In this long format article I will explore why a knee-jerk response to the climate emergency can lead to well intentioned but counterproductive consequences. I have heard it said that we are living in a time where political reality is approximating scientific reality – at last policymakers are beginning to grasp what science has been saying for many years. This article explores another critical dimension, which I will call engineering reality, where I believe that much of the hard work and tough choices around climate change will be focused. The broader themes in this article are absolutely central to our success or failure and are offered not as a criticism of one specific response, but as a broader lesson to all those who can influence our responses to climate change.
The climate emergency is real and requires a rapid and effective response. Our success in delivering fast decarbonisation of our economy depends on myriad decisions taken in every sector based on our knowledge of the technologies, skills and finance available. These decisions are intricate and complex, not helped by a large number of uncertainties about the future, inconsistent data and conflicting visions of how to achieve Net Zero emissions.The climate emergency is real and requires a rapid and effective response. Our success in delivering fast decarbonisation of our economy depends on myriad decisions taken in every sector based on our knowledge of the technologies, skills and finance available. These decisions are intricate and complex, not helped by a large number of uncertainties about the future, inconsistent data and conflicting visions of how to achieve Net Zero emissions.
Those of us who have been in the business of sustainability for a long time crave a John F. Kennedy moment: “we will put a man on the moon by the end of the decade”. We fancy the notion of a mobilisation of all resources available to limit climate change, to adopt a state of war where combating climate change become the overwhelming priority in everything we do. We can’t wait to see the many barriers we have faced in the past come tumbling down.(more…)
For change to happen, people and teams need two things: the capability to carry out the required action and the desire to do so. Capability reflects many aspects such as knowledge and skills, as well as resources like time and money. Motivation can be intrinsic due to beliefs and attitudes or extrinsic due to instructions, incentives, penalties or social norms.
Capability and motivation are related. An easy-to-implement behaviour change (i.e. one for where the existing capability to act is high) will need much less motivation than a challenging behaviour change (i.e. one which requires lots of resources, time, effort, risk-taking, knowledge, etc).
Understanding the interrelationship between capability and motivation can dramatically increase the chance of success of our change programme.(more…)
I would probably have taken little interest in yesterday’s announcement that a relatively small regional airline, flybmi, has ceased trading, if it was not for the fact they were placing the blame, in part, on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). According to the statement on the airline’s website :
The airline has faced several difficulties, including recent spikes in fuel and carbon costs, the latter arising from the EU’s recent decision to exclude UK airlines from full participation in the Emissions Trading Scheme.
So, I wanted to find out if this was really the case.
First of all, the background. You may recall from my earlier post that the EU is facing a real challenge for its flagship ETS as a result of BREXIT. The problem is that allowances in the scheme can be traded freely between member states of the EU but if the UK leaves the scheme ahead of the current Phase (running to 2020), there is a very real risk that the now redundant UK allowances, would flood the market and so render the ETS ineffective at capping carbon emissions. (more…)
It was a privilege to participate in the Manchester Green Summit yesterday as the event was heavily over-subscribed. I found the meeting very stimulating with a wide range of views about how Manchester could become the “Greenest” City Region in the UK. Here are my semi-random thoughts on the event…
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, started proceeding by setting out an aspiration for Manchester to become a zero-carbon city – although he did not pledge a specific date to achieve this, he did suggest that we should be bold and commit to achieving this at least a decade earlier than the current 2050 target date.
The reason we need this level of urgency was starkly presented by Kevin Anderson from the Tyndal Centre. His brilliant talk cut through all the complexities surrounding emissions goals and reminded us that there is only one thing that matters – the absolute CO2 emissions that we put into the atmosphere. According to research by him and his colleagues we (Greater Manchester) have a budget of just 71 million tonnes of CO2 in order to meet the 2 ºC target we signed up to in the Paris Agreement. At current rates of emissions we will spend this in just 5-6 years.
