically explored even when presenting climate and economic models, and that’s why Dr. Buckle’s presentation was particularly insightful.


Climate change and political judgment 


The last IPCC report concluded that it is
absolutely mandatory to reach an
agreement on mitigation.
The climate challenge represents a global issue whose effects in the long-term are potentially irreversible. Moreover, the last IPCC report concluded that it is absolutely mandatory to reach an agreement on mitigation; this means that countries will have to agree not only on emissions reduction targets but also on responsibilities and burden sharing. In 1992 the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change established the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, but today it is still contested how responsibilities should be concretely allocated. In fact, the actions that emitters should take to tackle global warming raise fundamental political issues of intra-generational and inter-generational equity. They would require combined efforts to limit carbon emissions and reduce the use of fossil fuels, which represent an integral part of the economic growth and, therefore, are likely to affect the trajectory of a country’s development.

The potential responses can be based on mitigation (the transformation to a low-emission economy to reduce climate risks); adaptation (limit losses through increased resilience) or geo-engineering (for instance, solar radiation management or carbon capture and storage). In engaging with the question about the degree to which we should act on mitigation, economists prescribe different models that take into account, for instance, how economic growth is modelled, or how climate change affects output and growth, whether there are thresholds or other assumptions on ecosystem services. This highlights the political nature of the matter. In fact, the empirical evidence on impacts of climate variability and change and the effectiveness of adaptation is limited and while recent studies (Dell et al. 2012; Brown et al. 2013; Hallegatte et al. 2013) discuss the impacts on growth of climate change, there are not real analogues of large-scale climate change to inform economic models. This means that policies on climate change should be based on a political judgment about risk management, not exclusively on a technical cost-benefit analysis.

A credible negotiating strategy 


Dr. Buckle investigates the reasons that have so far lead to the failure of international negotiations on climate. In particular, he developed a stylised model that captures, directly and analytically, the trade off between consumption and the impact of climate damages on the long-term value of a bequest to future generations and how this depends on initial endowments (Buckle et al. 2014). The model relates to international negotiations as it defines a new metric, the desired mitigation efforts, to evaluate countries’ mitigation commitments and informs international actors about the best strategic negotiating aim.

Ideally, the parties involved in the UN negotiations on climate should aim at becoming resilient low-carbon economies, but they differ on many dimensions that might hamper the success of the negotiations. In the view of overcoming this conundrum, Dr. Buckle’s model suggests that a degree of convergence between the parties would deliver the best credible commitment to emissions reduction. In particular, using Game theory considerations, he showed that such convergence would secure a Cournot outcome “where each country determines its own level of mitigation effort taking that of the other country as given” (Buckle et al. 2014:4) and would avoid the risk of a Stackelberg outcome, whereby a small group of major emitters impose their preferred level of climate risk to the international community.


Figure 1 An illustrative emissions reduction game for two countries (in Buckle et al. 2014:4)

While it’s true that a Cournot agreement is sub-optimal and, as such, insufficient to deliver ambitious targets, it is absolutely pivotal that in Paris 2015 parties will sign a credible agreement for the short term. The theory is that if the parties managed to converge towards the Cournot agreement at the COP21, they will, eventually, move closer to a cooperative outcome in the longer term. In substantiating his argument, Dr. Buckle underlined the difficulties of reaching a cooperative outcome based on a global carbon budget. Moreover, he explained that the failures of previous negotiations stemmed from a too-ambitious commitment to move beyond “Business as Usual” that has so far fallen short of delivering the target of keeping global warming below the threshold of 2°C increase.

The Cournot outcome based on convergence, by contrast, would contain realistic targets decided by all the parties and not by few major emitters. Furthermore, the outcome will encourage not only cooperation but also R&D and innovation, which will benefit above all the most vulnerable countries. In concrete, Dr. Buckle argued that the best negotiating option would allow a global CO2 emissions peak by 2030 and a global but differentiated commitment to reduction, according to which developed countries would need to substantially reduce their emissions and at the same time promote financial and technological innovation; middle income countries would focus on reducing emissions intensity/GDP; and least developed countries would need to commit to a more modest reduction in the short term and develop a long-term low-carbon development path, avoiding the risk of carbon lock-in.

