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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:

https://www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/economy/climate-emergency-citizen-survey/

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:

Theme

Provisional date
NB: sessions will be ~3 hrs

Location

Housing

27 Feb (AM)

University of Birmingham

Transport

26 Feb (PM)

UoB

Planning/development and regulation

24 Feb (PM)

UoB

Education, skills and employment pathways

TBC (Mar)

UoB

East Birmingham and North Solihull (EBNS)

17 Mar

EBNS (visit)

Engagement

TBC (early Mar)

STEAMhouse

 To attend one of the workshops individuals need to be nominated by an organisation, who then needs to contact Rose Horsfall: Rose.Horsfall@birmingham.gov.uk. 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 (Naomi.Todd@birmingham.gov.uk) 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 http://civico.net/birmingham/democratic-services/8971  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:

“TYSELEY INCINERATOR: Beyond The Pale

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.”


“The latest Birmingham Council Climate Emergency Taskforce (R20) took place yesterday. It seems that a ‘Plan’ is going to be put to the full council on Tuesday 15th September. We in CANWM thought that it would contain hard details of what the council was actually going to do to meet its commitments, based upon the Anthesis report of hired consultants.
This was already bad news because the Antithesis report only envisaged an 84% reduction in the city’s carbon emissions by 2030 at best, and more like 72%; carbon neutrality would not be achieved until 2050, the same as the national government.
Now, remember that XR was one of the key driving forces for the council to go carbon zero, and we called for 2025 to be the cut-off date? The compromise reached with Councillors last year on June 11th was 2030, or as soon as possible afterwards; but now we have 2050!
If this slippage is not bad enough, it seems that the ‘Plan’ to be put to council on 15th September is merely a wish-list, and not concrete plans for doing anything. We hope we are wrong, but that is our current impression.
So, after 15 months of reports, papers and meetings, the urgency of taking any action is just melting away, a bit like the ice-caps. More has been achieved in reducing carbon emissions and other pollution by Covid in three months than the council has in over a year. Apparently, similar patterns are in evidence in other local authorities.
What to do about this bad situation? One idea is to produce a ‘minority report’ to be put to council on September 15th. This is being drawn up by CANWM, in alliance with Friends of the Earth, Footsteps (Faiths for a low carbon future) and Youth Strike for the Climate. It could contain radical demands such as scrap HS2, curb aviation at the airport, Fare Free Public Transport, immediate mass insulation of buildings, climate education in all schools and the ending of waste food incineration at the Tyseley depot, for example. We would need some rebel councillors to propose this in the council chamber.
It may be that the meeting on the 15th is online only, so that poses another problem in terms of the public gallery, a mass lobby outside the council etc.
So, we need some head-scratching as to how we turn all this around. The council have said they will not set up a citizens assembly, so how do we bring pressure to bear?”



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The European Parliament declares climate emergency

See: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20191121IPR67110/the-european-parliament-declares-climate-emergency

Ahead of the UN COP25 Climate Change Conference in Madrid 2-13 December, the European Parliament approved a resolution declaring a climate and environmental emergency in Europe and globally. They also want the Commission to ensure that all relevant legislative and budgetary proposals are fully aligned with the objective of limiting global warming to under 1.5 °C.

In a separate resolution, Parliament urged the EU to submit its strategy to reach climate neutrality as soon as possible, and by 2050 at the latest, to the UN Convention on Climate Change. MEPs also called on the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to include a 55% reduction target of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in the European Green Deal.

Stepping up global emission reductions for aviation and shipping

MEPs said that current aviation and shipping ambitions fall short of the necessary emissions reductions. All countries should include emissions from international shipping and aviation in their national contributions plans (NDCs), and urged the Commission to propose that the maritime sector be included in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS).

More financial support needed to fight climate change

EU countries should at least double their contributions to the international Green Climate Fund, Parliament said. EU member states are the largest providers of public climate finance and the EU’s budget should fully comply with its international commitments. They also noted that pledges by developed countries do not meet the collective goal of 100 billion USD per year as of 2020.

Finally, they urgently called on all EU countries to phase out all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies by 2020.

Quote

“The European Parliament has just adopted an ambitious position in view of the upcoming COP 25 in Madrid. Given the climate and environmental emergency, it is essential to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in 2030. It also sends a clear and timely message to the Commission a few weeks before the publication of the Communication on the Green Deal “”, said Pascal Canfin (RE, FR), Chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, during the debate on Monday.

Background

The resolution on declaring a climate and environmental emergency was adopted with 429 votes for, 225 votes against and 19 abstentions. The European Parliament adopted the resolution on COP25 with 430 votes for, 190 votes against and 34 abstentions.

