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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

The Climate Change Struggle: A Little Ray of Sunshine?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

I’ve written about climate change in this blog before, and it’s rarely been good news. After you’ve read about the serious rise in global temperatures now being inevitable, the government abolishing the Department for Climate Change and flooding right here in Tameside I wouldn’t blame you for feeling a bit hopeless.

That’s why I welcomed a bit of optimistic climate-related news last week. We know that the only way to reduce our global CO2 emissions is to make a serious move away from using fossil fuels to generate most of our electricity and power our vehicles. Up until now most people thought that it wouldn’t be economically possible. A new report from Imperial College, London and the Climate Tracker think-tank, rather aptly titled “Expect the Unexpected” instead offers the argument that growth in the electric vehicle and solar panel market could led to demand for fossils fuels peaking as early as 2020.

Let me give you an example to show how they reached that conclusion. When IBM released the first PC in 1981 it cost almost £8,000, and that was considered cheap. Around about the same time, Ken Olsen, the founder of computer company Digital Equipment Corporation, said “There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home”. Fast forward thirty or so years, I’m writing this blog on a laptop that costs 40 times less and is easily thousands of times more powerful than that IBM PC. That laptop is also one of an estimated two billion computers that are used around the world, in everything from phones to cars to household appliances and goodness knows what else.

What’s the point I’m trying to make? When a new technology appears it’s almost always expensive and impractical, but it gets cheaper, more powerful and easier to use very quickly. As it was with computers, so it looks like it’s going to be with renewable energy. The cost of solar panels has fallen by 85% in the last seven years, while batteries for electric vehicles are 73% cheaper now than they were in 2008. If those costs keep going down people, businesses and countries might start using renewable energy not because if any particular feelings about climate change, but because it’ll actually be cheaper than fossil fuels.

Of course, it’s all very well saying that, but it looks like there are enough willing to take that prediction to the bank. Saudi Arabia, not exactly a country people think of when it comes to renewable energy, is looking to invest £40 billion in wind and solar power by 2030. China is planning for half of its increase in electricity generation over the next 4 years to come from £291 billion worth of renewable energy infrastructure. Almost all of Costa Rica’s electricity in 2016 was produced by renewable energy, compared to 5.7% in the UK over the same time.

Tameside is doing its bit as well. The Greater Manchester Pension Fund, administered in Droylsden and chaired by yours truly, has invested £150 million in the UK’s second largest onshore windfarm in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Closer to home we’re continuing to roll out LED lighting to all of Tameside’s streets, recycling bins to all our town centres and thousands of trees in every space we can find for them. We’ve also worked closely with our residents to increase recycling in the borough by over 50%, with more to come in the future.

So let’s not underestimate the challenges that we face by choosing to tackle climate change, but let’s not underestimate the opportunities either. Putting Tameside and Greater Manchester at the forefront of the struggle is not just the right thing for the planet; it may very well be the right thing for creating the jobs and the economy of the future as well.

A Greener Borough

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016
Cllr Quinn thanked countryside volunteers who have planted thousands of trees in Tameside

Cllr Quinn thanked countryside volunteers who have planted thousands of trees in Tameside

‘Think globally, act locally’ is the motto of environmentalist groups around the world. Quite literally it means that each of us can collectively rise to the global challenge of climate change by beginning at home and make small changes to our lifestyle or behaviour. This could be stopping eating meat for one day per week as encouraged by the celebrity-backed meat free Monday campaign, cycling to work a few days per month instead of driving, or turning over part of the garden for vegetable growing to reduce food miles.

Each of these small actions, if replicated by all 220,000 residents of Tameside, or all 65,000,000 people in the UK, can make a huge contribution to reducing the damaging greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for many of the extreme weather events we’ve had recently.

Large organisations like the Council clearly have a role to play too. This can either be as an enabler that makes it easier for residents to do the right thing or by taking action ourselves. Our pledges for this year contain examples of both. The ‘Get Tameside Growing’ pledge has been led by our excellent greenspaces team. They’ve worked hard throughout the summer with local schools and a range of voluntary groups to build capacity for communities to become more self-sufficient with respect to food. As an example, the two allotments cared for by mental health charity Mind have not only produced local, organic food but provided therapy for people with learning disabilities too.

Our decision to expand recycling facilities in public buildings and town centres is another case of where we’ve provided the means for others to be greener. As everybody living in Tameside will know already, the way domestic refuse is collected was changed some time ago in an effort to improve recycling rates. Clearly the home is not the only place where waste is generated, and so if we wanted to divert even more of Tameside’s refuse away from landfill then we had to do something else too. At the last count our recycling rate was over 55%, an increase of more than 15 percentage points compared to two years ago. The savings on landfill tax are also going a little way towards offsetting the impact of the enormous government cuts we’ve had to face.