The future of climate negotiations? 


To conclude, it is mandatory that at the COP 21 the international community starts to engage proactively and positively in order to tackle climate change. Dr. Buckle’s view is that a gradual convergence and gradual move towards cooperative and environmentally effective agreements is preferable rather than facing another failure that we cannot afford.

Dr. Buckle’s conclusions will surely contribute to the debate on how we should achieve a substantial reduction of carbon emissions. From an environmentalist perspective, advocating for a gradual negotiating strategy that is “not enough” could be problematic. The last geopolitical turmoil, however, and particularly the worsening of the crisis in Ukraine, should make us aware that we cannot take the willingness to commit and cooperate of the international community for granted. Therefore, although the proposed solution might be far from optimal, it may just be strategically the most credible one.

References

Buckle S., Muûls M., Leib J. and Bréchet T. (2014), ‘Prospects for Paris 2015: do major emitters want the same climate?’, Core Discussion Paper – Centre for Operations Research and Econometrics, 2014
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This blog is written by Cabot Institute Press Gang member Laura DeVito.  Laura is an Environment, Energy and Resilience PhD student at the University of Bristol.
Laura DeVito

Monday, 28 July 2014

Pearls of wisdom: The importance of knowledge exchange when facing environmental uncertainty

Dame Pearlette Louisy at the Living
at the Sharp End of Environmental
Uncertainty Conference, Bristol, 17
July 2014. Image credit: Amanda
Woodman-Hardy
On 17 July 2014, Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor-General of Saint Lucia, came to the University of Bristol to give a keynote talk on the challenges and strategies on environmental uncertainty from Saint Lucia and the Caribbean.  Her visit marked the start of a Cabot Institute funded conference at the university, Living at the Sharp End of Environmental Uncertainty, where members of Small Island States (SIS) came together with academics and stakeholders to thrash out the problems facing SIS in a world of global environmental uncertainty.  This blog post captures some of the key points from Dame Pearlette’s talk.

Defining environmental uncertainty


Defining ‘environmental uncertainty’ is a tricky prospect.  What does the term actually mean?  It’s embedded into the Cabot Institute’s strapline of ‘Living with environmental uncertainty’ but it can be hard to define.  Dame Pearlette felt there were two principle components to ‘environmental uncertainty’ - a lack of knowledge and a lack of knowledge about how an environmental system will change in the future. 

Environmental challenges in the Caribbean


Hurricane Tomas, 2010. Image credit: Ryder Busby
The challenges facing the Caribbean are strongly based around environmental uncertainty.  It is an area highly prone to devastating natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, landslides and volcanoes.   Being a small geographical area its vulnerability is increased especially as its dependence on tourism and agriculture for income can ruin its resilience by the occurrence of one natural event.  The limited capacity to develop, coupled with limited human resources and a fragile ecosystem means that the Caribbean’s ability to implement disaster risk reduction is relatively low.

One of the key things that stood out for me in Dame Pearlette’s talk was that the locals are noticing the effects of climate change already.  A little rhyme they use about the hurricance season goes like this:

June - Too Soon
July - Standby
August - You must
September - Remember

October - It's all over

What is shocking is that hurricane season now lasts six months (June to November) leaving communities on tenterhooks for half of the year.  Comparing this to the old rhyme, it is clear to see that this is a much longer season than it used to be.

Sadly communities in the Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to all sorts of environmental impact.  Those living on reclaimed land or at sea level are prone to flooding by high water tides.  Communities also rely heavily on coastal and marine resources leaving them vulnerable when these are damaged by environmental events.  There is also the problem of getting insured in the Caribbean.  The islands are classified as high risk which has led to very high insurance premiums for people who can ill afford them.  This has led to communities not redeveloping after disasters.

Disaster management in the Caribbean


Haiti after Hurricane Tomas had passed through.
Image credit: DVIDSHUB
Caribbean disaster management is difficult as the people who live there cannot manage disaster responses by themselves.  However there are fantastic organisations across the Caribbean who are key to managing risk and are helping to build a resilient and sustainable future:


Dame Pearlette was keen to point out that enhanced international cooperation is needed if we are to improve sustainable development in the Caribbean region.  

