Christmas time is accompanied by seasonal increases in our level of consumption. But what is the environmental impact of Christmas?
From eating and drinking to giving and receiving, it is the time of the year when we do things to excess. Unfortunately, it also means we are likely to have a greater impact on the environment.
A number of studies have attempted to calculate the carbon footprint of Christmas.
So, let’s start with the Christmas tree. When it comes to the use of an artificial versus a natural Christmas tree, one study found that when compared on an annual basis, the artificial tree (6 yrs life span) has three times more impact on climate change and resource depletion than the natural tree. The natural tree contributes significantly less carbon dioxide emission (39%) than the artificial tree.
As for Christmas dinner, it has been estimated that a British style Christmas dinner is equivalent to 20kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission – 60 per cent related to life cycle of turkey. Total equivalent emissions for UK Christmas dinners is 51,000 tonnes – or 148 million miles travelled in a car. Cranberry sauce is the worst offender for transport-related carbon emissions.
Even Santa Claus is not excluded from scrutiny. With another study suggesting that Santa’s 133 million mile trip around the world is responsible for emitting about 70 million tons of CO2!
However, if we look at the total consumption and spending on food, travel, lighting and gifts over three days of festivities (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day). Then this could result in as much as 650 kg of CO2 emissions per person – equivalent to the weight of 1,000 Christmas puddings!
Such studies will vary in their assumptions, data sets and methodologies and may not necessarily be comparable. However, we don’t need any study to tell us what we already know – that our consumption peaks at this time of the year.
But we can still have a good Christmas and be kind to the planet?
With a bit of thought we can limit the impact we have on the environment this Christmas and still have a great time. There are a number of actions we can all take which can reduce our CO2 emissions.
• Support your local economy and try buying from local organic suppliers.
• Compost your vegetable peelings after you’ve finished cooking to make sure that this extra organic waste doesn’t head straight to landfill.
• Plan your meal carefully to reduce the amount of uneaten food thrown away – check who likes Brussels sprouts! Travel
• Plan your Christmas travel to reduce the distance travelled and try and use environmentally friendly modes of transport or car share. Lighting
• Less is more when it come Christmas lighting! Opt for a small tasteful lighting display and turn the fairy lights off before bed and save both money and carbon.
• When it comes to Christmas presents buy quality not quantity. Well-made goods last longer and will not have to be replaced in the New Year.
• A good Christmas gift doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive.
Think about giving alternative gifts such as a charity or environmentally friendly gift, an experience or giving your time.
• Give your unwanted gifts to charity or to local hospitals or hospices.
In this time of seasonal goodwill, we should all spare a thought for the planet!
The rate and scale of human-induced global environmental change is so significant that it now constitutes a new geological epoch in the Earth’s history called the Anthropocene.
The acceleration of human pressure on the Earth’s system has caused critical global, regional and local thresholds to be exceeded. This could have irreversible effects on the life-support function of the planet with adverse implications for human health and wellbeing. More than ever, there is a need to have appropriate and effective environmental policies to make the transition to a low carbon and sustainable society.
New social movements, political parties, greater media coverage of environmental disasters, and a growing body of scientific evidence on the effects of environmental pollution have all led to an increased imperative to take action.
However, the human cost of environmental change must not be underestimated. For example, population growth and an increased trend towards urbanisation have all had social and environmental consequences. The loss of arable land has increased concerns about food security, and has contributed to higher levels of environmental pollution.
Poor sanitation in developing countries, especially in slum areas on the peripheries of cities is clearly associated with an increase in preventable diseases such as cholera. Additionally, conflicts and social unrest associated with dwindling resources are evident, and are likely to increase if current trends continue.
In addition, the impact of climate change is potentially so profound and could result in population displacement, widespread threats to those living in low lying areas, risks to food security, increased diseases are all predicted impacts of climate change. While the immediate burden of these effects is more likely to fall on developing countries, there are major implications also for developed nations.
In order to effectively address environmental problems through policy, a number of issues needed to be considered:
balancing social, economic and environmental objectives
addressing uncertainty, risk and the negative impacts of policies
the scale of the problem and the solution.
Traditionally, environmental policy has had to compete with social and economic objectives. While sustainable development has provided the paradigm to demonstrate that all three are equally important, this has not always been translated into practice.
Attempts have been made, however, to include the environmental costs of human activity into policy evaluation tools by giving a monetary value to the costs and benefits of environmental regulation.
At the international level, policy debates have attempted to balance economic and development concerns. One of the strategies of international climate policy is the investment in projects that will encourage greener development trajectories in developing countries.
