Union calls for a legal responsibility on employers to address a crisis in U.K. air pollution

BWTUC logoThe Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council (BWTUC) is the Southwest London arm of the Trades Union Congress and a founding supporter of the Greener Jobs Alliance. The BWTUC has undertaken a campaign against toxic air, and argues that employers are the root cause of diesel emissions –  from their transport fleets as well as the individual  journeys to and from work made by workers.  As part of its campaign against what it calls the “number one public health issue”, BWTUC will help local unions to carry out monitoring of pollution levels where they work, and is also producing online training modules which will be available at the Greener Jobs Alliance website after a May 27 launch.  Finally, it is advocating for a Clean Air Act, as stated in the  Greener Jobs Alliance Top 10 Election Demands  : #10: “ Introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution once and for all. Place a clear legal responsibility on employers and businesses to address air quality and develop a network of low emission zones in pollution hot spots.”

The U.K. government has addressed the issue of roadside air pollution in Improving air quality in the UK: tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities: Draft UK Air Quality Plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide  (May 2017).  Unlike the BWTUC, the government clearly sees pollution as an individual, not employer, responsibility.  “The UK Government is clear that any action to improve air quality must not be done at the expense of local businesses and residents. Therefore local authorities must work closely with local people to create an approach which works for them. Everyone has a role to play in helping to address NOx by considering how they can reduce emissions through their day-to-day activities, for example by choosing cleaner vehicles.”  The government does propose incentives for low carbon fuel vehicle fleets, and for clean busses for commuting, but the plan is controversial and inadequate – see “UK’s new air pollution plan dismissed as ‘weak’ and ‘woefully inadequate‘” and  “Air pollution plan: sacrificing the nation’s health to save an election campaign“, both of which appeared in The Guardian on May 5.

double decker busAccording  to a BWTUC press release , the people of Battersea/Wandsworth have a lot at stake: “In 2016 Putney High St had the dubious distinction of being the most polluted road in the whole of Europe.  By law hourly levels of Nitrogen Dioxide must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre more than 18 times in one year. In fact, the hourly limit was exceeded over 1,200 times in 2016. In January 2017 the standard was breached 11 times in one day.” …. “In April, the Wandsworth Guardian quoted a report that showed 29 schools in the borough located in areas exceeding the safe legal limit.”

Brexit is seen as a turning point for UK Climate Change Policy

On February 22, the new  Greener UK coalition released  a manifesto, calling on the UK government to use the Brexit process as an opportunity to restore and enhance environmental protections in the UK. The Manifesto for a Greener UK follows the release on February 14 of a  House of Lords report, Brexit: Environment and climate change.  For a discussion of the basic issues of concern, read “Brexit will be a pivotal moment for the UK’s environment” (December 2016), and read also Greener UK’s Pledge for the Environment, which has been signed by over 145 Members of Parliament  from all parties. Greener UK has also prepared a Briefing Note for Members of Parliament: The repeal bill and a greener UK: Maintaining a greener UK as the UK exits the EU.  Follow developments on the Inside Track blog, published by Green Alliance.

One of the key proposals of the February  Manifesto is that Britain should continue to show climate leadership, to co-operate with the EU on energy and climate change, and to affirm ongoing investment and deployment of clean energy infrastructure. It also calls for a new  Environment Act for England, “building on the upcoming 25 year plan with measurable milestones for environmental restoration and high standards for pollution and resource efficiency”.  Greener UK  has published policy documents supporting  each of the four  priorities of the Manifesto: Food and Farming Fisheries and Marine   ; Climate and Energy  ; and Environment and Wildlife Laws  .

Greener UK  was launched in December 2016, coordinated by Green Alliance . Greener UK consists of 13 major environmental organizations with a  combined membership of 7.9 million, and includes:  Campaign for Better Transport, ClientEarth, Campaign to Protect Rural England, E3G, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, National Trust, RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and WWF.

In Case you missed it: Some policy landmarks over the summer

Ontario, Quebec and Mexico agree to promote carbon markets in North America: On August 31, at the 2016 Climate Summit of the Americas , the three jurisdictions announced   a joint declaration  which states: “The Partners are determined to jointly promote the expansion of carbon market instruments for greenhouse gas emissions reduction in North America.”   See the Globe and Mail summary here .

Alberta appoints an Oil Sands Advisory Group:  On July 14, Alberta appointed a 15-member Oil Sands Advisory Group   to provide expert advice on how to implement its 100 megatonne per year carbon emissions limit for the oil sands industry, and on “a pathway to 2050, including responding to federal and other initiatives that may affect the oil sands after 2030.”  Co-chairs appointed are: Climate and energy advocate Tzeporah Berman,   Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Dave Collyer, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

New Brunswick Climate Action Committee: The government’s Select Committee on Climate Change   held public hearings and accepted submissions over the summer.  In July, New Brunswick’s  Conservation Council produced its  “Climate Action Plan for New Brunswick”. It  proposes to reduce GHG  emissions through investments in retrofitting, starting with social and low-income housing; expand renewable energy ; provide incentives for electric and energy efficient vehicles; modernize industry and manufacturing to reduce waste and pollution, and accelerate installation of the Energy Internet (Smart Grid telecommunications) to manage a more distributed electricity load. These investments would help NB Power phase coal out of electricity production over the next 15 years.