New approaches to Saint Lucia’s landslide problem


Saint Lucia is volcanic in origin and it has steep slopes. Most flat land there is situated in a narrow belt, which is where most settlement is located.  Hurricane Tomas hit Saint Lucia in 2010 and it had a large impact on the community and its financial health.  Two years later there was a landslide on the main arterial road Barre de L'Isle.  This cut the island in two and caused substantial damage to infrastructure, buildings, the East Coast Road, slopes and water catchments including the Roseau Dam which collected a lot of silt.  Saint Lucia are still trying to desilt the dam which is causing water shortage problems this year. 

It is particularly difficult to reforest slopes after landslides as all the soil is swept away leaving bare rock.  Landslide disaster risk is increasing and new approaches to designing and delivering landslide risk reduction measures on-the-ground are urgently needed.  In response to that challenge, researchers at the Cabot Institute developed a novel methodology, Management of slope stability in communities (Mossaic), the vision for which is to provide low cost, community-based solutions, such as low cost drains and other related measures to reduce landslide hazard.  Watch the video below for more info.



You can read more about how the Cabot Institute has been working with St Lucia on this poster and this powerpoint presentation

Strategies for the Saint Lucia government


Dame Pearlette outlined some key strategies that Saint Lucia is implementing to improve its resilience to natural hazards and environmental uncertainty including a climate change adaptation policy; a strategic programme for climate resilience; a special programme on adaptation to climate change; a pilot programme for climate resilience; and a national environmental education policy and strategy.

However there is one key challenge and that is of funding. Saint Lucia has debts and what is troubling is that it is now difficult to borrow because lenders are not sure of Saint Lucia’s ability to pay their loans back which means the country continues to depend on external assistance of NGOs.  Although not an ideal situation, there is interesting work being funded by NGOs.  One such NGO is UNDP who are working with communities to achieve environmental sustainability with emphasis on the poor to build capacity.

Education for sustainable development - the future of environmental management?


At the end of Dame Pearlette’s talk, she shared her thoughts on the best way forward.  She strongly felt  that Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is the best way to bring about environmental change.  Even though no Caribbean policy for ESD exists, there are many groups trying to embed ESD into their institutes of learning.  Dame Pearlette said that knowledge management is the management of an organisation’s knowledge assets for the purpose of creating value.  The key principle of uncertainty is about lack of knowledge.   Therefore knowledge creation and knowledge sharing is paramount for managing sustainability and thus it is the individual or country’s responsibility to ensure it keeps learning to reduce its environmental uncertainty.

Here at the University of Bristol, we also believe that ESD is a worthwhile ambition to embed sustainable development into our own curriculum. At the Cabot Institute we have appointed an intern to undertake a Community Based Learning project to place environmental postgraduate students with organisations in the local community.  By embedding our environmental knowledge and sharing it with our communities, we can help build a more sustainable world and more resilient communities to what seems to be a growing plight of environmental uncertainty.

This blog is by Amanda Woodman-Hardy (@Enviro_Mand), Cabot Institute, University of Bristol.


Amanda
Woodman-Hardy



Monday, 21 July 2014

Tradable Energy Quotas: The future of energy use?

The idea of Tradable Energy Quotas or TEQs has been floating around political circles since it was proposed by Dr. David Fleming in 1996. It’s been called the most influential scheme of its type, and has attracted cautious interest from both Labour and the Conservatives within the UK, as well as from EU bodies concerned with climate change.

TEQs are, in effect, a rationing scheme designed to curb the use of carbon-intensive energy sources. Each TEQ certificate would be a licence to emit a certain quantity of CO2, and would have to be surrendered by energy generators to the TEQ registrar at the end of each year. The TEQ certificates would begin in the hands of the end consumers of energy, and would travel up the production chain as TEQs would be used alongside cash as a parallel payment system for energy.


At the heart of the TEQ system is the idea that a country should be held to an annual ‘carbon budget’, and that each adult citizen should be entitled to an equal proportion of the domestic part of that budget. Businesses and industry would have to purchase rights to the remainder of that budget in order to power offices and machinery. TEQs would replace the more traditional method of emissions limitation, the carbon tax. The schematic below was reproduced from a report on TEQs by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil.


