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Climate Home News offers excellent coverage. You can subscribe on their website to receive their regular mailings. Particularly recommended: Ten myths about net zero and carbon offsetting. The Guardian newspaper has generally very good coverage. You can sign up to receive their Green Light weekly environmental newsletter by e-mail.

How much is the average UK carbon footprint?

Internet research turns up a confusing range of answers. According to Ovo Energy, the average carbon footprint for UK citizens is 6.7 tonnes per year. Our World in Data has an interactive graph that gives the 2020 figure as 4.85 tonnes. And Pawprint says it’s an astounding 12.7 tonnes CO2e (the “e” at the end stands for “equivalent”, and means that emissions of other gases like methane and CFCs are taken into account). Which of these, if any, is right?

Some of these differences can be explained by minor differences in methods of measurement. But Pawprint’s figure is nearly three times Our World in Data’s. Surely this discrepancy is not just down to a difference in methods of measurement? It’s not, and the answer is very clearly and helpfully explained in the World Wildlife Fund’s Carbon Footprint Analysis Report, published in March 2020.

The key difference is between the emissions we produce in this country, our “Territorial Emissions”, and the emissions which result, in this country and elsewhere, from producing goods for us to consume. These are our “Consumption-Based Emissions”. There is a third category, “Production Emissions”, which includes things we produce here and in other countries. The following graph, taken from the WWF report, shows the progress of the three different emissions totals over the period 1990 to 2016.

Dividing the totals by the UK population (57.25 million in 1990, 65.6 million in 2020), we get the average personal carbon footprint, shown in the following table.

19902016
Territorial Emissions13.977.32
Production Emissions15.028.84
Consumption Emissions16.5912.2
Average UK carbon footprint calculated in three different ways

The UK government, naturally, prefers to talk about territorial emissions. For one thing, they are a lot less than consumption emissions, so make us look better. For another, they are coming down a lot faster than our consumption emissions: the figures in the table above show that in the period 1990-2016, our production-based footprint dropped by 48%, versus 26% for our consumption-based footprint. That too makes us, and the government, look better.

The difference between Consumption Emissions and Territorial Emissions is “Embedded Emissions” — CO2 emitted abroad making goods that we import. The contribution of Embedded Emissions to the average UK footprint was 2.62 tonnes in 1990 and 4.88 tonnes in 2016. It is going up rather than down! How can government deal with this? Isn’t it just down to individual consumption choices? To some extent it is. But one reason why Embedded Emissions are going up is that it is cheaper to produce goods abroad, where there is less effort to reduce emissions than at home. To remedy this, governments can impose a “carbon border adjustment” — tax the import of goods produced in climate-unfriendly ways.

Which figure is a better estimate of our carbon footprint? Each person’s carbon footprint is a measure of how much carbon (or more precisely CO2e) we are personally responsible for. Where the emissions take place is not really relevant. We shouldn’t attribute to other countries the carbon emitted through the manufacture of goods that we buy. Really it is us who are responsible for those emissions. If we didn’t want the goods, they wouldn’t be manufactured. It is possible that if we made them ourselves, we might do it less carbon-intensively, for example by powering our factories by renewables rather than coal. So if you are desperate to reduce your estimate of your carbon footprint, you could knock off a tonne or so and blame it on other people’s outdated manufacturing processes. But the truth is that honestly counted, the average UK carbon footprint is above 12 tonnes. The world average is about 4.7 tonnes. We have a long way to go.

(In case you are wondering which category of emissions this figure of 4.7 tonnes measures, the answer is that at the global level, the figures for consumption emissions and production emissions are, of course, the same.)

Warwickshire Youth Conference

Warwickshire Climate Alliance will run a one-hour workshop on Climate Change at the County Council’s Youth Conference 2022 on April 21st, for Warwickshire school pupils aged 11 to 17. The workshop will begin by exploring the young people’s feelings and knowledge about climate change. It will then look at some of the inspiring things being done around the world to limit climate change, and to prepare for its impacts. The second half of the workshop will look at what the young people attending the workshop would like to do about climate change here in Warwickshire, and at ways of bringing their ideas to fruition.