A number of countries, local administrations and scientists have declared that our planet is facing a climate emergency.

The European Commission has already proposed the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but the European Council has still not endorsed it as Poland, Hungary and Czechia are opposed.

Parliament at the COP25

COP25 takes place in Madrid 2-13 December 2019. The President of the European Parliament David Maria Sassoli, (S&D, IT) will attend the official opening. A delegation from the European Parliament, led by Bas Eickhout (Greens, NL), will be there 9-14 December.



 


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Birmingham City Council declares a Climate Emergency

After much campaigning from environmental groups, such as Extinction Rebellion, Friends of the Earth, Climate Action West Midlands, a cross-party motion was debated by the Council on June 11th 2019 and passed unanimously.

Coinciding with the debate was a demonstration outside the Council House, by various groups, including young people, and the presentation of a petition from Extinction Rebellion, which was signed by over 3,000 people, calling for the Council to:

  1. Debate the climate emergency motion at full council;
  2. Pledge to make the city of Birmingham carbon neutral by 2025;
  3. Call on Westminster to provide the powers and resources to make this target achievable;
  4. Work with other local authorities on methods to limit Global Warming to less than 1.5°C;
  5. Work with partners across the West Midlands to deliver this goal;
  6. Report to Full Council within six months with the actions the Council will take to address this emergency.

Birmingham

This is a brief interview conducted outside the Council House by the BBC’s Regional programme Midlands Today:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/urz1aypui8cvd5o/2019-06-11%20BCC%20Climate%20Emergency%20Petition%20BBC%20Midlands%20Today%2013-30.mp4?dl=0

The knowledge about the imminent presentation of this petition triggered councillors into presenting their own cross-party motion for debate on 11th June.

The motion debated was as follows:

To consider the following Motion of which notice has been given.
Councillors Robert Alden, Roger Harmer, Julien Pritchard and Lisa Trickett as proposers and Councillors Jon Hunt, Suzanne Webb and Waseem Zaffar as seconders have given notice of the following Notice of Motion:-

“This Council notes that
• The Climate Crisis is an existential threat that requires us to change the way we invest in, grow and sustain our cities and regions.
• The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published in October 2018 set out the devastating consequences for the planet if it warmed more than 1.5C – with increased extreme weather with heatwaves and floods driving mass migration and global insecurity; the catastrophic social and ecological impacts worsening for
every degree of warming.
• The impact of climate change will not just be felt in far-away lands or coastal areas, the impact on Birmingham residents of increased extreme weather events, including flooding, droughts and heatwave is likely to be profound, with increasing risks to both life and property. Given our global footprint and the diversity of the city the climate crisis will hit at the heart of families and communities within the city.
• Given the planet is currently heading for 3-4C warming, keeping to 1.5C requires a radical shift across energy, land, industrial, urban and other systems to reduce emissions, unprecedented in history for the breadth, depth and speed of change required.
• All governments (national, regional and local) have a duty to limit the negative impacts of Climate Breakdown and in recognising this local government should not wait for national government to change their polices. It is important for the residents of Birmingham, the Region and the UK that cities commit to zero carbon as quickly as possible.
• Birmingham and the West Midlands, as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and a global player in the development of green technology, is ideally placed –- and has a moral responsibility to lead a new Green
Industrial Revolution that delivers clean and inclusive growth.
• Birmingham City Council has already made progress in addressing the issue of Climate Change, having adopted a target to cut Carbon Dioxide emissions by 60% by 2027 from a 1990 baseline and has already cut emissions by 33% (as of 2015).
• Unfortunately, current plans and actions are not enough. Transition in time requires a system change that drives decarbonisation whilst delivering justice and jobs.

A group of young people demonstrating outside the Council House

After debating the motion, the Council resolved:
• To declare a climate emergency.
• To aspire for the City to be net zero carbon by 2030 or as soon after as a just transition permits – making sure we take communities with us, protecting employment and without impoverishing deprived communities.
• To work with the WMCA and seek from the UK Government the powers and resources to help Birmingham deliver the 2030 net zero carbon ambition for a just transition.
• That the Council will lead by example and seek to be net zero carbon by 2030 – again ensuring that this is just – taking communities with us, protecting employment and without impoverishing deprived communities.
• To constitute a Climate Emergency Task Force to support the Council move from declaration to delivery drawing in cross sector, expertise, capacity and capability to capture the investment and economic opportunity arising from a low carbon future.
• To quickly set in place a process of engagement and collaborative action that enables the Task Force to bring forward to Full Council in January 2020 a plan that sets out how the aspiration for the City and the ambition of the Council to be net zero carbon by 2030 can be best achieved.
• As a matter of urgency 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 with Sustainability and Transport Overview and Scrutiny monitoring progress and to provide an update to Council in November 2019 and annually thereafter.”