In the TEQ scheme, 40% of the annual carbon budget would be distributed free to citizens, perhaps through an online account. The remaining 60% would be available to purchase from the TEQ registrar, and is mainly aimed at businesses. However, domestic users who exceed their free allowance of TEQs can also ‘top up’ by purchasing TEQs from this pool.

People who don’t use their full allowance of TEQs could sell their surplus on a market that is overseen by the registrar. This encourages domestic energy users to be frugal in their energy use in order to profit from the sale of TEQs. Businesses too would need to curb their energy use in order to avoid having to buy too many TEQs. Finally, the generators and importers of energy would have to gather all the TEQ certificates gained from sale of energy and return them to the registrar at the end of each year. If they are unable to provide enough TEQ certificates to cover the energy they have produced, they would face financial penalties.

The TEQ scheme is designed to produce a profit for the government through the sale of 60% of the TEQ certificates. This income would replace that of a more traditional carbon tax, and could hopefully be ploughed back into creating more low-carbon energy.

Now I’m going to put my cards on the table. I like this scheme. My instinct tells me that TEQs, or rationing of some form, is a sensible response to the problem of climate change. But as it stands, I don’t think this scheme would work.

Let’s start with the most pressing problem: Who is the registrar? In the proposed TEQ system, an astonishing amount of power and control is given to the ‘registrar’, without any firm idea of who or what the registrar is.

Perhaps it’s a public-sector organisation? With 60% of the TEQs initially allocated to the registrar for tender, the power it has over the price of each TEQ is practically insurmountable, allowing them to increase or decrease prices almost at will. With this kind of control, they will come under intense pressure from the treasury to raise TEQ prices to generate more revenue. At the same time they would be lambasted by the populace, who would demand an ever lower TEQ price. To offer control over the registrar to a government department would be akin to offering someone a grenade without the pin- it’s political suicide. To put it mildly, I suspect the creators of the TEQ scheme would have trouble finding someone to do the job.

So how about letting a private sector company have control of the registrar? Well, I’m certain you would have companies lining up for the job, but trusting any of them would be a fatal mistake. With such a remarkable monopolistic power, a private sector company would inevitably succumb to the temptation to appropriate a larger and larger proportion of the revenues. It wouldn’t be anything illegal of course, merely a creeping expansion in administration costs and a slow rise in wages- especially of the top executives. And how long would it be before the first accusations of insider trading surface? It wouldn’t be hard for a company in charge of the registrar to conceal its preference for certain other firms, offering them cheaper or earlier deals on TEQs. Handing control of the energy industry to a private firm also has energy security implications; how can we be certain that the company will work in the best interests of our country? In the worst case, it might even be persuaded to work in the interests of a foreign power. The final problem with private-sector control is transparency. Once the government loses control of the registrar, it will lose sight of the intricacies of running the TEQ scheme. At this point, it becomes very difficult to verify if the registrar is doing a good job, and even harder to justify reprimanding them.

Centralising power over the market and allocation of TEQs also has one other major problem. What happens if the registrar’s servers crash? It would paralyse the country’s energy network, ensuring nobody could buy or sell energy. We wouldn’t have to worry about energy security anymore; we could have all the fuel in the world stacked in warehouses around the UK, but if the TEQ exchange goes down it would all be effectively useless. My conclusion: having a single TEQ market overseen by a single registrar would make us incredibly vulnerable to hackers or hostile governments.
So is there a remedy for all these problems? I think there is.

Decentralise.

First, split the job of regulating TEQ markets away from the task of allocating and collecting TEQs. There is no strong reason why both jobs have to be done by the same organisation, and it’s far safer for it to be done by two separate ones. Second, open up the job of administering TEQ markets to private sector brokers, but make them liable for the exchanges they handle. This means that hackers would have to target several exchanges to bring down the country’s energy network, rather than just the one.

Finally, eliminate the job of administering the TEQ accounts of every citizen completely. Users could store their TEQs in digital wallets that reside on their own computers and mobile devices, and the value of their TEQs could be cryptographically protected using something akin to a blockchain.