Greta Thunberg speaking at a children’s workshop — not ours, unfortunately!

To take part in the conference, register at the conference website. You will be asked to choose two workshops to attend, out of a list of five: Mental health, Climate change, Youth homelessness, Respectful relationships and Careers. If you choose the climate change workshop, prepare for it by taking the BBC questionnaire on children’s feelings about climate change. You can access it via the BBC’s Newsround website — there’s a link at the foot of the web page. It asks some questions about your views and feelings, and you can see how other young people answered the same questions.

Do look up!

Temperatures in both the Arctic are 30 degrees Centigrade above normal for this time of year. In the Antarctic they are 40 degrees above normal. The rate of change is outpacing even the predictions of climate scientists. Do we look away and try to hang on to 5 or 10 more years of approximate normality, or do we try to do something about it? In the recent film Don’t look up, scientists struggle to convince the world of the threat of an approaching comet, a useful stand-in for climate change, which allows the story to be told as a bitter comedy in which media triviality and conspiracy by the rich and powerful prevent an appropriate response. Is this our situation now? Are we taking this seriously enough? As this Guardian article says, time is running out.

Impressions of Coventry and Warwickshire’s March 11th Climate Summit

From my point of view the climate summit did not get off to a good start. It was billed as bringing together the public sector, business and community organisations, but for weeks before it took place I was receiving anxious and irritated messages from community organisations who had either received no information about the conference, or whose request to attend had been rejected. I was one of the fortunate few from community organisations to have been invited, though my name badge described me as representing Warwick University, where I have been helping run a an interdisciplinary module on climate change. As far as I could tell (there was no list of participants) the only community organisations represented at the conference were ARC, (Achieving Results in Communities), Clean Air Warwickshire and (possibly) Warwickshire Climate Alliance. Neither of the first two are explicitly focussed on climate change. So out of an estimated 300 people present, I was the only activist from a climate change community organisation.

After opening addresses from George Duggins and Izzi Seccombe, leaders of Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council, we had short pre-recorded video talks by Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands Combined Authority and Margot James, Chair of Coventry Climate Change Board and of the Warwick Manufacturing Group. There were short talks by the two co-chairs of Warwickshire Youth Coun- cil. The second of these especially was excellent, and conveyed a real sense of urgency. The speaker, Alice Battersby, was realistic about the likelihood (very low) of preventing a temperature rise of no more than 1.5◦ C . The rest of morning session consisted entirely of speeches by members of Coventry and Warwickshire’s county, city and borough councils, describing what they were doing and planning to do. All seemed committed to relatively ambitious carbon reduction plans, even Coventry, Rugby, North Warwickshire and Nuneaton and Bedworth, all of which had scored 0% on a recent nation-wide assessment of councils’ climate emergency action plans. Before the coffee break at the end of the first round of talks there was a very brief Q&A session, with only three questions.

I am not able to comment in any detail on the ambition, sincerity or realisability of the various councils’ climate plans. By far the most engaging and detailed presentation came from Alan Rhead and Ian Shenton, from Warwick and Stratford District Councils, which are collaborating on the ambitious project of achieving net zero in South Warwickshire by 2030. They seemed sure of their ground and in command of a lot of detail. The speaker from Nuneaton and Bedworth emphasised the difficulty of doing very much about carbon emissions, given their severe financial constraints. This was engagingly honest, but didn’t appear to lead anywhere. Likewise, Jim O’Boyle, from Coventry City Council, said that they had set no date for net zero because currently they haven’t got the tools, resources and policies to achieve this. Even though in his opening address, his council leader George Duggins had said how grave and serious the threat from climate change is.

The afternoon’s breakout sessions at least allowed some discussion, but did not lead to any firm conclusions or policy commitments. I attended one, on Building and Planning, led by Dave Barber, the council officer in charge of implementing carbon neutrality for Stratford and Warwick District Councils, where some pretty good ideas were aired, and some real difficulties were owned up to. The other one I attended was on Biodiversity, but, though interesting, it seemed somewhat divorced from the theme of what to do to combat climate change.

