Friday, 23 April 2010

Extremist? Moi?

The Birmingham Post ran an editorial yesterday attacking our position on the runway extension at BIA and stating, amongst other things, "how out of touch they are with the real world" and asking us to come clean about our agenda.

Now when I was on the radio recently, airport chief Paul Kehoe uttered the legendary phrase "I don't know what planet Friends of the Earth are on" and this seems a remarkably similar line of attack.

The accepted "wisdom" around making economic policy in the West Midlands all seems to be based on there being limitless resources that we can carry on exploiting regardless. What kind of real world is that, exactly?

The real world is the one in which recently the High Court ruled that the Aviation White Paper of 2003, on which all current expansion is based, was obsolete because it does not comply with the Climate Change Act of 2008. It is also based on oil costing $10 a barrel, which is never going to be the case again and the Stern report 2006 also indicates that the economic case for dealing with climate change should be re-examined so as to mitigate now and not allow business as usual.

The concerted efforts by those driven by ideological opposition to government intervention in markets to tackle climate change or short-term business interests to find some real evidence of collusion or fiddling the figures in "climategate" have all failed, so we now have to get on with dealing with this problem. With consensus shown by the leaders of the three main parties on this (if not all the solutions), we are not saying it is time to ground all flights, but that expansion is not the answer when resources are limited and the business case does not stack up.

Localise West Midlands have also blogged on this in support today and their points about "a fuel-scarce future" are as key as any on the impacts of climate change. Prices will only go one way, whether through taxes or demand outstripping supply in the near future, so to rely on affordable oil for air travel is unwise to say the least, as is thinking that biofuels can replace oil without having a devastating effect on the world's eco-systems and capabilities to grow sufficient food.

Unless aviation plays its part in cutting CO2 emissions, other sectors will have to make much deeper cuts, so where would you choose to make those cuts? Also, aviation is currently massively subsidised and ticket prices have fallen compared to the cost of living over the past decade, whereas trains and bus ticket prices have gone up considerably and are among the highest in Europe.

The economic benefits of aviation are wildly exaggerated, as we have pointed out on many occasions. Even Heathrow's claims to make the economy money have been debunked and London is the one place that doesn't have a tourism deficit from aviation. To say only areas that have a large international airport from where people can fly non-stop to destinations all over the world can be successful econmically is also to ignore data from all over the country.

Therefore, our agenda is simple - don't subsidise high carbon polluting forms of transport, such as aviation and give local people a fair deal by spending money from the public purse on projects that have a real benefit.

This doesn't mean we are being extreme, but we want the real story behind the claims on economic benefits to be examined more carefully. If we are to build a long-term sustainable economy that is not dependent on a fast-disappearing resource, we should not be looking to increase airport capacities now, but be planning to use the skills of people in the region to build local markets that are not dependent on aviation.

Once new government guidance is drawn up that relies on the latest scientific and economic data around climate change, oil supplies and low-carbon alternatives we can decide how to best manage demand for aviation. Rushing into decisions to fund extra capacity now would be foolish and waste valuable financial resources at a time when the public purse is being squeezed hard.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Aviation is not the way forward for our nation

We've recently had to step up our aviation campaigning as the issue has stormed back into the headlines.

We ran a high-profile campaign against the runway extension at BIA called flyagra which highlighted the many problems with extending the runway, while trying to use an amusing comparison with the type of dodgy extensions one is often suggested may be a good idea in spam emails. Unfortunately, the planning application was approved by Solihull Council, so until recent events it looked like there was nothing more we could do.

Firstly, there was the high court ruling on Heathrow's 3rd runway stating that the aviation white paper from 2003 is now obsolete (which we've been arguing to be true for a long time).

Then came the scandalous news that BIA are asking for state aid from the local councils to get the A45 moved and make the runway extension possible after AWM pulled out of financing it.

