David Cameron: ‘this is the greenest UK government ever’

Worldwide Renewable energy, existing capacitie...
Worldwide Renewable energy, existing capacities, at end of 2008, from REN21.http://www.ren21.net/globalstatusreport/g2009.asp Total energy is from BP Statistical Review.http://www.bp.com/statisticalreview (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prime minister tells leaders at a world energy summit that the UK government has achieved its aim. Do you agree? 

The government has achieved its aim of being the “greenest ever”, David Cameron has said on, in his first significant remarks on the environment since reaching office.

“When I became prime minister I said I would aim to have the greenest government ever and this is exactly what we have,” he told energy ministers from the world’s leading nations at a summit in London.

Cameron said he “passionately believed” the growth of renewable energy was vital to the UK’s future. “I believe renewable energy can be among our cheapest energy sources within years not decades,” he said. But he warned: “We need to make it financially sustainable.”

The intervention was much anticipated after repeated negative remarks from George Osborne last year that “endless social and environmental goals” were a burden on business.

Cameron said: “Renewables are now the fastest growing energy source on the planet and I am proud that Britain has played a leading role at the forefront of this green energy revolution. Renewable energy is not just good for our environment but good business too.” He said renewable energy had a “vital part to play”, alongside “nuclear energy, cleaner coal, oil and gas – including shale gas – and carbon capture and storage.”

But, citing the pressure high gas prices were placing on businesses and households, he added: “We have to get costs [of renewables] down. We don’t just need green energy, we need cheaper energy too.” Apparently alluding to the changes to subsidies for solar power which the industry claims has sapped confidence and led to 6,000 lost jobs, Cameron said: “When we have made a commitment to a project, we will always honour it in full.”

But business groups and environmental campaigners labelled the seven minutes of remarks a “failure of leadership”, a “damp squib” and accused him of “taking a leaf out of the chancellor’s ‘green agenda is a burden’ book.”

The prime minister could have sent a clear message that the UK is open for green business and sent a clear signal to investors, especially after two years of silence,” said Mark Kenber, chief executive of the Climate Group. “He did not. Instead he effectively reiterated the false dichotomy between ‘non-affordable’ renewables and ‘affordable’ fossil fuels. Today the PM sided with those in his government that feel that the green agenda is a ‘burden’. It is not only a failure of leadership, it is nothing short of neglect of Britain’s economy and future.”

David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, which took Cameron on his “husky-hugging” trip to the Arctic in 2006, said: “We were led to expect a keynote speech, only for it to be suddenly downgraded; what we got today was a damp squib.”

Caroline Flint, Labour’s shadow energy and climate change secretary said: “Investment in clean energy has fallen, meaning that jobs and growth that should be coming to this country are now going overseas. The Clean Energy Ministerial, with businesses and investors flying in from all over the world, was the perfect opportunity to bring new jobs and industries to the UK. The fact that Cameron can’t even be bothered to make a proper speech shows the government has missed yet another open goal.”

But Rhian Kelly, director for business environment at the CBI, said: “The prime minister’s intervention, underlining the economic and environmental potential of the green economy, will help to repair investor confidence following recent policy uncertainty.”


Cameron cited a series of new announcements, including the first investments made by the green investment bank – a collaboration of renewable companies called Norstec to maximise the use of wind energy from the North Sea – and research funding to bring down the cost of offshore wind. He also mentioned recent investments in wind and biomass plants totalling £350m.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary, said: “Over time as policies are rolled out and experienced I think people really will credit this government with being greenest ever. You can see PM’s personal commitment to this.” A recent poll found that just 2% of the public thought Cameron was leading the greenest government ever.

Craig Bennett, policy and campaigns director at Friends of the Earth, said: “The PM is right to recognise the necessity of developing a cleaner future, but he must show real leadership. It’s time Cameron gave us chapter and verse for achieving a low-carbon economy, not just a few notes in the margin. Over 85% of the public want the UK to develop our huge renewable power potential.”

“There is a tendency to focus on the costs of renewables as opposed to the benefits,” said Martin Wright, chairman of the Renewable Energy Association. “Renewables give us energy independence, they are totally sustainable and over the long term they will provide low cost energy and, above all, price stability. They represent a tremendous business opportunity now.”


Badger cull divides Tories

Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The government’s planned cull of badgers is impractical, according to an influential Conservative thinktank, and should be scrapped in favour of vaccination to help curb the bovine TB infection afflicting cattle.

The Bow Group paper exposes for the first time divisions in the Tory party over the nocturnal shooting of badgers in bovine TB hotspots and concludes that the scientific evidence favours vaccination over a cull, which it said would be ineffective and expensive.

“The government is opting for a remedy that is both deeply unpopular, and which stands a very good chance of making the problem worse,” said Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith. The intervention comes a week after the Welsh government abandoned its planned cull in favour of vaccination, citing scientific advice.

The Bow Group, which counts Michael Howard and Peter Lilley among its former chairmen, joins a growing band in favour of vaccinating rather than culling badgers, including the National Trust, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the residents of Ambridge in The Archers.

Although most farmers are in favour of the cull, those that support vaccinating badgers include National Farmer’s Union vice president Adam Quinney, who has teamed up with the Badger Trust to vaccinate badgers on his land after his cattle contracted bovine TB.

Now some Conservatives are pondering the political cost of a cull after the Bow Group found that 81% of people were opposed to it. “That suggests to me that a lot of Conservative voters are opposed to the cull,” said Graham Godwin-Pearson, the paper’s author.

Richard Mabey, research secretary of the Bow Group, said: “Market research shows that the issue will be costly for the Conservatives in political terms, not least in the marginal seats in which the culling trials are to be held. Vaccination is best for badgers and best for the taxpayer: a shift in focus from culling to vaccination is now essential.”