It was encouraging that all of the councils were at least putting on an appearance of working to substantially reduce their carbon emissions. Probably the fact that they would be speaking to their peers required them to demonstrate a certain level of commitment, and maybe even firm up their plans, and that is good. But as elected councillors they should be answerable to the public, and the public were not there to query their plans or demand stronger action. There was no public discussion among the councillors. Hopefully some took place in private conversations during the breaks. There were no proposals for joint action, and no votes, or even shows of hands, on what approach we should follow. To a large extent the whole event seemed like a public relations display rather than an opportunity to share skills and understanding or to seek commons solutions.

What would I have liked to see? I begin from the surely unarguable premise that councils and governments at every level have not been doing enough, and still are not doing enough. This is what the increasingly desperate warnings from the world’s scientists tell us, and what we can see from the evidence from all around the world, of astonishing and unprecedented extremes of temperature and rainfall already occurring, before we have even reached the 1.5◦ C increase that is supposed still to be safe.

Given this premise, I would like to see a conference which begins with a presentation of the scale of the problem and an account of the failure of efforts made so far to deal with it, and offers some explanation for this state of affairs. The councillors should then say their part, explaining not only what they intend to do but what are the difficulties in their path. A crucial part of dealing with the problem of climate change is to enlist the support of the public, and this means giving the public the facts. Otherwise we will continue to see measures like continued road building, further fossil fuel exploration, and expansion of our airports, which I fear will doom all our efforts to reach net zero to failure. Everybody needs to understand that this is an emergency and that life cannot continue as normal.

The exclusion of the civil society voluntary organisations seems to have been more than just an accident. This is a grave error, if we are to stand a chance of taking actions which match the scale of the problem. Governments and councils have to face all manner of problems in addition to climate change, including getting re-elected, and this makes it very hard for them to admit to the scale of the threat from climate change. Civil society groups can and do take the science seriously. Not even the supposedly extreme groups, like Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, are saying anything more alarming than what climate scientists around the world are telling us.

Some kind of re-jigging of the relationship between government, science and the public is urgently needed. Civil society organisations can provide some of this, and must not be excluded for the sake of false comfort and false harmony.

David Mond, Chair, Warwickshire Climate Alliance

Coventry and Warwickshire’s Secret Climate Conference

Please read the open letter below, and if at the end you would like add your name to the list of signatories, write to info@warwickshireclimatealliance.org

Open Letter to Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council

Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council’s joint Climate Change Conference, due to take place at Warwick University on March 11th, seems to be shrouded in secrecy and exclusivity.  Attendance is by invitation only, and many people who would like to attend, from a range of organisations in Coventry and Warwickshire, have had their requests to attend rejected. 

They include people with nationally acknowledged expertise on some of the key issues, and others with long experience in leadership roles, working  locally on the development of renewable energy resources. Even those who do have invitations have received almost no information about the event, and no indication of the kind of participation that will be possible. 

Climate Emergency UK recently published a national survey of the climate emergency plans of UK local councils. Warwickshire County Council scored 25%, well below the average of  40% for county councils and placing it in the bottom third. Coventry City Council scored 0% —  it doesn’t even have a climate emergency plan. So the two local authorities are hardly on top of the situation.

Not being on top of the situation is of course one of the the most striking feature of the climate crisis. For decades the world has failed to heed the warnings of scientists, which have grown more and more desperate, as witness the recent IPCC reports. Climate related disasters are coming thick and fast, with temperature records broken every year, and astonishing extremes of temperature and rainfall occurring in all parts of the world. For local government to behave, as Coventry and Warwickshire are doing,  as if everything was under control and they knew best how to proceed,  is a terrible error both at the practical level of planning and understanding, and at the level of public engagement. 

Unfortunately it seems that the organisers are not interested in the participation of the civil society groups and individuals who are actively working on climate change. We believe that this will jeopardise the success of the conference and of the two councils’ work going forward. 

Meaningful progress in tackling climate change will only come when all of society is galvanised to respond. That is why so many civil society groups are taking action and pressuring politicians to take the difficult and potentially unpopular decisions that are needed if we are to avert disaster. The evidence is all too clear that they have not been, and still are not taking these decisions. To shut civil society groups out runs the risk of perpetuating this historic failure. 