The complexity of disentangling the UK from European institutions has been put in sharp relief by the intricate manoeuvring taking place around the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Politicians have been at pains to talk up the simplicity of any transition and the ease with which existing EU environmental legislation will be translated to the UK statutes through a “Great Repeal Bill”. In practice the process is proving to be much more complex. (more…)
Several pieces of news have caught my attention in the last few days which have challenged my generally positive outlook on climate change issues. Despite this, I remain stubbornly optimistic about our ability to rise collectively to the challenges we face, as I will explain…. first though, the bad news…
Let’s start with the report from the BBC of a recent study by Eun-Soon Im, Jeremy S. Pal, and Elfatih A. B. Eltahir. This considered an aspect of global warming which, I must admit, has passed me by – that is the impact of temperature on human survival. Not, I hasten to add, the conventional “dry bulb” temperature measurement we are all familiar with from weather forecasts (and which are hitting all-time highs in Europe in the last few days, in excess of 43 °C in Cordoba, in the south of Spain, for example) but rather the more esoteric “wet bulb” temperature.
This measurement is the lowest temperature that can be achieved by evaporating water from a surface. In a low humidity environment, the wet bulb temperature can be considerably lower than the dry bulb temperature (as heat energy – aka latent heat – is needed to evaporate the liquid water, so lowering the temperature of the surface). As the moisture in the atmosphere rises, however, the potential for further evaporation decreases and so the wet bulb temperature approaches the dry bulb temperature until we reach 100% humidity, when both temperatures are the same. (more…)
I want to share an argument that I have used on many occasions when faced with audiences who are yet to be convinced about climate change. This is summarized by the diagram below.
This illustration reflects, in the columns, the positions that folks adopt about climate change. Some think that it is real, others not. Of course, we cannot change these columns, one will be prove to be right and the other will be wrong.
The rows, on the other hand, reflect the choices we make. We have two choices, A or B – either we take effective action on climate change, or not. That choice is under our control.
Clearly, we want to avoid the red box – where life as we know it comes to an end. Thus the only rational choice is “B”, to take action on climate change, despite some uncertainties about the consequences of inaction.
President Trump’s announcement of the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement made in the Rose Garden of the White House yesterday unambiguously represents Choice A.
The statement Trump made justifying this decision relies on two central arguments, which are understood by reference to the table above.
First is the argument that the Paris Accord is not Choice B (i.e. it will do little for climate change). To quote.
Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that; this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount.
Indeed, as the PolititFact site clearly elucidates, there is some truth in this statement. Scientists and climate change advocates have also been very clear that the commitments made in Paris were not enough. But they did see Paris as the framework through which countries could tighten their commitments over time. Indeed, Paris was a real milestone in that developing countries, too, agreed to targets for the first time. So saying that the first step is not enough is not an argument for stepping backwards.
The reader will note that there is no downside portrayed in the bottom left box, where dangerous climate change is not real, but we have nevertheless substantially transformed our organizations to reduce emissions and adapt to rising temperatures. While individual businesses, such as the coal industry, may well see a substantial reduction in their value unless they change the core business model, the majority of organizations will gain from resource efficiency to address climate change. That is because using less energy and creating less waste reduces costs. Delivering more efficient products will provide a competitive advantage. The new technology gold rush to mitigate carbon emissions will create countless business opportunities and thousands of jobs. Anticipating rather than reacting to regulation will create greater degrees of freedom for business operations extending, rather than diminishing, their licence to operate and innovate.
The second, essential, strand in the narrative of denial is to dismiss the notion that the lower-left box will lead to a better world even if climate change does not exist. Unless the fact that action is detrimental can be established, the precautionary principle would suggest that Choice B should be taken even if the probability that climate change is real (since the consequence of climate change is so catastrophic). To quote again.
The Paris Agreement would result in “lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production.
