human activity and the destruction of the planet

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Appeal Court rules that Heathrow airport expansion is now illegal

27th February 2020: an historic day!

This morning the Court of Appeal judged the government’s plans for Heathrow expansion to be illegal on climate change grounds. Heathrow is one of the biggest single sources of greenhouse gases in the UK. And airport expansion – at Heathrow or any other airport – simply cannot go ahead if we’re to prevent further climate breakdown.

The appeal court appreciated this and ruled that ignoring the Paris Agreement is illegal. Building a third runway does not comply with or support the UK’s targets to reduce emissions and move towards a sustainable future. The government will accept the court’s decision.

Today, this landmark victory confirms that ordinary people have the power to bring about change. The carbon economy’s days are numbered.


7th May 2020:

A statement from Friends of the Earth states:

“Heathrow Airport Limited and developers Arora Holdings have just been given permission to appeal against the decision to stop them building a climate-wrecking third runway. Sadly this story isn’t over.

When we won our historic legal case in February we knew this might happen. Both companies quickly applied to appeal so we didn’t take anything for granted.

Our legal team has therefore been busy preparing for this moment. And the good news is that we’re confident that the Supreme Court will agree with us that it was illegal for the government to support a third runway without considering what this meant for meeting the Paris Agreement and the total climate impacts the development could have.”

So, it’s not over yet!


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Is a world institution for climate and energy needed?

Nick Butler, writing in the Financial Times, argues that a new global institution, rather like the WHO, is needed to ensure the continuous momentum of moving towards a carbon-free world.

pushing bike in floods

His sub-title is:

“Establishing a structure to direct the green transition is key to success”

and he starts his article as follows:

“The debate on climate change has focused over the past year on the setting of national and corporate targets around the objective of zero net carbon emissions by 2050. It is time to move the debate on and put in place the detailed steps necessary to get to that goal and the institutional structure to bring together the many elements of the challenge and the response.

The ad hoc, hand-to-mouth approach is clearly inadequate, as shown by the recent failures and disappointments of the UN’s annual COP process. An established, trusted international organisation is needed to combine both analysis of the challenge and the development of practical solutions.

So far 20 countries have now signed up to the pledge of delivering net zero by 2050, while more than 100 are discussing the target.”

He then goes on to outline how some major companies, such as Qantas, Nestle and Microsoft, have set themselves targets for becoming carbon negative. He believes that the direction of change is clear and makes the case for an international organisation to oversee the process, giving direction and advice, and co-ordinating research, rather like the World Health Organisation has been doing regarding the coronovirus outbreak.

He believes that the International Energy Agency (IEA) is the place to start.

In Chapter 8 of my book, I also argue for the establishment of a new international body, though I do not go so far as Nick Butler in setting up how this might happen.  In this chapter, I describe what the United Nations has been doing about climate change, through the UNFCCC, but believe that a more focused approach is needed.  Here is a quotation from p.221 of my book:

Global co-operation is the idea I have promoted throughout this book, because I believe it is the only way to produce the kind of rapid changes in human activity that are needed if we are to save the world from destruction. We are all in this together, so the divisiveness that is promoted by some groups and countries is just not appropriate. The world is facing a crisis and we need to join hands and work together to solve it.

So, what are the factors which are likely to limit global co-operation?

  • the massive size of the global population;
  • differences in national priorities, ethos and cultures;
  • differences across the world in how climate change is affecting individual countries;
  • lack of trust between nations;
  • ideological differences;
  • other crises seem more important to address, such as terrorism, migration etc;
  • risks to national economies;
  • fears that other nations will not do likewise;
  • fears of being left behind in trading competitiveness;
  • unwillingness to give up prestigious possessions, power and status.”

Nick Butler is coming at this idea from a different angle. Rather than seeking the co-operation of individual nations, he encourages some of the largest companies in the world, who have the largest emissions, to start acting responsibly.  Maybe, if they lead the way, then nations will follow.  But we are running out of time.


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Birmingham City Council’s actions since declaring a climate emergency

Birmingham City Council declared a climate emergency on June 11th 2019.  Since then, everything has gone quiet, although we were aware that they had established a Task Group (called R20 – Route to Zero) to take actions forward.  They did not invite Extinction Rebellion, nor Friends of the Earth to participate in the Task Group.

However, I learnt today that the Council set up an on-line consultation survey in January 2020 and that the deadline for responding to it has now passed.  The link to complete the survey was as follows:

though I am not sure if the link is still active.