Ultimately, the success of any climate action plan will be highly dependent on the involvement and contribution of the public. Civil society groups provide a vital link by acting as a conduit through which politicians can share and debate their ideas with the wider public in order to facilitate their support and action.    

We all need all the help we can get, to solve this deeply intractable problem. Public engagement, openness and the willingness to listen, to explain, and to question, are essential. It may be too late now for the March 11th conference to widen the range of its invitees, but it is essential for all our futures that the two councils start to listen to and communicate  with the public. 

A good first step would be to organise a People’s Assembly on Climate Change, as have done many local councils around the UK, including Warwick District Council. We call on Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council to take this step and begin the real work of facing up to the climate crisis.

Yours Sincerely

David Mond, Warwickshire Climate Alliance,

Stephen Norrie, Stratford Climate Action,

Tony McNally, Climate Change Solutions Ltd,

Hazel Underwood,  Clean Air Warwickshire,

Jane Nellist, President, Coventry TUC

Juliet Nickels, Action21

David Ridley, Coventry Green New Deal

Sir Andrew Watson, Chair, Warwickshire CPRE

Chris Crean, West Midlands Friends of the Earth

Janet Palmer, Stratford Friends of the Earth

Bob Sherman, Low Carbon Warwickshire Network

George Martin, Chair, Building Performance Network

Jacky Lawrence, Low Carbon Warwickshire Network

Paul Davies, Chairman, Finham Parish Council

Nickie Charles, Extinction Rebellion Warwick District

Merle Gering, Keep Our Green Belt Green

Ann Patterson, Coordinator, Coventry Green Party

Rachel Gering-Hasthorpe, Extinction Rebellion Coventry

Ann Wilson, Coventry Tree Wardens Network

Peter Walters, Chair, Coventry Society

Ian Stevenson, Westwood Heath Residents Association

Carrie Pailthorpe, Transition Town Rugby

Philip Brown, Organiser, Coventry Climate Action Network

Jeannie Le Mesurier, ACORN

Haydn Chick, No Bypass in Spon End

Ken Grainger, Coventry Green New Deal

Ann Evans, Keresley Residents

Jane Garner, Spon End Residents

Martina Irwin, Save Our Wild Environment

Joe Rukin, Stop HS2

Robyn McSharry, Zero Carbon Coventry

Rebecca Stevenston, Coventry Green Party

Tony Conway, Coventry and Warwickshire People’s Assembly

Carol Rutter

Claire Knowles

Terry Sandison

Warwickshire scores poorly for Climate Action

A survey by the campaigning group Climate Emergency UK published in January 2022 ranks Warwickshire’s councils’ Climate Action plans shockingly low. On Climate Emergency UK’s scoring system, the County Council scores 26%, Warwick District Council 53%, and Stratford upon Avon District Council 35%. North Warwickshire Borough Council, Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council, and Rugby Borough Council all score 0% — they are among the one in five UK councils which have no climate action plan. By contrast, the West Midlands Combined Authority scored 89%, second only to Somerset West and Taunton’s 91%. This Guardian article gives an overview of the survey and its results.

Unsustainable Inequality

Economic inequalities have been behind the failure of many efforts to develop international cooperation to reduce carbon emissions and save the climate. At COP 26 in Glasgow, just as at COP 21 in Paris and COP 3 in Kyoto, poor countries insisted that they had the right to burn fossil fuels in order to end poverty, just as the rich countries had done. After Kyoto, rich countries complained at the exemptions granted to poor countries, and the US never ratified the Kyoto treaty, thus condemning it to failure. The Paris agreement is still in the balance because of the same problem. The article by Lucas Chancel The richest 10% produce about half of greenhouse gas emissions. They should pay to fix the climate (Guardian, December 7th) shows convincingly how inequality is an obstacle to the reduction of carbon emissions not only between nations but also within them. More important, he helps to unlock the impasse with examples of intelligent policies in places like Canada and Indonesia which overcome this obstacle. His recent book Unsustainable Inequality goes into more depth. If you’re looking for a Christmas present for a climate activist …

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