However, national level policy making is influenced by national political system, national elites, existing policy frameworks or legacies, and any national level environmental concerns. Local level policy is affected by many similar issues, but is often subject to local circumstances.
Meeting future environmental challenges will require more flexible and adaptive global and national governance frameworks. Doing so will also potentially require a redefinition of wealth and prosperity, taking into account the impact of consuming limited and non-renewable resources.
Potential barriers to meeting these challenges include a lack of political will to make difficult changes with short-term costs, and a lack of public acceptance that such changes are necessary.
In developed countries, popular aspirations, habits and lifestyles which rely on high levels of consumption may not be amenable to the action that is needed to address environmental challenges, suggesting the requirement for change in some aspects of society and social norms.
A further challenge is the requirement to consider the economic development needs of the world’s poorest countries alongside the need for environmental protection.
In the ‘Age of Man’ increasing natural resource scarcity, rising global temperatures, biodiversity loss, environmental pollution and food and energy insecurity means that appropriate and effective environmental policy is vital if we are to remain within planetary boundaries, and ensure the future survival of humankind.
Since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years. Breaking more temperature records than in any other decade.
The authors of the new report on the physical evidence for climate change state that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.
The Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios. Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer.
As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.
It is the poorest regions of the world and the most vulnerable individuals such as the young and elderly who will be most affected.
Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. This will require international action to adopt ambitious legal agreement on climate change in 2015. We will only know over the next year or whether the new evidence will have any impact on national governments who are preoccupied with stimulating growth, reducing debt and increasing employment.
The assessment draws on millions of observations and over 2 million gigabytes of numerical data from climate model simulations. Over 9,200 scientific publications are cited, more than three quarters of which have been published since the last IPCC assessment in 2007.
Key evidence highlighted in the report is given below with levels of confidence:
Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.
Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.
The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.
CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.
Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
Climate models have improved since the last 2007 of assessment of the physical evidence on cliamte change. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence).
Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing.
Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since the last assessment. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.
Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5.
Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform.
Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.
The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.
It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease.
Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.
Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.
Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.
The report increases in the confidence associated with climate observations but whichever facts may be discussed, debated or distorted, we cannot ignore the reality that we must act or face frightening new impacts.
By 2050 there will be an unprecedented increase in the number of people aged 55-plus representing nearly a quarter of the global population.
The rise in the numbers of older people is happening more rapidly in developing countries where 60 per cent of the world’s older people currently live, particularly in Asia and Africa.
An ageing population has wide-ranging implications for environment, economy and society. Changes in age structure together with an expanding population, rapid urbanisation and levels of consumption are all placing pressure on the global environment.
This presents challenges in eradicating poverty, ensuring environmental justice and achieving an environmentally sustainable development, especially in the least developed countries of the world.
The interaction between an ageing population and the environment poses significant challenges and opportunities for public policy.
However, policy makers at the international level have given little attention to the effects global environmental change will have on this demographic group.
Older people are a diverse group. Some are educated, fit, active and wealthy, have access to most of the goods and services they need and desire and play a key role in caring for themselves and other family members including grandchildren. In contrast, others are poor, frail and require care and financial support.
There are major regional differences, with poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia resulting in many older people in these areas lacking access to clean water, sanitation, nutrition and basic health care, making them highly vulnerable to environmental threats.
A study by the Stockholm Environment Institute reviews the key issues relevant to global ageing and environmental change. It examines older people not only in terms of their vulnerability to environmental threats but as potential contributors to environmental sustainability. The study recommend three areas for action if we are protect older people from future environmental change.
REDUCING THE ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT OF AN AGEING POPULATION
Promoting greener attitudes and behaviours and influencing individual lifestyle choices across the life course are measures that can and should be used to reduce the future and current environmental footprint of older people.
This is particularly important at a time when many rapidly developing countries are seeing an increase in a high-consuming middle-class group who will eventually grow older.
There is an equally important need to engage older people using appropriate approaches such as peer-to-peer approaches which could provide more credibility.
Targeted engagement of older people not only fosters greener behaviours but also responds to their perceived lack of opportunities for social involvement and inter¬action.
Recent studies undertaken on direct interaction with the older age sector on climate change have demonstrated that, used in the appropriate way, it is a headline topic that stimulates lively discussion and debate on many issues related to environment and sustainability
Appropriate infrastructure and incentives that encourages greener behaviours in later life will also be needed. Since there will be a high number of urban seniors, achieving age-friendly cities will be important. In particular, older people require supportive and enabling living environments to compensate for physical and social changes associated with ageing.