Two of our pledges for this year fall in to the category of ‘direct action’ where the Council has made green choices itself. Firstly, the street lighting replacement programme is well in to its second year and over 8000 lanterns have been replaced with super-efficient LEDs so far. The savings on electricity usage have been enormous, and the reliability of this new type of lamp means that money will also be saved as a result of fewer repair callouts needing to be made. Secondly there is our pledge to plant at least 2016 trees for 2016. This target has been smashed at relatively little cost to the taxpayer. The trees have been provided free by Ovo energy or bought using contributions that developers have made for environmental improvements following a construction project, and the planting work has been carried out by conservation volunteers. It is hoped that, as well as punctuating our urban landscape and improving air quality, they could help to reduce the impact of flooding in the future by breaking up the soil with their roots and increasing its capacity to hold water.

And so Tameside is doing much to tackle climate change. It could be argued that we are setting an example for others to follow. It’s for this reason that I’ll continue to talk up this Council’s green credentials in the hope that they do. It is, after all, in all of our interests.

Flooding in Tameside

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016
Staff involved in the clean up operation following the floods

Staff involved in the clean up operation following the floods

Following a busy day responding to yesterday’s flooding I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the efforts of the Council staff who co-ordinated the relief effort.

The level of rainfall Tameside and other nearby areas experienced on Monday evening was unprecedented. Following receiving the forecasts the gulley cleaning teams worked tirelessly to attend all of the drains in areas that were considered to be particularly at risk of flooding. Whilst the sheer volume of water that fell meant that this preventative action was ultimately not enough to completely avoid flooding, the position could have been much worse had this not been done. I think that I would speak for many in expressing deepest thanks to the staff involved who worked the extra hours to protect our residents.

Despite these efforts, Council staff unfortunately had to turn their attention to a relief effort to help households and residents who were most severely affected. Staff worked through the night with the emergency services and the environment agency to make structures safe, pump water away and minimise travel disruption. Again this silent army conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism and responded to residents’ needs with the sensitivity that was required given the distress many people were in. I offer my deepest thanks to them all and feel reassured that, should an emergency ever occur again in Tameside, we will all be in safe hands.

When events like this have taken place we always use the experience to learn how we could adapt our systems and working practices and this occasion will be no different. Whilst the response was an excellent example of partnership working between the Council, emergency services and even volunteers from the local community, we will review the events and our response carefully to see if there are any areas for improvement.

Whenever the next emergency comes we will be ready.

Sign Up and Be a Tameside Energy Hero

Friday, August 12th, 2016

eonenergyI’ve said in the past that climate change is not only one of the biggest national challenges we face, but the biggest global challenge as well. While slowing down or even reversing the course of climate change is not something that a local authority can do by itself, that doesn’t mean we should give up even trying. We’re taking steps in Tameside to reduce our carbon footprint, and now I’m happy to say that as part of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority we’ve now teamed up with utility company E.ON to launch the “Energy Heroes” scheme to improve energy efficiency of Tameside’s homes as well.

Over the next six months, residents of Greater Manchester who meet the qualifying criteria (details of which can be found here) can apply for energy-saving improvements to be made to their homes, including installing new boilers and loft/cavity wall insulation. The application process is free and there is no requirement for you to be an E.ON customer. Engineers from E.ON will arrange a survey of your house, after which they will discuss the options for improving or replacing your boiler and/or insulation. You could end up saving up to £215 a year on your energy bills when it’s all said and done, not to mention making your home more comfortable and easier to heat.

But investing in energy efficient housing has more benefits than cheaper energy bills and greater comfort. As a country, increasing our energy efficiency reduces our carbon footprint and the costs of generating, storing and transmitting electricity. It’s estimated that 40 million tonnes of carbon a year, 30% of Britain’s entire carbon footprint, are emitted from our 25 million homes.  Many of these homes, particularly those built 20 or more years ago, also have few of the insulation and energy-saving measures that we take for granted in more modern housing. This means that the greatest strides in improving energy efficiency can be made in our existing housing stock.

However, we will not get to where we need to be in terms of energy efficiency just by putting new boilers and insulation in older homes. We need to incorporate energy efficiency principles not just into future housebuilding policies, but into all of our national infrastructure priorities. This must feed into a long-term, sustainable focus on our green industries, giving them the certainty and political stability they need to grow and invest. It is my hope that the “Energy Heroes” scheme will be the first step towards achieving this.

If all this sounds ambitious, that’s because it has to be. Half measures and baby steps will do nothing to get us to where we need to be. We must at all costs avoid the fiascos of the previous government, which despite its claims to being the “greenest government ever” ended up scrapping, often even before they managed to get off the ground, policies like zero carbon homes, subsidies for wind and solar energy, the Green Investment Bank and incentives to buy low-carbon cars.