The Council motion had watered down some of XR’s demands, such as the target date for becoming Carbon Neutral – 2030, as opposed to 2025 – but this is a closer target than that being promoted by Parliament.  Another request from XR was to debate the issues in a Citizens’ Assembly.  Details of this can be found in XR’s Briefing paper, which was sent to every member of the Council in advance of the Council meeting.  Copies of this paper, which outlines what other local authorities are doing, can be provided on request – or downloaded from the shared drive mentioned below.


The 38 degrees website was used to collate most of the signatures to the petition.  Their summary of the Council response is:

On Tuesday 11th June Birmingham City Council declared a climate emergency!
All 83 councillors who turned up to the meeting (out of possible 101) voted for the motion. Extinction Rebellion were named as part of the debate and the young people involved in the school climate strike were referenced multiple times. Many councillors spoke and covered a range of topics including energy, transport, education, housing, waste, divestment of pension funds and investment and system change. The petition was submitted with over 3000 signatures.
This decision has placed the UK’s second largest city on the climate crisis map of those willing to take action. Thank you so much for your support so far! Now we must ensure that action happens! If you want to stay involved, here are a few of the local groups that will continue to support, monitor and put pressure on the council:
https://www.facebook.com/birminghamfoe/
https://www.facebook.com/extinctionrebellionbirmingham/
https://www.facebook.com/CANWM/
https://www.facebook.com/bhamyouthstrike4climate/
https://www.facebook.com/ecobirmingham/
https://www.facebook.com/FootstepsBCF/

Please do reply to this email if you have any questions! And thank you once again for taking part in this campaign!

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/birmingham-city-council-declare-a-climate-emergency-and-take-action-1



Subsequent to this motion being passed by the Council, information has been received that it is setting up a Task Force, meeting for the first time on October 17th 2019. Various groups have been invited to send representatives onto the Task Force.  Unfortunately, Extinction Rebellion is not one of them, though some XR members will represented on other groups, such as Climate Action West Midlands, Footsteps, Green Coalition, Client Earth.  Friends of the Earth is another organisation not invited onto the Task Force.

See: https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/news/article/472/birmingham_climate_taskforce_announced

A small group of Birmingham citizens from some of the above organisations has been meeting regularly in workshop format to prepare material to submit to the Task Force.  It includes information/recommendations collated from a whole range of documents, which can be found on a shared drive at:

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1JN_bwrzV47StsjBtYYxg_B-oIKqvOUNJ

As this work progresses, further information will be shared on this site.


 


 


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Is the CCC’s UK target of net zero emissions by 2050 not ambitious enough?

Six months on from the UN’s landmark 1.5°C report, which urged immediate global action to prevent global warming from rising beyond this dangerous level, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) advised the UK government to go zero-carbon by 2050. The committee’s report asserts that the target constitutes the country’s “highest possible ambition” and that it is not credible to aim for an earlier date.

net-zero-cover-advice

The report of the CCC came at a time when Parliament had voted for a climate emergency to be declared and when the streets were filled with protesters from Youth Strike 4 Climate and Extinction Rebellion.

It was, rightly, seen as a step forward, showing how much more ambitious the UK needed to be if it was to act in accordance with the 1.5 degree climate target (of warming above pre-industrial temperatures).

But, was it enough? Buried in the report were a number of assumptions which others have pointed out, which mean that the CCC report is not all it that it seems. It was, says the critique, far too optimistic on negative emissions technologies and in other ways, and still hiding the truth about necessary change, and the speed and scale of emissions reductions.  See:

https://theconversation.com/new-net-zero-emissions-target-wont-end-uks-contribution-to-global-warming-heres-why-116386

The view of the authors of the article in The Conversation (cited above) is that creative carbon accounting and an unwillingness to prioritise the planet’s health over economic growth leaves the committee’s target lacking the urgency truly required to combat the climate emergency recently declared by even the government itself.

The authors believe that it is important to be sure of how the CCC defines net zero.  If it is based on the UN IPCC’s guidance, the target will include only those carbon emissions which are emitted within the UK’s borders. Using this definition, it would appear that the UK’s carbon emissions have fallen by 30% since 2008. But, as Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg highlighted to parliament, using this figure as a mark of the country’s climate leadership amounts to nothing more than creative carbon accounting, glossing over the UK’s role in emissions that occur outside its borders.