These include walkable outdoor space and accessible public buildings, accessible and affordable public transport, appropriately designed, affordable and energy efficient housing with access to local services, opportunities for social participation and social inclusion, civic participation and employment.
PROTECTING OLDER PEOPLE FROM ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE
We need policies that reduce the environmental vulnerability of older people and that focus on each part of the dynamic process that creates vulnerability.
These include policies that ensure people reach later life with sufficient reserves (e.g. coping skills, strong family and social ties and savings and assets), reducing the challenges they face in later life, and providing adequate health and social protection.
These factors will be different for older people in the developed and developing world. In developing countries, lack of basic infrastructure such as clean water and sanitation and health and social care combined with poverty and malnutrition make them vulnerable to environmental threats.
HelpAge International has discussed the need for climate and development strategies to be responsive to the realities of the ageing population and climate change. They suggest without age appropriate action, the effectiveness and success of climate adaption and national development and resilience strategies could be significantly compromised.
HelpAge International outlines ten strategies to coping with an ageing population in a changing climate .
In addition, Help the Aged identified ten basic requirements to make developed world communities better for older people.
These requirements included: adapting new and existing accommodation to suit people of all ages; transport options that meet the needs of all older people; keeping pavements in good repair; provision of public toilets; public seating; good street lighting and clean streets with a police presence; access to shops and services; places to socialise; information and advice; and ensuring older people’s voices are heard on issues from social care to volunteering opportunities.
If we are going to better protect individual countries need to be adopted. Policies that provide social protection, encouraging healthy life¬styles, acquisition of coping skills, strong family and social ties, active interests and, of course, savings and assets, will be important. All will assist in ensuring that people’s reserves are, and remain, strong in later life.
MOBILISING OLDER PEOPLE IN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
Seniors’ knowledge of the local environment, its vulnerabilities and how the community responds allows them to play a key role in reducing the environmental impact of disasters. In particular, their knowledge of socio-ecological system and coping mechanisms can in some contexts be critical when developing local disaster risk reduction and adaptation plans .
Growing old in the twenty-first century will bring with it the unique challenge of a changing global environment with variable climate and weather patterns which will impact on all aspects of life. Policies therefore need to be ‘age proofed’ so that they can support older people through their life course.
If we are to prevent and minimise the negative impact of environmental change on older people, there is an urgent need to better understand the interaction between global ageing and the environment. We need to harness the contribution older people can make to addressing environmental threats, while reducing their vulnerability.
The petrol-fuelled motor vehicle kills and maims our children, clogs ups our streets, pollutes the air we breathe and contributes to global warming.
Is the electric vehicle (EV) therefore a possible solution to reduce the environmental impact of road transport?
A number of different categories of EV currently exist. These include ‘plug-in’ EVs which like other domestic appliances require you to plug them in to recharge the battery. Some EVs are solely dependent on the battery as its main source of power. In these vehicles if you don’t use heating or air conditioning and drive sensibly you can travel up 80 -120 miles.
If you wanted more certainty in driving then ‘plug-in’ hybrids allow you to switch between electric or traditional fuel.
These tend to have smaller batteries which means you can only undertake electric travel for about 10-40 miles. Hybrid EVs tend to have a smaller battery which is charged while driving and can therefore be used only over short distances.
The Toyota Pirus is a successful example of a hybrid. Although it has been referred to as the ‘hippie car’ it has been the car of choice for a number of Hollywood celebrities. Finally, there are fuel-cell vehicles which generate their own on-board electricity by using fuels such as hydrogen and therefore do not need to be plugged-in.
Although the UK EV market is the early stages of development, the government’s Committee on Climate Change recommends we should aim to have 1.7 million EVs on the road by 2020 if progress is be made towards achieving the national target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Battery operated EVs tend to be more energy efficient when in use as 80% of the stored energy goes to driving wheels. This is compared to cars with internal combustion engines which are about 20% efficient with most of the energy lost as heat.
Although when loss from energy generation is considered, the energy efficiency of EVs is reduced. On the whole carbon emissions from driving EVs are comparable with the most efficient diesel cars and are about 30% less than the average for new fossil fuel cars.
In addition, EVs produce no tail-pipe emissions when in electric mode so poor air quality will not be experienced in congested urban areas. This is particularly important for large urban conurbations which are grappling with high levels of vehicle-related particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emissions that exceed EU limits.