U.S. and China formally join the Paris Agreement: On September 3, the eve of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou China, the two countries responsible for almost  40% of the world’s GHG emissions announced that they will formally ratify the Paris Accord.  See coverage in The Guardian ;  “U.S. and China formally join historic Paris climate agreement; Canada not yet ready”  in the Globe and Mail;  “Landmark China-U.S. climate breakthrough elicits tepid response” from Weekly Climate Review.  Check the Climate Analytics website  for their “ratification tracker”, which on September 9 states “ it is estimated that at least 58 countries are likely to have ratified the Paris Agreement by the end of 2016, accounting for 59.88% of global emissions. Under this scenario, the Paris Agreement will entry into force by the end of the year.”  The website has details country-by-country.

New U.S.  fuel standards for heavy-duty vehicles after model year 2018:  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency   and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration jointly finalized standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, to improve fuel efficiency and cut carbon pollution.  Heavy duty vehicles include:combination tractors (semi trucks), heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and vocational vehicles (including buses and garbage or utility trucks). The new rule and an archive of related documents is available at the EPA website . The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy   applauds the new rules; as does the trucking industry, according to the New York Times coverage .  Canada is expected to follow suit, based on the  the Joint Leaders’ statement from the Three Amigos Summit, June 29,  :  “Canada, the U.S., and Mexico commit to reduce GHG emissions from light- and heavy-duty vehicles by aligning fuel efficiency and/or GHG emission standards by 2025 and 2027, respectively. We also commit to reduce air pollutant emissions by aligning air pollutant emission standards for light- and heavy-duty vehicles and corresponding low-sulphur fuel standards beginning in 2018. In addition, we will encourage greener freight transportation throughout North America by expanding the SmartWay program to Mexico.” Canada last updated its emission standards for heavy-duty trucks in 2013, covering up to model year 2018.

California continues to lead with landmark legislation:  California legislation (SB32) was passed in late August, and signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 8,  requiring the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 .   An economic analysis by consulting firm Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2)  was released during the public debate  around SB32, claiming that thousands of jobs had been created in every District of the state by the predecesor Global Warming Solutions Act. See the press release here.  And the 8th annual edition of California’s Green Innovation Index  by Next10 quantifies a booming clean energy economy, with solar generation increased by 1,378 percent in the past 5 years.  “California’s Historic Climate Legislation becomes Law” from Think Progress is typical of the superlatives throughout the news coverage.

As evidence of California’s important leadership role:  on August 1, New York’s Public Service Commission approved the Clean Energy Standard   which mandates that 50 percent of the New York state’s electricity will come from renewable, clean energy sources by 2030 .   California had passed legislation in 2015 to mandate utilities to provide 50 percent of their electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030, and require a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by 2030.

Minority Report challenges Australia’s Climate Change policies:  Australia’s Cimate Change Authority released a report at the end of August:  Towards a climate policy toolkit: Special Review of Australia’s climate goals and policies  .  Authority experts David Karoly and Clive Hamilton so disagreed with the majority report that they issued their own Minority Report   (see the press release here  ) .  Clive Hamilton stated  “The majority report gives the impression that Australia has plenty of time to implement measures to bring Australia’s emissions sharply down.  This is untrue and dangerous”.

Shift in Climate Change policy in the U.K. government:  The new post-Brexit government of Theresa May has made “ a stupid and deeply worrying” decision according to The Independent ,    by moving the work of the  Department for Environment and Climate Change to a new  “Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.”    Reassurance from the June adoption of  a world-leading GHG emissions reduction target, as reported in The Guardian  here and here , has been challenged. The BBC reported that  “Just days after the United Kingdom committed  to cut greenhouse gas emissions 57% from 1990 levels by 2032, the country’s grid operator reported this morning that the country will miss its existing EU long-term targets for 2020,  unless it adopts more aggressive clean energy policies.”

 

What does Brexit mean for Climate goals?

union jackWith Europe reeling from the results of the British referendum vote to leave the European Union on June 23 2016,  most reports focus on the considerable political  and economic  upheaval to come.   A sampling of  insight into potential impacts on climate and energy policy: from From Phil McKenna at Inside Climate News (June 24) , “Brexit Sparks Worry About Fate of Global Climate Action”    – with a subtitle, “many fear the wave of nationalism will harm international efforts to halt global warming” ; from The Guardian on June 27, “EU Out Votes Puts UK Commitment to Paris in Doubt” ; also,    “UK votes to Leave EU: Fears grow for Climate Ambition” , and “5 Ways Brexit will transform Energy and Climate” from Politico Europe .    For European energy policy,  from Climate Change News,   the  “impact on the EU’s faltering carbon price would be ‘calamitous’”, and a considerable voice for low-carbon policies will be lost at the EU.  Domestically,  there are also fears  that the government’s new Energy Policy, scheduled for Fall 2016, will  be modelled on  the energy manifesto of the “Fresh Start” conservative coalition,  which includes eliminating the 2020 targets for renewables and investing in shale gas and new nuclear.

 

Electricity Industry in the U.K. Sees the Green Light

Reported in The Guardian on February 28   as a “watershed moment”,  the biggest energy lobbying group in the country, Energy UK,  has shifted its position on green energy and will start campaigning for low-carbon alternatives. The shift in policy follows the publication of Pathways for the GB Electricity Sector to 2030 , commissioned by Energy UK and written by consultants KPMG. (For comparison purposes, see the Canadian Electricity Association documents   Vision 2050  ( 2014) , and Adapting to Climate Change  (2016).

The U.K. Budget delivered on March 16  initially imposed a VAT increase from 5 – 20% on solar panels and other energy-saving products, but Chancellor George Osborne was forced to backtrack by political opposition.  Small comfort when the  Petroleum Revenue Tax was effectively abolished  and a supplementary charge on oil and gas extraction dramatically reduced – the government claims that it has provided tax support worth 1 billion pounds to the oil and gas industry.