The Energy and Climate Change action group has been working on a response to Birmingham City Council’s climate change action plan. We have adopted a constructive approach – providing praise where due and suggestions for improvements where needed.
In the plan, the Council offers a high level commitment to tackle climate change and its effects on Birmingham and this is encouraging. Like other large cities in the UK, Birmingham could face an increased risk of freak weather conditions, water shortages and “urban heat island” effects created by heat-waves. This could affect the quality of life and health of Birmingham citizens as the climate changes. Birmingham also plays its part in of the world-wide thirst for energy. We face the dual problems of security of supply of oil and gas, and paying increased prices for our energy in the future, which will push more people into fuel poverty.
Readers can view the complete Plan at http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/democracy/Pages/AgendaDetail.aspx?AgendaID%3d52812
The plan’s nine sections deal with:
The climate change vision for Birmingham
The low carbon city transition plan
Homes and buildings
Low carbon energy generation
Low carbon transport
Climate change adaptation
Engaging Birmingham citizens and businesses
Making it happen and keeping on track
The Council has set its sights on achieving a 60% cut in carbon emissions by 2026, improving on the previous government target of a 34% reduction by 2022 and an 80% reduction by 2050. The Action Plan is regarded by the Council as a framework on which measures aimed at achieving targets will be built. It is worth remembering this as you read through the plan as it lacks detail of how targets will be met.
The Low Carbon City
Birmingham wants to move from a fossil fuel based economy to a low carbon economy and it will need to harness the power of individuals to do this. It will require innovation, skills and a change in the way we procure and use energy. Early action points will look at how low carbon businesses can be grown and identify the skills needed to do this.
Homes and Buildings
Heating over 440,000 homes in Birmingham is responsible for around 33% of the city’s carbon emissions. Council action in this area needs to focus on the end user and this means domestic and commercial consumers. Domestic consumers are likely to face increased fuel bills in the future and the Council says it will concentrate its efforts on creating more Eco Neighbourhoods like Summerfield, where homes have been fitted with solar panels.
In the public and private sectors, the Council will take action to establish Birmingham as the leading centre for energy efficient buildings and on-site renewable energy generation. Solar panels could be an “easy win” here as the Council could stand to benefit from the feed-in tariff whilst local businesses (and householders) get cuts to their fuel bill. The creation of other schemes such as district heating plants will require long-term strategic planning and good planning decisions from the Council to support such schemes.
Low Carbon Energy Generation
The Council wants 50% of the energy it uses to be generated from renewable sources by 2026. Consumers need a supply of affordable energy, yet demand for energy is only likely to increase. Any measures implemented by the Council will need to acknowledge this. Meeting the low carbon energy generation challenge for Birmingham will mean educating people about how they use energy and how they might use less of it. Managers of commercial premises need to understand how to make the most efficient use of biomass boilers and the energy coming from district heating.
The Council hopes to decentralise the energy infrastructure . This is an enormous challenge, resulting in huge changes to the present infrastructure if whole communities are to be linked to such schemes. It is hoped that the Council appreciates the speed the changes will have to occur if this decentralisation is going to happen.
Birmingham generates around 4 million tonnes of waste each year. Whilst most of this waste is generated from construction and demolition, 38% of it comes from industry and commerce. Birmingham sends most of its commercial waste to the Tysley incinerator, which has been a long term concern of Birmingham FOE because much of the waste sent here could be recycled. The Council wants to develop a Total Waste Strategy for Birmingham that will include municipal, commercial, construction and demolition waste. However, the plan does not indicate that the Council plan to close the Tysley site any time soon. Instead, the Council wants to “do something” with the heat generated at the site by perhaps channelling it in to a district heating scheme.
Low Carbon Transport
Road transport accounts for approximately 24% of the city’s carbon emissions. Clearly, a sustainable transport plan that gets the cars off the road, eases city centre congestion and facilitates easier access to sustainable transport choices, will lower the carbon emissions in this area.
The Council’s most ambitious target here is a plan to ensure that all Council vehicles will be electric or powered by liquefied gas by 2015. Disappointingly, the plan focuses more on how the Council might encourage the uptake of electric vehicles, instead of working to reduce the number of individual single occupancy cars on Birmingham’s roads.
Birmingham’s adaptation strategy is now being prepared ready for implementation. The strategy will prepare the city to adapt to severe weather events and other risks that climate change will present. The Council’s approach to adaptation is allied with the government’s approach, which means identifying the threats and making necessary changes in infrastructure to cope with future events.
Changing attitudes and behaviour requires a holistic approach. Not only do individuals and businesses need to understand the impact that their decisions have on the city’s carbon footprint, they also need to be shown how to access the tools to lessen this impact. Fitting smart meters to homes showing how much energy is being used, and at what cost to the consumer, is just one example of the kind of citizen engagement needed.
Supporting businesses to help achieve the Council’s ambitious goals means encouraging local initiatives. The “9-carrots” scheme1 is one example that involves businesses pledging to put money aside to install energy saving measures using a small percentage of its profits. It is not yet up and running in Birmingham but it would be good to see the scheme here.
If we are going to get the infrastructure necessary to meet the challenge, Birmingham will first have to equip the workforce with the skills to create it, and this will mean providing the training and the jobs at a time of cuts. The Council’s Climate Change Action Plan is a start – it provides the framework. The challenge now will be filling in the gaps and making it all happen.
Want to get involved in the campaign? The Energy and Climate Change Campaign Group will meets once a month at the warehouse. The next two meetings will be held on 23 August and 20 September. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.