They are also doing a number of other things:

Sandpits Workshops

These are policy development sessions on key themes, with the aim of providing Taskforce members, officers, experts, and key partners and stakeholders with the opportunity to share knowledge and understanding of what is already known, how that helps the Task Group, and what else needs to be explored.  The following is a table of the workshops to be held:


Provisional date
NB: sessions will be ~3 hrs



27 Feb (AM)

University of Birmingham


26 Feb (PM)


Planning/development and regulation

24 Feb (PM)


Education, skills and employment pathways

TBC (Mar)


East Birmingham and North Solihull (EBNS)

17 Mar

EBNS (visit)


TBC (early Mar)


 To attend one of the workshops individuals need to be nominated by an organisation, who then needs to contact Rose Horsfall: However, all of the dates above were postponed to March.

In addition, the R20 Task Force wants to set up citizen engagement sessions:

Invitation to convene a community conversation

“In April we would like further citizen engagement to be undertaken and are inviting Taskforce members to express their interest in convening community conversations which the Council will provide financial support for.

These sessions will take place following the engagement sandpit in March where we will be sharing good practice and learning to explore in depth how best to engage with our citizens on this agenda, including identifying target audiences across the city.

Please contact Naomi ( if you would be interested in convening a session.”

Birmingham City Council had a debate in full council meeting on the work of the Task Force on 4th February 2020.  It can be viewed at  starting at 2 hours 07 minutes in the track.

National Climate Assembly UK

The second weekend of the National Climate Assembly took place in Birmingham on the weekend of 22nd-23rd Feb 2020. For further details and to view the session follow this link: Weekend 2.

 Update 11th March 2020:

I have heard through my contacts that several members of the R20 Task Force are extremely unhappy about its progress and at the shambolic way it is taking the agenda forward. The letter below to the Chairman of the Task Force perhaps reflects these frustrations:


As members of the Taskforce we are writing to you as chair to express our concern that Birmingham City Council has started the process for procuring a new contractor to run, maintain and refurbish the Tyseley Incinerator, and is asking for another 10 year contract. 

What Birmingham City Council and the wider city does with its waste will play a vital part in tackling the climate emergency. Reducing the amount of waste produced, increasing the amount of waste used as a resource through re-use and recycling, and reducing the amount going to incineration are all key to a low carbon future.

Therefore we have a number of concerns about the council starting this procurement:

1) Our first concern is about process. The motion passed by the City Council declaring the climate emergency called on the council to “review planned Transport, Housing, Waste and Energy Investment plans and policies to ensure they are fit to support a transition to a zero-carbon future”. Starting the procurement process for a continuation of the status quo this ageing and inefficient incinerator does not seem to show any evidence of reviewing planned investment plans and policies. Furthermore, starting this procurement process before the Task Force has finished its work,  and before the Climate Action Plan is drafted and approved by Full Council, feels premature and effectively putting the cart before the horse.

 2) We feel the length of the contract is also problematic. It locks the city council into using the Tyseley incinerator for at least 10 more years. This allows little flexibility when new technologies become available or an ability to wind down from using the incinerator in that time. Additionally, the end of the contract is 4 years after council is seeking to be zero carbon.
 3) We note the changing national policy context. The Council is very probably going to have to introduce a food waste collection. Once food waste is taken out of the residual waste stream, it will dramatically reduce the amount of waste going to the incinerator. In this context is it viable to have this incinerator? Particularly when there is spare incineration capacity elsewhere in neighbouring local authorities.
 4) Continuing with the Tysleley incinerator could make it difficult to significantly increase recycling rates and reduce the amount of waste produced. Having an incinerator, particularly with the wrong contract, can act as a disincentive to reducing waste and increasing recycling.
 5) Continuing to use the site for an incinerator precludes using the site for any other purpose, which could make use of being next to and linked into the neighbouring Tyseley Energy Park.
 6) Finally this 25 year old incinerator is a very high polluting and high carbon emitting way of dealing with residual waste. This has an impact on the air quality of the surrounding area and contributes to continuing carbon dioxide emissions in the city to 2034 and beyond.
 We acknowledge the challenges facing local authorities in terms of capacity, know how, powers and resources when tackling the climate emergency and achieving net zero. However, we believe there are the means within the city council, its allies on the taskforce and the wider region to resolve the  challenges of waste management in a much better way than this.  We urge the council to act in line with its commitments rather than trampling all over them with this current tender.”