Wednesday, 1 April 2009

City Councillors work hard to make bankers look good!

In yesterday's council meeting the Conservatives put forward a motion regarding absenteeism amongst councillors. In the ensuing less-than vigorous debate various councillors expressed their opinion that their fellow councillors were good people who worked hard for little reward for the benefit of their electorate. The perception that councillors were disreputable and consumed by self-interest was a false one perpetuated by unfair stories in the media. But, as one councillor jocularly remarked, at least they don't think we are as bad as bankers. Oh, how we laughed at his wit.

Once the councillors finished bigging themselves up they, or more specifically, Labour and the Tories, then returned to the job in hand; trying to replace bankers on the bottom rung of public respect!

Just before the outbreak of mutual self-congratulation, council had accepted the 2009 revision of the Bristol Local Area Agreement which included targets for reducing per capita CO2 emissions.

Now, let’s be clear about this, all three of the major parties (not just the Green Party) accept that Climate Change is happening, that it is detrimental to mankind, and that we are causing it by the massive amount of carbon emissions we pump into the atmosphere. It is recognized that there needs to be an absolute reduction in the levels of greenhouse gases being produced – or people die, simple as that. As a result the Climate Change Act 2008 was passed with support from all parties and set a target of 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. Next month, the government is likely to set a target of a 21% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 based on advice from the Committee on Climate Change - a figure that many of us think is way too low with at least a 40% reduction being needed.

Now, if our local politicians say that they believe that climate change is bad for us and are committed to reducing emissions for our beneft, how are we doing in Bristol? Obviously, if we are going to reduce emissions by 21% (let alone 40%) we need to have reduced by, say 7% at least by 2010. Well the base 2005 per capita CO2 emissions were 5.8 tonnes and the 2010 target is.....drum roll....5.8 tonnes! Yes that's right, five years work and we have gone nowhere but, wait, there is hope on the horizon. The 2011 target is....5.7 tonnes per capita. Wow, no wonder we are a green capital!

But, as Charlie Bolton explains on his blog, it is even worse than that - the 2005 figures are based on a population of 410,500 which means the total overall emissions come to 2,380,900 tonnes of CO2. But the population forecast for Bristol in 2011 is 440,700. So with a per capita emissions level of 5.7 tonnes that means our total is 2,511,990 tonnes. Instead of reducing our emissions as a City, we will have added 131,000 tonnes per year by 2011. To simply maintain our level of carbon emissions at the 2005 levels, we need a per capita target for 2011 of 5.4 tonnes. To reduce overall emissions by 7% would need a target of 5.0 tonnes per capita. In short, as far as carbon emissions are concerned, the LAA is worthless. We may have to rely on the Lib-Dems to set more demanding local targets with a little pressure from us Greens. One thing is certain, to rely on Labour and or the Conservatives too take climate change seriously is like expecting a turkey to vote for Christmas - they simply don't have the courage of their supposed convictions.

Nobody is sure what Bristol's population will be in 2020 but figures in the region of 470,000 have been bandied around. In that case if we are to reduce our emissions by 21% by 2020 then we are looking at per capita emissions that will need to be 4.0 tonnes.

What could you do for 4.0 tonnes of carbon emissions per annum? Well, you could drive to Bristol International Airport and catch a return flight to New York. And that’s it, that’s your entire carbon emissions for the year gone. This is why any carbon emission reductions, even real ones, are useless if you continue to expand airports.

This brings us to Charlie’s motion last night regarding the expansion of Bristol International Airport. Labour and the Conservatives blithely ignore all the evidence that shows Bristol International Airport and its expansion offers little or no benefit to the local economy. Worse still, after all the talk earlier of only working for the benefit of Bristol, they used the opportunity to indulge in some petty party bickering about the Lib-Dems having changed their position, about the Lib-Dems in Norwich opposing the Greens, quoting the CBI (President: Martin Broughton, chairman of BA) saying business in Bristol is reliant upon the airport expansion – yeah, I am sure the 98% of local businesses that are SMEs most of whom never use the airport are looking forward to paying for carbon offsets because the airport has used up their share to transport BAe and Lloyds Bank executives around the world.

As for the carbon emissions, our Helen said that planes are getting more efficient. Not according to the aforementioned BA Chairman and CBI President who has gone on record saying that fuel efficiency gains “are likely to be outweighed by future growth” But wait, our Helen has read somewhere about carbon offsets! That will do the trick – we can offload our carbon offsets on to somebody else. It’s a bit like the waste strategy – instead of preventing the waste in the first place you pay somebody else to take care of it for you. So, instead of reducing our own carbon emissions we will pay somebody else to reduce theirs – that way in 20-30 years time they will have a modern clean transport system, and modern clean cities with modern energy efficient homes and workplaces and won’t need to buy our carbon offsets but by then it will be a SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem).

As already mentioned, the Climate Change Act is a legally-binding document that commits us to a 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. That means the UK’s emissions must be reduced to 32.5 million tonnes of carbon equivalent. Meanwhile the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research estimates that the aviation industry in Britain will account for 32 million tonnes carbon but this figure underestimates the percentage of air travel by British nationals or the effect created by the combination of greenhouse gases released by aircraft at high altitude – when these figures are included we reach a figure of 59 million tonnes of carbon equivalent from aviation alone. That is 181% of our target for 2050.

To re-use the waste analogy, whilst Labour’s Mark Bradshaw carps on about how Lib-Dems and the Greens (oh, and the Tories of course) by wrecking the waste strategy will cost the taxpayer money, Labour (with the Tories) are happy to pursue a strategy that will see the country having to buy 59 million tonnes of carbon at prices which some government estimates put at £140/tonne by 2030 – that’s £8.3 billion spent so that executives can fly to meetings they could do by video-conferencing, or tourists can export their money to somewhere else, somewhere with less pollution, somewhere where they are considering banning dirty, noisy aircraft. But that too will be a SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem).

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