Decentralisation might not solve every problem that TEQs currently pose, but it could go a long way towards making it a more secure and accountable system. Will TEQs be introduced anytime soon? I doubt it, but it’s possible that a smaller scheme may be trialled somewhere in the world over the next few years, as governments struggle with the problem of emissions reduction.

This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Neeraj Oak, the Chief Analyst and Energy Practice Lead at Shift Thought.


Neeraj Oak

Green Deal delivery: Investigating Local Authority delivery models and their implementation

During this summer and as a part of my dissertation thesis I have collaborated with Bristol CityCouncil in order to investigate local authority delivery models and their implementation towards the Green Deal governmental scheme.

Background

Laying of loft insulation.  Image credit: Knauf Insulation
The Green Deal is a recent UK government finance framework introduced by the Energy Act 2011. It was formally launched on 28 January 2013 in England & Wales and on 25 February 2013 in Scotland. The Green Deal scheme has a target of reducing CO2 emissions derived from British properties through energy efficiency improvements. It provides householders and businesses an up-front capital to carry out energy efficiency improvements to their properties (e.g. wall insulation, replace boilers etc.) with repayments made through energy bills. The Local Authorities get involved in the scheme by choosing one of the following Green Deal delivery models:
Promoter. Promoting the Green Deal to their local residents through website pages, leaflets etc.
Partner. Cooperating with the private sector Green Deal Provider to facilitate delivery of the Green Deal to their local area.
Provider. Becoming a Green Deal Provider co-ordinating finance and delivery to local residents.

In this project I am interested in finding out:

  • How local authorities implement and deliver the Green Deal.
  • Why city councils make specific choices regarding the Green Deal delivery model.
  • Likely risks, benefits, issues encountered and lessons learned by far by implementing and delivering the Green Deal in such a way.
  • How city councils’ strategic action could ensure the success of the scheme.

In general I would like to identify if the Green Deal is an adequate, well-operated and clear policy for the Local Authorities and the public. If this is the case I would like to point out which is the best route to achieve that.

For that reason I am currently conducting interviews with eight England Core cities, namely: Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield City Councils. In 2012 these core cities got funding from DECC in order to kick start the Green Deal and test peoples’ attitude for the scheme. Consequently, I would like to see how the city councils developed from their pilots schemes, what delivery routes are following now and what are the key lessons learned by implementing the Green Deal.

Furthermore, as I stated earlier an objective of the dissertation will be the councils’ strategic actions. One of the Bristol City Council’s strategic actions is to use community groups to spread the word about the Green Deal framework. In that way there is the potential to increase the take up of energy efficiency measures in a cost-efficient way. As a result, I am conducting interviews with Bristol Community Groups as well in order to evaluate if their approach towards the Green Deal scheme and the engagement with householders is successful. If not, I would like to find out how this could be improved in the future.

Why it is important to understand how the Green Deal is being delivered?

Green Deal belongs in a wider category of policies namely, energy efficiency measures. Nowadays, more and more countries around the world try to reduce their greenhouse gases by following strategies and by implementing specific policies. The success of the Green Deal scheme is of a greatest importance to mitigate climate change since 40% of CO2 emissions in the UK is derived from domestic properties. The contribution and the engagement of Local Authorities is a proactive step towards the successful implementation and execution of the scheme. Nevertheless this is not always the case. So, what happens if a national policy lacks clear orientation, objectives and is confusing for Local Authorities to implement and too difficult for people to understand it? Then is time for policy makers to take action and consider likely scenarios to ameliorate the Green Deal. I hope that my dissertation would help towards that route and I would personally try to make some decent recommendations for future consideration.

If you are interested in learning more about my project please don’t hesitate to contact me at:


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This blog has been written by Despoina Kyrkili, an MSc student studying Environmental Policy and Management at the University of Bristol who has been undertaking a Community Based Learning Project at the Cabot Institute.