The UK’s imports are three times greater than its exports. the high level of the UK’s imports is a direct consequence of the UK’s consumption habits.  But the production and transport of these goods and their related carbon emissions were not counted by the committee because they occur outside our shores.  If they were to be counted, the UK’s carbon footprint is 70% higher than the figure used by the CCC in its report.

Also, emissions from international aviation and shipping have long been excluded from the UK’s national targets in favour of international reduction efforts, though the committee is arguing that they cannot be ignored any longer. However, it only recommends their inclusion in the UK’s carbon budget from 2033. The authors of The Conversation article believe that UK aviation emissions must not grow in the next decade if it is to prevent the worst effects of global warming and they state:

“The time to act on aviation and shipping is now.”

heathrow

They believe that the 2050 target is unambitious and gives a false impression that there is plenty of time to play with. To say that anything earlier than a 2050 target isn’t credible is a grave and dangerous mistake. At current levels of emissions, the world will reach 1.5°C of warming in 12 years. Each year that the UK delays radical action, the necessary yearly emissions cuts to hit net zero become greater, making it ever harder to avoid catastrophic warming. Even with immediate action, the world is still pinning hopes on carbon capture and storage technologies that may never work at scale. Working towards an earlier target with steeper emissions cuts would require initial uncomfortable changes, but would massively lower our reliance on  uncertain technologies.



Another report, covered in the Financial Times, suggests that a government agency, UK Export Finance, has been undermining emissions targets by handing out billions in support of foreign fossil fuel projects.

https://www.ft.com/content/4550d04c-8951-11e9-a028-86cea8523dc2

The Public Finance Committee has been especially critical of a decision to support the UK subsidiary of Enka, a Turkish group that had no physical presence in the UK, but had promised to open a procurement office in Birmingham to ensure that its Iraqi projects would have enough UK content to meet UKEF’s criteria for support.

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/06/ministerial-agency-damaging-climate-change-efforts

 



 


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Commons motion passed to declare an environment and climate emergency

Last night Parliament voted for the UK to declare a Climate Emergency.  Whilst this is momentous – and historic – it will have no impact whatsoever unless the government accepts and acts on it.  The debate was started by Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who called for the motion to “set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe”.

The symbolic move – recognising the urgency needed to combat the climate crisis – follows a wave of protests launched by the Extinction Rebellion strikers in recent weeks.

Opening the debate, Corbyn urged his fellow MPs to accept their “historic duty” and back Labour’s motion. He used his speech to make a passionate and comprehensive case for “rapid and dramatic action” for social and environmental justice. On current rates of decarbonisation, and following government cuts to renewable energy, the UK will only reach net zero by the end of the century, which is at least 50 years too late.

The Labour leader argued that we are already seeing the effects of climate change, including extreme weather in the UK. He told MPs they should listen to those “who bear the highest cost” and are “least to blame here and around the world for the destruction of our climate”.

Corbyn told the Commons that he was “deeply moved to see the streets outside this parliament filled with colour and noise by children on strike from school chanting ‘our planet, our future’and that “Parliament rarely leads change, it usually drags its feet” but will urge MPs to “not repeat that pattern” and “respond to the younger generation” by saying “we hear you”.

Labour used an opposition motion to push Parliament to act with urgency to avoid more than 1.5°C of warming, which requires global emissions to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ before 2050.

Last year, UK carbon dioxide emissions fell by only 2% – a rate that means that the UK would not reach levels compatible with net zero before 2100, far too late to avoid dangerous climate change.

Rebecca Long Bailey, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, decried this slow rate of change saying “winning slowly on climate change is the same as losing”.

Jeremy Corbyn has also spoken in a video on this theme:

 

The Commons debate showed cross-party support of the motion, though many of the Conservative back-bench seats were empty during the debate.  In his reply to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, the Environment minister, Michael Gove, defended his Government’s record on introducing methods to reduce carbon emissions. Some say that his long and passionate speech was delivered, partly as an attack on Corbyn but also in a bid for the leadership of the Conservative party.



Also important in this whole context is the report that was released today by the Committee on Climate Change.  This is outlined on the BBC website:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48122911

It stated that the UK should lead the global fight against climate change by cutting greenhouse gases to nearly zero by 2050.  The BBC then goes on to say that a target of 2050 was likely to damage the UK economy.  Yet , Extinction Rebellion and others are calling for a much closer time (2025) to achieve carbon zero.  Indeed, the IPPC report has shown that keeping global warming below 1.5ºC is essential, if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided.

It would appear then that the Committee on Climate Change has been very conservative in its recommendations.