Niall Enright was honoured to present at a panel at the Dubai Sustainable Cities Summit on the theme of Behaviour. Fellow panellists were: Sam Adams, Director, U.S. Climate Initiative at World Resources Institute; former Mayor of Portland, Oregon; Romilly Madew, CEO GBC Australia; Dr. Abdulla Al Karam, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Director General of KHDA; Giovanni Schiuma, Deputy Mayor of Matera, European Cultural Capital 2019.
Niall’s introductory comments focused on the need to avoid over-simplification in change programs, emphasized by the “does not equal” symbol “≠”. Below is a complementary paper which places these observations in the context of Dubai’s ambitious energy efficiency programmes:
Thinking of change as a science
In 2004, the Canadian government spent CAN$37m on “The One-ton Challenge” to encourage Canadians to reduce their emissions by one tonne of CO2 each, or 20%. It succeeded in raising awareness of climate issues from around 6% to 51%, but few people changed their behaviour as a result.
Unfortunately, this is just one example of dozens of behaviour change programmes that have disappointed. The landscape of sustainable behaviour change is littered with failure. Contrary to our expectations:
So what does this mean for Dubai, which has great aspirations to become a leader in sustainability?
Dubai has set itself the objectives of a 30% reduction in energy use by 2030 and a 40% reduction in water. The eight programmes in the Demand Side Management strategy are clearly carefully considered, focusing primarily on technology upgrades to achieve this demand reduction.
The DSM programme reminds us that cities have three fundamental levers for change: People (their decisions and behaviours), Systems (the norms, incentives, standards, information and feedback that drives behaviour and controls) and Technology (the efficiency of the equipment in delivering the required service).
The illustration above makes two key points. The first we have already touched upon and is shown on the left: changing aspects people’s awareness and motivation alone are not guaranteed to deliver improvement.
The second figure reminds us that technology alone is not a solution. Many technology programmes miss their expected target because people are not properly considered in the project.
It is great to see that the Dubai DSM strategy has public awareness as one of the implementation mechanisms supporting the eight programmes of work. So public engagement, and presumably, behaviour change is built into the strategy. This makes absolute sense. For example, the appliance, labelling scheme and demand-side response DSM programmes depend on people making rational choices.
I note too that over 60% of all building energy use in Dubai is due to cooling. A 2oC increase in the thermostat could achieve 16% reduction in energy consumption. So a good behaviour change programme could deliver a very significant contribution to the overall target, and at comparatively low cost.
Which brings us back to history. As my fellow countryman Winston Churchill, once observed:
“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
The error of history that we need to avoid is a failure to incorporate the lessons from psychology, social sciences and behavioural economics into the design of behaviour programme. The Canadians could have prevented their costly mistake if they had heeded an earlier study that showed that US$200m of expenditure in California had failed to reduce energy use a decade earlier. That study made the recommendation that advertising should not be used alone to drive change.
So what else does the scientific literature tell us?
It tells us that, like information, attitudes have surprisingly little bearing on behaviour, and that advertising simply cannot create new behaviours. Furthermore, there is no “virtuous escalator” of improvement. Asking people to make small changes (such as changing to LED lights) does not lead to bigger changes (such as installing solar PV). If you ask people to do little, you get a programme that achieves little. When people’s motivation to change is financial, then we should not expect to see further environmental behaviours from them.
The literature also tells us what does work. We know that the messages that fail in the mass media can work if delivered through a community context or, better still, face-to-face. If we combine feedback and information we see some effect, and when combined with a goal, even more and when that goal is ambitious there is an even stronger effect and if the goal has been set by the individual it is even more powerful. We know that the effect of feedback increases with frequency and by getting people to measure the improvement for themselves (called “re-materialization” by psychologists).
We know that changing occasional behaviours is easier than changing habitual behaviours. Thus, product labelling is effective because buying a TV or fridge is occasional and so people consider information in making the decision. We have evidence that changing from an A to G rating to an A++ to D rating in the EU rating substantially weakened the desirability of the top rating through psychological effects called “anchoring” and “loss aversion”.