It emerged that Birmingham City Council and Solihull MBC are planning to stump up £16m each at a time of cuts in public expenditure and job losses, especially in Birmingham. However, after seeing that we and the local press are looking at the legality of such a move, the council has made all reports on the matter and all discussions private. Yesterday I attended the cabinet meeting where the ridiculous decision to fund this was approved, but members of the public were excluded from hearing any of the debate around it or seeing any documentation about the route of the road, which we understand will not now be in a tunnel under the runway, but going around the perimeter of the runway.

Obviously, the council are concerned about public scrutiny of this decision as they feel they are on shaky ground so we now need to look into the legality of it, especially when taxpayers in the West Midlands could be getting so much better value for money by the council investing money in more low-carbon job creation schemes that would help tackle fuel poverty, meet climate change targets and improve the area's economy.

We've alway argued that the economic forecasts for the expansion of aviation are flawed and this has been borne out by more recent reports on the loss to the economy potentially resulting from building Heathrow's 3rd runway. There are very well-researched figures showing the tourism deficit from aviation to be very substantial indeed and if the industry's projections of continued growth are correct will lead to £41bn being lost from the West Midlands economy from 2004-2020.

The volcano currently erupting in Iceland has given many people a different view on aviation, even if it is causing problems to many. We should not mess with Mother Nature, as she'll always win and the fragility of our plans involving flying people and good across the planet as the default system for doing business, leisure activities or feeding ourselves has been shown and this cannot be the best way forward.

I agree with this blog post arguing that we can largely live without flying so planning ever-expanding aviation is wrong for everyone. It is essential that we keep up the pressure to ensure that this carbon-hungry white elephant of a scheme is not given the go-ahead.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Green Industrial Revolution at last?

Last month Jonathon Porritt was in Birmingham to deliver a free lecture to the Lunar society and other guests who applied to attend. As he'd been director of Friends of the Earth in the 1980s (as well as holding many other high-ranking posts within the environmental sector) I was obviously very interested to go along and hear what he had to say. The following post is adapted from notes taken by one of our volunteers.

He has a reputation for being quite a provocative speaker but on this occasion he was determined to deliver quite a positive message - maybe that's because he now heads an organisation called "Forum for the Future", so needs to promote a brighter picture of the future. Jonathan said that we are on the brink of a Green Industrial Revolution here in the West Midlands. He would not have said that even one year ago and that although it has been announced regularly over the last 25 years, he sees signs that it could now be arriving at last.

The reasons he sees for this are the following:
  • There is a consensus on climate change. Our knowledge of climate science has been unfolding over the last 100 years and recent wobbles are not significant.
  • Acceptance that oil is finite and a price crunch is coming that will make it unaffordable for most purposes. The end of the era of cheap hydrocarbons.
  • Investment in renewable energy has become an industrial sector in its own right. The sense of a tipping point on energy supply.
  • UK government has finally got its act together on renewables. The Technology strategy Board is to invest £1bn in the renewable supply chain.
The trouble is that we're not jumping up and down and saying how great this is, because the media paints such a negative picture of climate change and the consequences and NGOs aren't getting their messaging right either.

He asked a question that is crucial in this areaand one that we need to look at to ensure the chance isn't wasted - What is stopping us from seeing and seizing the crucial moment?

1. No price on carbon. This is a major distortion in market behaviour. It requires a corrective mechanism, wrongly called subsidies to clean energy generation when it is just reflecting the cost that should be inherent with high-carbon activity.

2. Slowness in diffusion of technologies. Lighting has gone from incandescent bulbs, to compact florescent, to LED and now new methods such as high efficiency plasma. But it is too slow in implementation in most cases.

3. Incumbency – is the biggest single barrier to the Green Industrial Revolution – the principal block. For example, the oil companies are planning £250 billion investment in Canadian tar sands, i.e. a high carbon source of energy. It has been pointed out what a lot this investment would do to bring forward something like concentrating solar power in deserts, that could supply 15% of Europe's electricity needs. If all the planned fossil fuel development takes place it has been calculated this would raise CO2 levels from current 387 ppm to 750ppm. Most new solar development at the moment is by Chinese companies.