Despoina Kyrkili

Further reading

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Beyond wildlife corridors: Investigating and evaluating other urban wildlife enhancement projects

Over the course of the summer, I shall be analysing various urban wildlife enhancement practices taking place in the 7 Core Cities of England. Determining if these projects have been successful overall will be based on a set list of quantitative and qualitative ecological performance indicators. To obtain qualitative data or information not readily available through public sources, I will interview personnel who have/had key roles in wildlife enhancement projects in their respective Core Cities. An additional qualitative survey will be sent out to various “green space” and nature organizations to find out what projects they have been involved in and which ones have been successful at functioning as they were intended to.  The research questions I will try to answer are:

Why are wildlife corridors often the default urban wildlife enhancement policy of choice?


There hasn’t been significant data collection, experiments or academic evaluations of urban wildlife corridors to justify why they are the popular choice of urban wildlife enhancement projects. What about other methods? What is in use in the core cities? Is it working? What has been the most successful?

How can corridors and other methods of wildlife enhancement in urban areas be measured to determine overall success?


This brook flows through the Blackbrook Open Space,
an important wildlife corridor through a large
housing estate in south-east Taunton. Credit: Geograph
Background research and literature reviews will aid in designing a performance indicator model that will be used to summarise information gathered through the interviews. There will be both a quantitative and qualitative section, with indicators to be determined as my research progresses.
Ever since I can remember, I have always had a strong passion to explore and understand the natural world. Summers spent camping in the Canadian wilderness and years of Girl Guides were just some of the many activities I did growing up that helped me to appreciate, respect and responsibly interact with the environment. After my undergrad, I worked for a year in a National Park in the USA as an environmental educator and spent my days leading school groups through different ecosystems and teaching them how to be informed stewards to the natural world. When I read about this partnership topic dealing with biodiversity and urban wildlife enhancement projects for Bristol, I knew I could easily translate my interests in the conservation of wild spaces into an interest in protecting and enhancing urban green spaces.

The organisation I am working with is the Greater Bedminster Community Partnership, a group made up of local councillors, voluntary and community organisations, private businesses and public agencies within the Bristol wards of Southville and Bedminster. Their goals consist of improving and enhancing the quality of life for Bristol residents and community members in these areas. Members of this organization have been involved with local biodiversity counts and studies of local green spaces and have found that these two wards of Bristol are at the bottom in regards to wildlife biodiversity. The organization would like me to assess the impact of different wildlife enhancement practices and identify applicable practices that can be used in the BS3 area to enhance urban wildlife populations. I hope to use the results of my dissertation to present to the organization an assessment of different urban wildlife enhancement practices currently implemented in the UK and make suggestions on which practices would work best for their area.

Here are some related links for anyone interested:
The Greater Bedminster Community Partnership
The Avon Wildlife Trust
Natural Improvement Areas

Thanks for taking the time to read up on what I will be up to all summer long! If you would like to know more about my project or have any questions, comments or suggestions, please email me at: jk13039@my.bristol.ac.uk.
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This blog is written by Julia Kole, an MSc Environmental Policy and Management student at the University of Bristol.  Julia is from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

Further reading




Julia Kole

Community Based Learning in higher education: Linking students to green projects in Bristol

My name is Hannah Tweddell and I am the Cabot Institute’s Community Based Learning Intern and also an Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Coordinator at the University of Bristol.  I studied Bristol's MSc in Environmental Policy and Management part time between 2011 and 2013 as part of the first two cohorts of students whilst also working part time as an ESD Intern in the University’s Sustainability team.

While we were studying for the MSc we were keen to undertake some real world problem solving as part of the course.  The department of Geographical Sciences teamed up with the Cabot Institute to facilitate the opportunity for community based learning projects and I was employed as an intern.

My role with the Cabot Institute involves identifying community partners who have a research need that could be met by a student’s dissertation project on the MSC in Environmental Policy and Management, scoping the project and managing the relationship with the community partner.

The aim of the project is to create links between the academic study of Environmental Policy and Management and the practice of it, in partnership with community and partner organisations in Bristol.   The partnerships provide the opportunity for students to make links with local organisations and undertake an interesting dissertation whilst also meeting a research need of a community partner to inform their work.

