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Evidence based climate change policy: Six tricky challenges


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Roger Levett, sustainability consultant at Levett-Therivel, speaking at a workshop on climate change hosted by the West Midlands Regional Observatory in Birmingham on 20 April 2009.

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Evidence based climate change policy: Six tricky challenges

  1. 1. Evidence based climate change policy Roger Levett Levett Therivel Sustainability Consultants A presentation given at State of the Region: Implications of Climate Change event, 20 April 2009. This presentation forms part of the Observatory’s ongoing State of the Region dialogue between policy makers and researchers on the theme of climate change.
  2. 2. Presentation for West Midlands Regional Observatory Evidence based climate change policy: Six tricky challenges Roger Levett Partner, Levett-Therivel sustainability consultants [email_address]
  3. 3. Six tricky challenges <ul><li>Urgent need to act on what we already know </li></ul><ul><li>Important points are often hard to prove </li></ul><ul><li>Environmental limits are not just scientific </li></ul><ul><li>Monetisation appears necessary but is illicit </li></ul><ul><li>Efficiency of what outcomes and what inputs </li></ul><ul><li>Coping with interconnectedness and complexity </li></ul>Levett-Therivel
  4. 4. 1: We’ve got the evidence: now where’s the policy? Evidence already overwhelming that unless we cut greenhouse emissions deeply, fast, soon, irreversible catastrophic climate change will almost certainly become unpreventable. Establishing more precisely how deeply, fast, soon, catastrophic, unpreventable etc must not be a pretext for delaying action. Top priority: get decisions less inconsistent with what we already know. Levett-Therivel
  5. 5. Climate-sane policies and decisions <ul><li>Minimum requirement: do not make decisions that will add to net greenhouse gas emissions. </li></ul><ul><li>Most current policy and strategy fails this test. We don’t notice because we don’t ask. </li></ul><ul><li>WMRO should </li></ul><ul><li>apply this test, and make sure decision takers understand the results implications; </li></ul><ul><li>Present the evidence that refutes common excuses and evasions. </li></ul>Levett-Therivel
  6. 6. Block the excuses and evasions Amounts, not efficiency Improving energy efficiency is only a means. It saves little if people use more energy services (because they are cheaper) or spend money they save on other energy-intensive activities (eg flights). Data and evidence should concentrate on what actually matters: total emissions. Responsibility, not location . One estimate is that 1/3 of China’s carbon is producing goods for export – ie for us. Report footprint on a responsibility basis: inc imports, exc exports. Levett-Therivel
  7. 7. Block the excuses and evasions Take responsibility, don’t buy indulgences Carbon offsetting potentially powerful, but most current trading is a sham or scam, giving profits to polluters and traders and excusing inaction. Define and police valid (ie certain, genuine, timely, additional) offsets. Reality check . Politicians appeal to possible future technical fixes and trading to avoid taking climate-responsible decisions now. Report reality: eg that planned aviation expansion would take up between half of all other UK 2050 emissions and twice them. Levett-Therivel
  8. 8. 2: Evidence is asymmetric Easier to get robust convincing evidence about short term, private interest consequences: eg new jobs from out of town retail park. Harder to ‘prove’ longer term, public interest consequences: eg jobs lost from town centre shops, more car trips, disadvantage to carless: indirect, longer term, multi-causal, contingent on other factors. Don’t downplay public interest consequences because they are harder to measure. Levett-Therivel
  9. 9. Misleading case: Barker on IKEA <ul><li>‘ With average 750 staff per store, would have increased employment and driven competition in the sector.’ But IKEA is competitive because </li></ul><ul><li>standardisation/automation allows low staffing </li></ul><ul><li>sourcing from low cost countries </li></ul><ul><li>So more IKEAs likely to mean: </li></ul><ul><li>net loss of UK retail and manufacturing jobs </li></ul><ul><li>existing retailers forced to copy or go bust </li></ul><ul><li>less in-town retailing, more out of town. </li></ul><ul><li>Job losses might be offset by sector growth. But: </li></ul><ul><li>no attempt to compare + with - </li></ul><ul><li>does more Weetabix furniture make us happier? </li></ul>Levett-Therivel
  10. 10. Misleading case: Barker on IKEA ‘ [IKEA expansion] also had potential to lower long-distance drive times: over 30% customers drove > 2 hours due to lack of local stores.’ Yes, some of them will probably drive less far. But more people will drive to the new IKEAs … And more still will have to when new IKEAs have killed their town centre competitors. (No attempt to compare + and - effects.) Levett-Therivel
  11. 11. Misleading case: Barker on IKEA ‘… despite some local authorities wanting to attract to their area.’ Doesn’t mean more IKEAs makes UK better - merely that if you’re going to get the disbenefits anyway, you may as well try to get benefits too. ‘ IKEA has now changed its business model, making a major retailer cause less traffic and inequity is a success ! but this may lead to higher construction and operating costs and lower capital returns …’ ie lower multinational profits, better communities, buildings, lower externalities. This too is success ! Levett-Therivel