We need bold and decisive leadership and actions, and if the government cannot or will not provide it, then places like Tameside and Greater Manchester must stand ready to provide it themselves.

Now is the Time to Take Action on Climate Change

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

Triton-II-emergency-planning-with-Chinook-helicopter-326x245Last week over 36 local, regional and national organisations in Greater Manchester, including councils, the armed forces and the emergency services, took part in Operation Triton II. The exercise, the biggest one ever held in the region to date, simulated an emergency response to extreme weather causing a breach in the Dovestones Reservoir on Saddleworth Moor. As military helicopters circled the skies overhead, officers from Tameside Council were on the front lines coordinating simulated rest centres and ensuring the safety of our residents.

Now, before anybody panics, it is highly unlikely that we will be faced with such a terrifying scenario in real life. That being said, while we hope that the lessons we have learnt from Operation Triton II will never have be to put into use it is important that we prepare ourselves as best we can for any major event or disaster that may occur in the future.

Around the same time the new Conservative government, in office for less than a day, officially abolished the Department for Energy and Climate Change. It has been absorbed into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and rechristened the “Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy”. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s not a coincidence that the words “Climate” or “Climate Change” appear nowhere in this new department’s name.

You couldn’t make up a more extreme contrast if you tried. While local government and its partners are actively preparing for the potential risks and consequences of climate change, central government has killed off the only department in Whitehall that saw planning for and mitigating the effects of climate change as a serious priority.

I’ve written in the past that the scientists believe that we have passed the point of no return when it comes to climate change. It’s no longer a question about whether there will be any consequences. The question now is about how bad the consequences are going to be.

In Tameside we are doing as much as we can to reduce our own carbon footprint, including planting trees, increasing recycling, rolling out LED lighting and designing our buildings to be more energy efficient. The truth however is that taking real and ambitious action on climate change can’t be done at a local level. We need national leadership to promote environmentally friendly policies not just across the country, but within the international community as well. At a time where it is needed more than ever, that leadership is sorely laTriton 1cking.

This June has been the hottest June globally since we began measuring the temperature of the planet. It is the ninth consecutive month that the record for the highest global temperature has been broken. This is the new normal. The sooner we recognise that, the sooner we can start doing something about it.

Taking Local Action on Climate Change

Friday, May 20th, 2016


Last week a piece of news appeared that was almost certainly missed by most people, but which may carry the gravest of implications for all our futures. Global carbon dioxide concentrations are poised to hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for both the first and last time. The last time as the Earth’s natural weather cycles mean that, once the 400 ppm milestone is breached, carbon dioxide concentrations will never fall below that level again. Put simply, we have now hit the point where, even if by some miracle we stopped putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere tomorrow, we still will not be able to escape the consequences our past emissions will wreak upon our planet.

You might be wondering why I’m writing about this on a council blog. You might be saying that surely this is too big an issue for us, and it’s not like we can do a lot about it anyway? I have to say that I disagree. We all share this planet. Acting on climate change is all our responsibilities, and only through collective action can we hope to be successful. Local government can also play a big role in improving the environment and curbing greenhouse gas emissions in their own areas.

Part of that is acknowledging what we can all do better. That’s what we’ve done at the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. Last month the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP), an independent global non-profit set up to protect people’s retirement savings from the risks posed by climate change, gave us an “A” for the leadership we have shown in managing climate risk in our investments. Not only is that a great result in itself, it’s also an improvement of over 100 places from this time last year. We’ve always prided ourselves on looking beyond the bottom line when it comes to social responsibility, and I’m delighted that our work has been recognised.

We’ve also committed ourselves to improving Tameside’s environment through several of our 16 pledges for 2016. We intend on build upon last year’s success at improving recycling rates by placing public recycling bins on all council offices and town centres. Our LED lighting program is continuing apace, improving our street lights while cutting both our running costs and our carbon footprint. We’re planting at least 2016 trees to support greater biodiversity, improve our street scene and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We’ll get Tameside growing its own food in gardens, windows boxes, community spaces and allotments. When it is completed, our new Joint Service Centre will be over £1.5 million a year cheaper to run, much of this coming from better energy efficiency. All of these are examples of how we are doing our bit to slow the march of climate change while at the same time improving the quality of life of our residents.

We do not have time to waste. Last month was the hottest April on record globally – and the seventh month in a row to have broken global temperature records. The World Bank tells us that by 2050 climate change could endanger 1.3 billion people across the world and cost £158 trillion, double the total output of the global economy. This is not scaremongering; this is hard data and figures. We need to find a better, more sustainable way, and Tameside stands ready to do its part.

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