I scoped 25 projects with twelve community partners.  Nine students are currently undertaking projects with: Bedminster Energy Group, Bristol City Council, Bristol Green Capital’s transport action group, Bristol Power Cooperative, Greater Bedminster Community Partnership, the Soil Association and Transition Bristol.  Students will be blogging about their projects so keep an eye on the Cabot blog!

If you are a community partner interested in working with students on a research need then please do get in touch with me.

Read more about individual community based projects:
MSc student Julia Kole blogs on her work with the Greater Bedminster Community Partnership
MSc student Despoina Kyrkili blogs on her work with Bristol City Council and their Green Deal

This blog is by Hannah Tweddell, Community Based Learning Intern at the Cabot Institute, University of Bristol.  More about Community Based Learning at the Cabot Institute.

Hannah Tweddell



Tuesday, 24 June 2014

FIFA World Cup 2014: environmental friend or foe?

"One of the key objectives through the 2014 FIFA World Cup is to use the event as a platform to communicate the importance of the environment and ecology"

While FIFA boast of the most environmentally friendly World Cup ever, with solar-powered stadia and carbon offsetting for every match, critics demand to know why more isn't being done to reduce the impact of such a huge event, both to Brazil's native habitats and to the world at large.

Fuleco the endangered armadillo 


Fuelco, the 2014 World Cup
Mascott, a Brazilian 3 banded armadillo.
Source: Acaatinga.rog
Almost 28,000 people have signed a petition calling for FIFA to commit to the conservation of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus), the inspiration for the 2014 World Cup mascot 'Fuleco'. Conservationists at the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) were initially thrilled that the armadillo, which is classified as "Vulnerable", would be the centre of the most environmentally friendly tournament so far, attracting money for sustainable development in Brazil.

Sadly Fuleco, whose name is a combination of the Portuguese words futebol (football) and ecologia (ecology), has done little to help his brothers in the wild. So far only one of the tournament sponsors, Continental Tyres, has donated money to protect the armadillo. Nothing but empty words have come from FIFA and its $2 billion World Cup profit. 

Striving for sustainability


FIFA have been keen to promote their environmental sustainability strategies in other areas however, which are impressive at first glance. The new and improved stadia are designed to promote air flow and provide shade whilst maximising natural light. Two of the twelve venues are solar-powered, with water conservation and waste reduction features that led to all stadia receiving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. FIFA also recently pledged to offset 331,000 tonnes of carbon, including 80,000 tonnes from fans who entered a contest to make their travel carbon neutral. 
The Brazilian three-banded armadillo is one of two
species that can roll itself into a tight ball. Source: BBC
Unfortunately FIFA's proposals aren't nearly enough. According to the ABC, the huge scale of travel and accommodation required for the 3.7 million visitors means the actual impact is likely to be around 1.4 million tonnes of carbon. This was further compounded by the failed rejuvenation of Brazil's dilapidated public transport systems, which left many fans relying on private taxis to get them to the games. These problems have left many skeptics asking whether FIFA's proposals were just greenwashing over the bigger issues.

Empty stadia


Among the criticisms is the question of longevity. Once the fans leave, what will become of the facilities left behind? The International Business Times reports that Brazil spent almost $4 billion on its World Cup infrastructure, but many of the stadia are located in cities with lower division football teams. When the World Cup visitors leave, matches played by local teams are likely to draw only a tiny fraction of the number of fans needed to fill the seats. 

The Arena da Amazônia in Manaus. Source: Wikimedia 
One of the best (or worst) examples is Manaus, a city of almost two million people located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Its remote location and poor access roads meant that during the building of the new Arena da Amazônia, materials were transported by ship from Portugal. According to the New York Times, the heat and humidity meant workers spent days connecting each steel joint together

And after all that effort, only four World cup games are being played there! 

The stadium seats 41,000 fans (the majority of whom have to reach the city by boat or plane), which is fantastic for the World Cup but when the games are over, how will the local teams (whose recent games have drawn around 1000 spectators) ever hope to generate the approximately $250,000 a month required for its upkeep? Was it all just a waste of time, money and resources?

Wider impacts


The Brazilian government have justified extravagance like the Manaus stadium by stating that the attraction will bring more tourists to the area. Manaus is often the starting point for visitors drawn to the fantastic Amazon rainforest and the government hopes that their eco-tourism will do a lot for the local community, the economy and the national sustainability targets. 