  12. 12. 3: Environmental limits value laden Can’t just ‘read off’ environmental capacities from nature because of (a) Empirical uncertainty: eg how much difference will water abstraction make to river? (some years flows will be low anyway); (b) Values: eg how much stress is acceptable? (c) Decisions: eg how much should Birmingham rely on importing more Welsh water? Apply environmental limits through explicit debate and decision about the judgments. (Rule of thumb: don’t make worse things that are already bad. (Eg greenhouse emissions) Levett-Therivel
  13. 13. 4: The snare of monetary valuation Often claimed: to decide which carbon reducing actions are worth taking, must compare their benefits and costs with alternative uses of the resources. Money is the common ‘currency’. BUT: (a) Implies climate security is tradable for any other (monetisable) benefits: OK to trash environment provided we get enough growth; (b) Valuation depends on willingness to pay for an environmental good / accept compensation for its loss. This depends on ability to pay / forego money: ie the rich have more clout. Levett-Therivel
  14. 14. Valuation isn’t needed We don’t need £ signs to make decisions. Should make a (value and science based) political decision how much carbon to save. Cost effectiveness (£ / tC saved) can help choose ways to do it. (Though non monetary side effects may be more important.) Can also use price incentives to influence behaviour – but again no need for valuation. Research cost effectiveness of carbon reduction methods, and effectiveness of prices, levies, tariffs etc in changing behaviour. No need for monetary valuation: don’t let it distract. Levett-Therivel
  15. 15. 5: The right efficiency measures Easy ‘factor 2s’ in transport Take a friend - halve fuel per passenger km Go half as far… - halve fuel per destination reached … half as often (eg combine errands) - halve fuel per errand Cycle or walk - ‘factor 100’? Don’t go at all - cut fuel per benefit gained Measure eco-efficiency of quality of life services, not of activity Levett-Therivel
  16. 16. Transport: what could UK save? Levett-Therivel Cycling, walking for half healthy minimum exercise: replace 10% of current driving: 90% Home work/e-shopping obviate 10% of trips: 80% Local decentralised services cut distances: 60% Local centres help multi-purpose trips: 40% Shift 40% of remaining trips from car to bus: 30% Increase occupancy (all vehicles) by 50%: 20% Improve average vehicle efficiency by 50%: 13% Renewable fuels for 13% (of current use): 0% Test and substantiate these guesstimates. And equivalents for (eg) energy in buildings.
  17. 17. Life satisfaction & GDP growth Source: Strategy Unit, 2003
  18. 18. What really gives life satisfaction? <ul><li>Health </li></ul><ul><li>Work: control, respect, security, apply abilities </li></ul><ul><li>Relationships, especially marriage </li></ul><ul><li>Leisure, especially active, sociable </li></ul><ul><li>Income – especially relative position / status </li></ul><ul><li>Equality </li></ul><ul><li>Governance: stability, not too rapid change </li></ul><ul><li>Democracy </li></ul><ul><li>Promoting these instead of growth would make decarbonising easy . </li></ul><ul><li>Measure these as indicators of economic progress. (ISEW problematic, but much better than GDP/GVA as a measure of welfare.) </li></ul>Levett-Therivel
  19. 19. Slow is the new fast <ul><li>Slow Food Movement: cooking and eating can provide rich creative, social, cultural and convivial fulfilments - if not madly rushed. </li></ul><ul><li>Slow Cities Movement: in a city moving at walking / cycling pace, inhabitants achieve and enjoy more in a day, not less. </li></ul><ul><li>and the changes that improve quality of life also reduce environmental consumption / damage. </li></ul><ul><li>Transition towns: ‘carbon descent strategy’. </li></ul>Levett-Therivel
  20. 20. Rethinking ‘efficiency’ <ul><li>Efficiency is a ratio of outcomes to inputs . You have to specify both. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Eco-efficiency’ discourse assumes it’s per GDP: </li></ul><ul><li>Assumes traded activity = wellbeing </li></ul><ul><li>Forecloses decoupling wellbeing from traded activity </li></ul><ul><li>Misrepresents any extra low-footprint economic activity (eg internet porn, change management consultancy) as environmental improvement. </li></ul><ul><li>Formulate and measure indicators of the environmental intensity of quality of life. </li></ul>Levett-Therivel
  21. 21. Inefficient ‘efficiency’ Deregulated buses: useless competition on busy routes dissipates monopoly profits that could cross-subsidise feeder routes. ‘ Rationalised’ (= centralised) public services transfer costs to users driving, special buses / taxis, road building, obesity treatment … ‘ Externalising’ (= evading, dumping) costs is success for private businesses. But the public sector should promote whole system efficiency : eg more quality of life benefits per cost (including environmental cost). Levett-Therivel
  22. 22. Efficient ‘inefficiency’ Vienna City Council requires good tram service running before people move in to new satellite settlement. ‘ Inefficient’ for tram management - but efficient for broader aim of avoiding car dependence. Levett-Therivel Contrast Milton Keynes: room left for trams as soon as enough demand - but there never was. Promote whole system performance measures.