How we frame our request has a much bigger impact that we ever suspected. For example in a large US study, when people were told that their energy consumption was higher than the average they behaved by reducing energy use, but when told that it was lower than average, their response was to increase use. The same study showed that this response could be eliminated by putting a positive message in the form of a simple smiley-face next to the savings information. These effects are due to the way that norms influence choices (the first case is the “descriptive norm” that sets the normal level and the second an “injunctive norm” that reinforces low consumption as socially desirable).
Simply put we need to treat the people aspect of our programme as a science and not an art. Since many aspects of human behaviour are counter-intuitive, the key to success is to design our behaviour change strategies scientifically and test these using the great body of knowledge that exists in the scientific literature.
The energy management system of Peel Land and Property has recently completed certification to the prestigious ISO 50001 standard. As far as we are aware, it is the first major UK property and development organisation to achieve this accolade. Just to give some scale to the scope, the portfolio of assets certified include 1.2m m2 of property, including prestige offices in Liverpool, Manchester and elsewhere in the UK; the MediaCityUK development in Salford, home to the BBC, ITV and dock10 studios; The Lowry and Gloucester Quays Retail Outlets; EventCity, the second largest exhibition space outside of London; Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield and Durham Tees Valley Airport as well as extensive residential, industrial warehousing and retail park space.
SustainSuccess have been involved throughout in a consulting and mentoring role, writing the system specifications, supporting the implementation of the requirements, undertaking Energy Reviews, establishing the internal audit processes and steering the independent certification by Lucideon to a successful conclusion. The key to success was that the Peel Group already had a very effective energy management process in place, with committed Board level support, dedicated and professional Energy Champions for each business and Verco’s Carbon Desktop as the tool to capture energy data and improvement opportunities. Over the past four years this energy management programme has delivered over £1m of savings per year (against a bill of around £3.5m).
Commenting on the certification Niall Enright says “Despite the scale of the organisation, this has to be one of the leanest ISO 50001 systems around with the entire process is described in just 38 pages of text, albeit two-sided. This keep-it-simple outlook is very much in line with Peel’s efficient style of working and highly empowered and capable staff. Because so much good energy efficiency practice was already in place, the effort to achieve 50001 was one largely focused on documenting this practice and ensuring that all the requirements of 50001 were met. In 4 days on-site auditing there was only one minor recommendation from the certifier – that was that we did not investigate the positive variances in energy use (in other words the green traffic lights) as much as the negative variances (the red traffic lights). To have just one minor recommendation is virtually unheard-of. It really is a first class result, for which the Peel team should be very proud and which SustainSuccess is delighted to have supported.”
This is not Peel’s first accolade. Peel Group had previously been certified twice to the Carbon Trust Standard, and was benchmarked top of 29 property managers and developers by the Trust. The MediaCityUK was a pilot for the BREEAM Communities certification and scored more than the other pilot, the London Olympics site. Since then the Lowry has received a Green Apple award for its environmental efforts, MediaCityUK has received the BIFM award for Sustainability and Environmental Impact and two Premises and Facilities Management awards for Expert Services and the Overall award, largely based on the sustainability and energy efficiency activities.
There are a couple key lessons to be drawn from this: we would recommend that organisations put in place a strong energy management process based on continuous improvement, as Peel did, prior to seeking to achieve ISO 50001 as the certification will be much less painful and deliver much greater value. The awards and certification should be seen as the “cherry on the cake” which help raise the programme to a new level. The next key observation is that we should approach the subject of energy efficiency and sustainability as a continuous improvement process. Over the 6 years SustainSuccess has worked with Peel they have never once rested on their laurels and considered the job complete: they have innovated, extended the best practices and constantly set themselves new challenges. This entirely to do with very committed leadership, a culture of improvement and a highly enthusiastic team.
Above: the MediaCityUK campus was included in the scope of the ISO 50001 programme.
See also: Peel News Release