Have FIFA done enough to ensure that the World Cup is eco-friendly? Their carbon offsetting and solar-powered stadia have been somewhat counteracted by the poor public transport, Fuleco's lack of impact for conserving his native Caatinga forest, and the gigantic venues that may lie empty after the final. I think the organisers have done enough to earn some bragging rights, but in a time where sustainability is so important they could and should have done more.
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This blog is written by Sarah JoseCabot Institute, Biological Sciences, University of Bristol

Sarah Jose

Public opinion: What is it really worth?

I recently attended a session at the House of Commons co-hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group (APPCCG) and the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED). The session tackled the topic of the UK’s “energy efficiency revolution”, and whether the UK is living up to the high standards expected by successive governments.

Energy efficiency is what is known as a demand-side measure in the language of energy policymakers. Making devices that use energy more efficient is one way of reducing demand for energy overall, and thus bringing the UK closer to its carbon reduction goals. Indeed, increasing energy efficiency is often regarded as one of the most cost-effective methods of carbon reduction.

An area of great interest to researchers in this field is human behaviour; how can people be induced to behave in a way that reduces their carbon emissions?

The ‘default’ reaction of governments when attempting to change the behaviour of their citizens is to provide financial incentives to encourage adoption of the desired behaviour. This is based on simple economic theory, and depends on the assumption that the average rational citizen will immediately drop undesirable habits as soon as it becomes financially worthwhile to do so.

An alternative view is that people are not swayed as heavily by financial motives as they are by their fundamental beliefs; if somebody is a firm believer in the cause of tackling climate change, they can be relied upon to adopt energy-saving behaviours sooner or later.

There is a fundamental tension between these two views of how humans behave. Energy policymakers often find themselves caught between these viewpoints, and this can cause delays and poor policy decisions. This is a question that clearly needs to be addressed by researchers.

Let’s take a closer look at this problem by using a simple mathematical model. Imagine that there is a new behaviour, perhaps a form of recycling, that the government is keen for people to adopt. Since it is brand new, almost nobody has heard of it, and even fewer people have actually adopted it.

In order to make this behaviour the norm, the government allocates some of its limited resources to the problem. These resources can either be spent on advertising, to win people over to the behaviour on ideological grounds, or can be spent on direct financial incentives. The government has to choose what proportion of the resources go towards advertising and incentives, based on the objective of full adoption of the behaviour as quickly as possible.

In our model, a certain proportion of the population choose to adopt the new behaviour each day. That proportion is a function of the number of ideological believers (which I will henceforth refer to as ‘public opinion’) and the financial incentive available. Money spent on incentives therefore provides an immediate boost to the adoption of the new behaviour, whereas advertising has an indirect effect. The effect of advertising is to convert a certain number of people each day into ideological believers, making them far more likely to adopt the new behaviour.





So what are the results of this simple model? It’s clear that using financial incentives causes the time needed to reach full adoption to become shorter. Therefore, should the government should always use financial incentives in order to reach its stated objectives as quickly as possible?

Unfortunately it isn't that simple. While it is true that the objective of full adoption is met quicker by using mostly financial incentives, the gap between ‘economic’ and ‘ideological’ adopters is large; it’s possible that many of the people who have adopted the behaviour will return to their old ways as soon as the incentives are taken away. It’s also worth considering the possibility that ideological adopters might also be easier to convince when it comes time to introduce the next energy-saving behaviour, whereas economic adopters would need to be paid off from scratch.

I should say at this point that this model is meant as a means of communicating a concept, and is an oversimplification of the way technology and belief adoption actually works. I've also chosen parameters for the model arbitrarily - choosing a different set of parameters or tweaking the model could result in radically different outcomes.

Nonetheless, the underlying tension remains; should we invest in changing people’s opinions, even if it’s a longer, costlier process? What is public opinion really worth?

It’s my sincere hope that researchers, be it from CIED, Cabot Institute or elsewhere, will be able to answer these questions in the years to come.

This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Neeraj Oak, the Chief Analyst and Energy Practice Lead at Shift Thought.

Neeraj Oak