Cabot Institute blog

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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