In London an estimated 4,000 extra deaths occur each year due to airborne particulates costing up to £20 billion a year – twice the cost of obesity. EVs contribute less to noise pollution as they are much quieter that traditional cars – perhaps a reason why many milk floats were battery operated in the heyday of doorstep milk delivery. However, concerns have been raised with regard to pedestrian safety especially of the visually impaired.
So is the EV a greener option? Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology undertook a life cycle assessment of the EV and highlighted the ‘toxicity’ of EV manufacturing process compared to conventional vehicles (e.g. extraction of minerals for the battery).
They calculated that the ‘global warming potential’ of manufacturing is about twice as high as conventional vehicles. They argue that promotion of EVs does not make sense in regions where electricity is produced from oil, coal and lignite combustion.
We still have a long way to go before the EV is seen as desirable option by the majority. The public image of EVs needs to be improved and recharging infrastructure needs to be targeted, convenient and safe. For example, the majority of recharging taking place at home, at night, after the peak in electricity demand as well at the workplace for commuters and these need to be available. We also need to understand how to reduce environmental impact of the EV manufacturing process and improve battery recycling.
Until we are able to make a significant shift to renewable energy sources, EVs are simply a means of reducing roadside emissions rather than global emissions. Improvements in technology will inevitably improve the environmental credentials of EVs.
In the short term emission savings in transport are likely to come from better efficiency of conventional vehicles. Walking, cycling and public transport also have a role to play as well as reducing the need to travel in the first place.
TRANSPORT is a key challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa. It is critical importance to the delivery of sustainable cities, healthy citizens, poverty eradication and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. So how can Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries address the challenge of sustainable transport?
Road safety in Africa as a whole is extremely poor having approximately 3 per cent of the world’s motor vehicles yet accounting for 11 per cent of global road fatalities. Traffic congestion in SSA cities is on the rise with some cities approaching gridlock. The urban populations of SSA are growing rapidly, faster than in all other regions of the world, and this situation is expected to continue over the next two decades.
Urban air pollution in major SSA cities is rapidly worsening due to vehicle fleet growth, increasing distances travelled, and high rates of polluting vehicle emissions from vehicles. Globally, transport accounts for approximately 25 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and reducing emissions from the on-road transportation sector can yield rapid and longer-term climate benefits. Yet published data on traffic congestion, air pollution, including greenhouse gases, and road safety tend to be of poor quality in SSA.
A new report written by a panel of international experts, examines the transport and environment challenges in SSA countries. The report states that transport policy decisions and the detailed spatial, sectoral and social beneficiaries of transport spending and strategies have a hugely important impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people in SSA.
There are a large number of well documented ways in which we can improve the quality of life of Africa’s citizens. We can improve air quality and public health, remove the scourge and distress caused by death, injury and disability as a result of road crashes and increase the likelihood of widely disseminated economic gains to all sections of society.
In this social-technical-economic complex there are important democratic considerations. What do African citizens want for the future of their families, their communities their regions and their country? Given a choice of living in poverty, pollution, traffic danger and poor quality access to important health, education and training opportunities or living in a thriving, opportunity-rich, clean and safe environment it is already very clear that the latter is preferable to the former.
The TEST report argues that transport policy for SSA must be embedded in a poverty eradication policy and poverty eradication must deliver real gains in transport as it affects 800 million SSA citizens. This policy synergy provides a huge opportunity to deliver successful outcomes and they will not deliver if they move along in non-communicating parallel tracks.
The report makes recommendations for the development of sustainable transport policies in SSA based on five central principles:
Maximizing transport accessibility for all social groups, genders and income levels, so that all citizens can access health care, education, training and jobs with minimal effort, costs and journey time;
Creating a safe, secure urban environment with the minimum possible risk of death and injury from road accidents;
Ensuring that all public health measures deal with the debilitating and costly consequences of air pollution on human health;
Freeing up urban road space by improving traffic flow conditions in a way that stimulates economic activity and job creation and avoids the generation of new traffic; and
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
SSA has some very serious transport problems but these present all decision-takers and policy makers with opportunities to re-shape traditional policies to produce a step-change improvement in quality of life for citizens and to deliver the urgently needed poverty alleviation outcomes already agreed.
Policies and interventions can be re-shaped and the task now is to orchestrate the political and professional support and unwavering commitment to deliver all these virtuous outcomes.
With Britain’s economy slipping into a double dip recession there is an urgent need to stimulate economic growth. This is widely seen as a panacea that will save us from austerity but can the pursuit of economic growth deliver the future we want?