4. Looking backwards. Julia King’s low carbon transport study showed that we must in effect ‘junk the internal combustion engine’ or we will not restrain CO2 within acceptable limits. A 90% reduction in carbon emissions from transport is required by 2050. But cars are predicted to increase from 1 billion to 2 billion. If cars spread in developing countries then they will have to be electrically powered. His conclusion was that the internal combustion engine will die. Jaguar Landrover are taking the emissions from the internal combustion engine right down, but it won’t be enough. Nissan are to build a major electric car plant in the UK. Tata is working on an electric version of its low price Nano. Jonathan is still worried for British manufacturing though. There has been a deliberate dismantling of our manufacturing base since 1980s. We will need manufacturing to make the new technologies for a low-carbon revolution. Offshore wind is one area where government seems determined that the UK will take the lead and is investing in the supply chain. Mitsubishi is to open a wind turbine plant and Clipperwood Power is designing a 10 mega watt machine! This will require all new materials and is far bigger than anything else in the market at the moment.

5. Techno-scepticism by the green movement also plays a role. Some of this scepticism is good e.g. re geo-engineering as solutions to climate change. But to take green technologies to the public, we have to move beyond just asking people to consume less.

Some business leaders are beginning to think strategically about new technologies and NGOs have done a good job there, but now we need peer groups to lead, including universities. In the West Midlands we need to build on our past industrial legacy. The question he left us with was; How to make this real and live?

After this there was a question and answer session where members of the audience asked a few searching questions about the need to reduce consumption and whether we as human beings will ever be prepared to do that. He had to clarify some of what he said through the talk by saying that in the time given you can't possibly cover everything, but yes consumption is key and all the technological changes in the world won't help if people continue to consume in the same way.

Is Birmingham doing enough with its Climate Change Action Plan? Well, Cllr Tillesley mentioned Porritt as his mentor when introducing it to cabinet and likes to see himself as quite a visionary, but how much Birmingham is maximising the opportunities in the transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy still has to be seen. Will the city of the industrial revolution make it to the forefront of the green revolution?
We'll have to see...

Friday, 9 April 2010

Press release on BIA's announcement on delaying the runway extension



Environmental campaigners have welcomed this morning's announcement by BIA chief executive Paul Kehoe that the runway extension will not be built for at least 5 years, but are calling for more clarity over what work is to be completed and who will pay for it.

Recently both Birmingham and Solihull councils have offered to put in £16 million of “state aid” to allow the runway extension to go ahead by paying for work to move the A45, but the details of this have remained private. Birmingham FoE is now calling for all relevant documents to be made available for public scrutiny and for the case to be completely reviewed with regards to the legislation now in place.

Friends of the Earth won huge public support for the 2008 Climate Change Act which has made the aviation white paper of 2003 (on which all runway plans were based) obsolete, and they are now calling for more transparency and a complete review of the plans for expanding aviation in this country.

Joe Peacock from Birmingham Friends of the Earth stated “We now know that aviation expansion plans do not add up for the planet or the people of the West Midlands. New government guidance due next year must take into account the science of climate change that is recognised in law and this will mean expanding aviation can no longer be justified.”

The airport should now tell the public exactly what their plans are and stop asking for state subsidies for damaging work to be carried out on the greenbelt.”

Birmingham City Council have recently announced some green measures to get the economy moving, so these should be the focus of investment from the public purse, as the financial return for the area will be far higher.


Notes to Editors

1) Birmingham City Council recently passed the Climate change action plan to cut its £1.5 billion energy bill and generate investment in green jobs

2) The Big Ask Campaign resulted in the climate change act 2008

3) Lord Justice Carnwath ruled that the 2003 Air Transport White Paper – the foundation of aiport expansion plans across the country - is obsolete because it is inconsistent with the Climate Change Act 2008.

4) Birmingham Friends of the Earth campaigns on many environmental issues, including the promotion of sustainable transport.

For more information contact: Joe Peacock (Birmingham Friends of the Earth)