Wednesday, 9 October 2019

How Brent could do better in responding to the Climate Emergency

Brent Council has declared a Climate Emergency. Friends of the Earth have assessed the Council's efforts and suggests changes in policy and actions which would do more to avert climate catastrophe:

The Brent area’s performance on climate change is average compared to other local authority areas. All local authorities, even the best performing, need to do much more if climate catastrophe is to be averted. Brent particularly needs to do much better on increasing renewable energy, increasing tree cover, and increasing waste recycling.

In Brent 43% of emissions come from housing, 22% from transport, and 35% are industrial and commercial emissions.2

There are different estimates of how fast the UK should reduce greenhouse gas emissions if it’s to do its fair share in combatting climate change, ranging from around 7% to over 25% per year.3

Researchers at the Tyndall Centre in Manchester University say that Brent should reduce emissions by at least 13% per year.4

What can local authorities do?

All local authorities, even the best performing, need to do much more if climate catastrophe is to be averted. The government needs to provide them with the powers and resources to do so, and it needs to do much more itself. All local authorities should adopt an ambitious local climate action plan, and they should join with Friends of the Earth and others in urging more government action. Each local authority should declare a climate emergency as a sign of political intent.

The people most vulnerable to climate change are often those on lower incomes, despite having done the least to cause it because of their lower levels of consumption. For example, people with lower incomes are less able to replace and repair damage from flooding or insure against it. This inequality is called climate injustice.

Researchers have identified over 10,000 neighbourhoods across the UK where people are particularly vulnerable to flooding due to their location and factors such as income.5 Brent has 117 of these neighbourhoods with high social flood risk for surface flooding, taking account a range of vulnerability factors. The local authority needs to target these areas for support in order to help people living there prepare for extreme weather and respond and recover when it occurs.

Housing

Only 41% of homes are well insulated in Brent.6 This represents a shocking waste of energy, high greenhouse gas emissions and unnecessarily high energy bills. 13% of households in the area are in fuel poverty, which means they can’t afford to heat their homes properly.7 Poor insulation contributes to this problem.

Upgrading the insulation of 5,809 homes per year within the Brent area will ensure all homes are properly insulated by 2030, lifting as many people as possible out of fuel poverty.
We also need to switch from gas central heating, which is a major source of greenhouse gases, to eco-heating (such as heat pumps), which doesn’t burn fossil fuels. The government provides grants for installing eco-heating. There are only 15 government funded eco-heating systems in the Brent area, yet the UK needs to fit around 1 million per year. A fair share for Brent would be fitting 3,638 eco-heating systems every year.8

Transport

Transport is the biggest source of greenhouse gases in the UK, and emissions continue to grow. Research suggests that to deliver the greenhouse gas reductions needed will require car use to be reduced by between 20% and 60%, depending on factors such as the speed of the switch to electric vehicles.9 This means that the UK should more than double the proportion of journeys by public transport, cycling and walking.10

In Brent only 57% of people commute by public transport, 3% cycle, and 7% walk. In the best performing similar local authority area, the proportions are 68%, 4% and 17% respectively.11
Much more is possible. Research shows that 27% of commuter journeys in Brent could be by bike (assuming good cycling infrastructure, such as segregated cycleways and the uptake of E-bikes12), better walking routes can encourage more journeys on foot and improve health, and 6 in 10 drivers would shift to public transport if its quality improved.13

Friends of the Earth suggests Brent has a target of 80% of people commuting by public transport, cycling, and walking by 2030.14

When cars are needed, they should be electric and shared as much as possible. Only 7% of commuters share their car when commuting in the Brent area.15 According to social enterprise Liftshare, best in class employers have 40% of their staff sharing journeys to work.

According to research published in April, the Brent area has 52 electric vehicle charging points (EV chargers).16 The Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government, says there should be 1 EV charger for every thousand cars by 2030. This suggests that in Brent there should be at least 92 EV chargers.17 But we need a much faster transition to electric cars, which means many more EV chargers than this.

Energy

The proportion of our electricity produced by renewable energy has increased massively over the last ten years to around a third, and the cost of solar panels and wind farms has plummeted. But we need to produce up to 8 times more renewable electricity if the UK is to wean itself off climate-wrecking oil and gas, including for our transport and heating. Much of the additional renewable energy will come from offshore wind, but there’s also a need to significantly increase onshore wind and solar power.

Currently the Brent area has 3MW of renewable power.18 If the Brent area matched the best of similar local authority areas it would have 28MW.19 This is a minimum target to be achieved rapidly, and all local authorities should look to exceed it.

To give an indication of what this means in practice, the average onshore wind turbine in Europe is 2.7MW and a 25-acre solar farm will produce about 5MW of electricity. On average 1MW of renewable power produces enough energy for around 125 homes.20

Trees

Trees play an important role in sucking the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it as carbon. They also provide a home for nature, clean up air pollution and reduce flood risk.

According to the Government's National Forest Inventory (NFI) 3% of the Brent area is woodland. The highest proportion in similar areas is 13%.21 The NFI is known to significantly under-report tree cover in urban areas, so Friends of the Earth is carrying out further research which we will publish later this year.

All areas should aim to double tree cover as soon as possible.

Those areas with very little tree cover (less than 10%) should make an additional commitment to increase tree cover to 20%.

The Brent area should aim to increase tree cover to 20%.

For those few areas with already high levels of tree cover (30% or more) it may not be feasible to double tree cover. However, even in these areas some more tree planting will be possible.22

Waste

Making the stuff we buy, using it, and throwing it away all contribute to climate change. Buying less stuff is an important step in cutting greenhouse gases.

For the stuff we do buy, we should reuse, recycle or compost it. Brent reuses, recycles and composts 37% of its household waste.23 This compares to the best figure of 49% in similar local authorities, while Wales has set its local authorities a target of 70% by 2025. English local authorities should aspire to the same figure, and all local authorities must aim even higher on a path to achieve zero waste (e.g. aiming for zero waste by 2030).

Divestment

Local authorities across the UK invest billions of pounds in fossil fuel companies, the very companies that have caused the climate emergency.

Working out which local authority has what investments is not straightforward, because local authorities often pool funds. An analysis of UK local authority pension funds suggests that on average local authorities invest many millions of pounds in fossil fuels. Along with many others, Friends of the Earth is calling on local authorities to stop investing in fossil fuels.24

Summary of targets for the Brent area


Cease supporting or promoting new high carbon infrastructure, such as roads or airports
Annual emissions reductions – 13%
Homes to insulate per year – 5,809
Number of eco-heating systems, such as heat pumps, to fit each year – 3,638
Proportion of commuters walking, cycling or using public transport by 2030 – 80%
Increase lift-sharing – major employers should aim to have 40% of their staff who travel to work by car doing so by lift-sharing
Electric vehicle charging stations by 2030 – at least 92 stations
Renewable energy – at least 28MW
Trees – Aim for 20% tree cover
Household waste reuse, recycling and composting by 2025 – 70% (on path to reach zero waste as soon as possible)
Divestment – zero investment in fossil fuel companies as soon as possible.

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