The post-war period saw many nations equating economic growth with progress driven by technological innovation. While capitalism and the quest for economic growth have produced many beneﬁts, this has come at a cost to the natural environment which is often not reflected in the balance sheet. The expansion of the production of good and services has required large amounts of labour, materials, energy and capital. Economic production has produced pollution and waste, degraded natural habitats and depleted natural resources to an extent that our future survival is now under threat.
In 2008 the world experienced multiple crises with regard to finance, fuel and food that contributed to the worst international economic recession since the 1930s Great Depression. The global financial crisis led to global per capita income contracting and the volume of world trade declining. It demonstrated serious flaws in our current western economic model of development and highlighted the need to reconsider the principles that have guided our economic policy making.
It is now time to think again about economic growth and how we actually measure it. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been used as a key indicator to measure the sum of all goods and services produced in a country over time. However, this national indicator of economic progress does not consider inequality, pollution or damage to people’s health and the environment. Critics have called for GDP to be replaced with new indicators that better measure how our national policies can truly deliver a better quality of life for all.
Economic debate has tended to imply a choice has to be made between going green or going for growth. Yet we have no choice if we are to address simultaneously the current crises in global economic and environmental systems. The traditional pursuit for growth has expanded the economy to such a size that it now must conform to global environmental constraints.
Further growth will be uneconomic because it will produce more social and environmental costs than it does benefits. The only option is for ‘green’ growth that meets the dual objectives of economic growth and environmental protection with a focus on better outcomes not more outputs – a shift from quantity to quality.
In Prosperity Without Growth Tim Jackson argues that this will require a different kind of economy for a different kind of prosperity – one where human beings can flourish within the ecological limits of a finite planet. Our growth economy is driven by the consumption and production of novelty which locks society into an iron cage of consumerism. Change at the personal and societal level is necessary to make the transition to a new form of prosperity that does not depend on unrelenting growth.
In June world leaders were called upon to commit to a revolutionary paradigm shift from traditional quantity-oriented fossil fuel dependent growth towards green growth. More than 100 heads of State and government attended the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection. The Summit marked twenty years since the original 1992 Rio Earth Summit that set out the framework to address climate change and implement sustainable development into practice.
A transition towards a greener economy requires long-term sustainable growth and the efficient use of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, and eradication of poverty. This will require developing a green economy in the UK and working at an international level to tackle long term challenges.
In the short-term the transition to a green economy will involve additional costs and difficult choices. We will need to transform what we produce and how we produce it and take advantage of resource efficiencies. This will be achieved by using new technologies and adopting different ways of living and working, and investing in infrastructure. All economic sectors will need to grow without undermining the capacity of the environment to support our future quality of life. They will need to develop greater resilience to future environmental challenges such as climate change, material, energy and food insecurity and natural disasters.
The transition to a green economy will allow businesses to benefit from resources efficiencies and market opportunities and contribute to creating new green jobs. UK business could save as much as £23 billion a year through efficiency savings by improving the way they use energy and water, and by reducing waste. In addition, they could take advantage of the global market for environmental goods and services which has been estimated to be worth about £2.27 trillion, with forecasts predicting 4 per cent growth on an annual basis.
However, a recent report by the Institute Public Policy Research (IPPR) examined the views of over one hundred British industries on the transition to a green economy, particularly in the energy, transport and manufacturing sectors. Despite David Cameron’s Coalition government claiming to be the greenest government ever, IPPR found that industry was critical of the Coalition due to a perceived disconnect between the rhetoric of ministers and the policies they were pursuing.
Recent policy changes such as the feed-in tariffs for solar photovoltaic installations were seen as shifting the goal posts and doing little to maintain business and investor confidence in the green growth agenda. The report highlighted the need for policymakers to taken on a more active role in addressing the barriers to green growth faced by many manufacturing and energy-intensive industries.
Greening the economy will undoubtedly be good for business, people and the planet. The Earth Summit resulted in the International community simply affirming the need to achieve a green economy. However, the rhetoric contained in the final report of the conference needs to be matched by action. Clear financial incentives are need to encourage greener investment and behaviour in government, businesses and consumers.
If we are to create the future we want we need to need to develop a new form of prosperity that is not dependent on continual growth. Fundamental change to the structure of society and the market economy is needed if real environmental gains are to be achieved. Change on the scale achieved in the industrial revolution is required driven by clean, efficient and sustainable renewable energy technologies. The only solution to austerity is to ensure the UK is firmly placed at the forefront of this new global green revolution.