  23. 23. More car journeys More congestion Worse bus service Fewer bus passengers Less ticket income Bus safety worries More people buy cars Hostile road environment Once you have a car, driving is cheapest Car more attractive People avoid walking & cycling Drivers less bike-aware Unfitness, obesity School run Shops etc move to car-accessible locations More diffuse journey patterns Town centres degenerate People move to suburbs Longer journeys 6: Coping with interconnectedness When someone chooses car instead of bus … Levett-Therivel
  24. 24. Levett-Therivel Fewer car journeys Less congestion Better bus service More bus passengers More ticket income Buses feel safe Fewer people own cars Safer road environment More car hire / clubs hire/club removes perverse incentive Walking & cycling more attractive Drivers more bike-aware People fitter, healthier School walk Shops etc prefer sites accessible without car Less diffuse travel patterns Town centres lively, liveable People live in town Shorter journeys It could be like this instead …
  25. 25. But piecemeal action can’t get there Levett-Therivel <ul><li>Normal lives now depend on multiple, time critical trips between fragmented destinations, so: </li></ul><ul><li>No quality of public transport could match car; </li></ul><ul><li>Only people with no choice will ‘choose’ it; </li></ul><ul><li>Shops, employers etc demand good parking; </li></ul><ul><li>Car restrictions politically impossible. </li></ul><ul><li>Currently: </li></ul><ul><li>Money wasted subsidising near-empty buses; </li></ul><ul><li>Planning soft-pedalled to retain development; </li></ul><ul><li>Road pricing endlessly studied and procrastinated </li></ul>
  26. 26. Need coordinated multiple actions Levett-Therivel Spatial patterns shorten & concentrate trips Local services good enough to obviate choice Good public transport Walking, cycling easy and safe Different attitudes and assumptions Car use restricted, expensive Each enables & is enabled by others
  27. 27. Not just transport. Biomass needs: Levett-Therivel Replace boiler with biomass fired Biomass boiler installers / maintainers Fuel stock, delivery Heat distribution system Customers for heat Biomass growers collectors Each only viable if the rest are in place
  28. 28. Pathways to low carbon <ul><li>We urgently need better understanding of: </li></ul><ul><li>The ‘trigger points’ for [un]sustainable behaviour change </li></ul><ul><li>The interventions / packages that could trigger genuine change </li></ul><ul><li>Policy and management processes that could choreograph these </li></ul><ul><li>Prerequisites (eg ability to manage a bus service together with spatial planning and infrastructure investment </li></ul>Levett-Therivel
  29. 29. Complexity and simplicity <ul><li>We need to acknowledge complexity: everything is connected, so: </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t mistake micro ‘efficiency’ for macro </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t expect to measure anything important precisely </li></ul><ul><li>Money can only measure a bit of what matters. </li></ul><ul><li>But we also need to rediscover simplicity: </li></ul><ul><li>Stop making things worse: especially … </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t provide for increases in traffic, emissions </li></ul><ul><li>Simple actions to enable good, discourage bad. </li></ul>Levett-Therivel
  30. 30. Conclusion: suggested priorities <ul><li>Don’t let anyone fool themselves (or their voters) that there is any sane alternative to cutting emissions drastically and immediately; </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t downplay important points because they are hard to measure; </li></ul><ul><li>Support a value based application of environmental limits; </li></ul><ul><li>Use cost-effectiveness calculations and economic instruments, don’t monetise impacts; </li></ul><ul><li>Show how the environmental efficiency of quality of life could easily be improved if we just stop worrying about growth. </li></ul><ul><li>Help integrated policy and action. </li></ul>Levett-Therivel
  31. 31. Contact details Roger Levett Levett-Therivel sustainability consultants E [email_address] T 0117 973 2418 Web John Walker Senior Research Analyst West Midlands Regional Observatory E [email_address] T +44 (0)121 202 3246 Web Blog