Defra is committed to a policy of culling badgers to combat the disease in cattle, which increased by 4.4% in the first half of 2011 compared with the same period the previous year, and cost the taxpayer £91m in 2010-11 in compensation payments to farmers. The cull will start this autumn with two pilot schemes in Gloucestershire and Somerset and will be funded by groups of farmers.

But the Bow Group paper warned that Defra’s estimates of the cost of a cull appear “conservative” and policing costs of £500,000 per area per year could increase. The paper also pointed out that monitoring the requirement that farmers cull 70% of the badger population inside the cull zone was uncosted.

It recommended tackling the disease with a combination of an injectable vaccine and improved biosecurity on farms, with farmers’ compensation linked to fulfilment of biosecurity best practice. One scientific trial of the vaccine found it reduced positive TB in badgers by almost 74% but any subsequent reduction in the disease among cattle has not yet been tested.

John Royle of the NFU, said farmers would this year be vaccinating badgers alongside the cull. “Farmers aren’t against vaccination but they understand you cannot vaccinate and treat an already diseased animal. There is no evidence that vaccinating badgers will result in a reduction of the disease in cattle.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “There are limitations on the widespread use of the injectable badger vaccine and it doesn’t stop already infected badgers spreading TB. Culling, carried out in the right way, will more quickly and effectively reduce TB in cattle than vaccination alone.”

Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/26/badger-cull-bovine-tb-cattle-vaccination?intcmp=122

How to protect our green and pleasant land?

A National Trust signpost at Milldale, River D...
A National Trust signpost at Milldale, River Dove, Derbyshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An environmental alert from The Independent . Comments here or at Learn From Nature 

For more than 60 years, the English countryside has been preserved from unthinking development by a demanding set of planning laws which evolved from the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. Too much so, this Government believes. It is taking the 1,300 pages of planning regulations and reducing them to just 52. Groups which campaign to protect the rural landscape have been fighting to prevent the Government sweeping away these laws. It looks as though they have failed.

George Osborne will make reference to the Government’s intentions in his Budget today. But the full National Planning Policy Framework is not to be published until next week, in an apparent attempt to make it look as though the changes are not primarily driven by economics. But the truth is that the planning system is being changed from an instrument that protects the countryside to one that facilitates economic growth – in two key ways. First, the system is to be altered so that the default answer to any “sustainable” development proposal will be Yes. Second, the historic recognition that ordinary countryside has “intrinsic value” will be scrapped.

These measures go way too far. There is no question that Britain needs more new homes. And we would argue that the definition of the Green Belt needs to be adjusted to facilitate more building. But these measures do not affect the Green Belt, they apply to the ordinary, unprotected countryside. The danger is that the changes will promote ribbon development between our major cities, changing the look of the country for ever.

During a three-month consultation on the changes, the National Trust and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England found serious risks, but just two small concessions have been made: a recognition that brownfield sites are to be preferred, and a definition of “sustainable” that would otherwise have meant whatever developers wanted it to.

The English countryside needs more protection if it is not to be disfigured by development. We must not allow short-term economic interests to desecrate our heritage and endanger our long-term wellbeing.

Source : http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-protect-our-green-and-pleasant-land-7579387.html

Are climate events Nature’s way to tell us something…. I say ‘yes’!

MY COMMENT: I am not one for scaremongering (eg. 2012 was I believe non-sense), however recent climatic events – flooding in Australia followed by massive, record-breaking cyclones in that country; current droughts in China; floods in Pakistan… All these make me wonder: Is nature adjusting itself in a ‘feedback loop’ and should be more aware/start to take positive action to adjust ‘our’ , human ways?  Two stories from today’s newspapers suggest the answer is ‘yes’…

From the Independent

British floods result of climate change

The catastrophic floods of autumn 2000, which saw river levels reach 400-year highs and left 10,000 homes underwater across England and Wales, were most likely the result of global warming.

** Full article below

From The International Herald Tribune

Heavy rains linked to humans

An increase in heavy precipitation that has afflicted many countries is at least partly a consequence of human influence on the atmosphere, climate scientists reported in a new study.

** Full article below


The catastrophic floods of autumn 2000, which saw river levels reach 400-year highs and left 10,000 homes underwater across England and Wales, were most likely the result of global warming.

It is the first time scientists have been able to plot with any confidence the link between the extreme weather with man-made greenhouse gases. Researchers from Oxford University and the Met Office aided by thousands of volunteers online believe 20th-century industrial emissions made the natural disaster almost twice as likely.

While environmentalists have long pointed to the floods as early evidence of the impact man is having on the environment, concrete proof has been harder to find.

But Dr Pardeep Pall, who began the research while a doctoral student at Oxford University’s Department of Physics, said this has now changed. “This study is the first of its kind to model explicitly how such rising greenhouse gas concentrations increase the odds of a particular type of flood event in the UK, and is the first to use publicly volunteered computer time to do so,” he said.

In mid-October 2000, parts of Kent and Sussex were under water when the Ouse at Lewes burst its banks, along with the Uck at Uckfield and the Medway at Tonbridge in Kent. A few weeks later it was Yorkshire’s turn with the Ouse in York reaching its highest level since 1600 while the Severn at Worcester and Shrewsbury recorded its biggest flood since 1947.

The Thames, Trent, Wharfe and Dee also flowed after much of the country suffered its wettest autumn since records began. The final insurance bill for the damage was £1.3bn with motorways closed, train services cancelled and power supplies disrupted.

The research, published in Nature, reveals there was a two-in-three chance that the odds of flooding that year were increased by global warming by a factor of two or more. While unable to rule out the possibility that the floods could have happened even if the atmosphere had been unpolluted by greenhouse gases in preceding decades, scientists believe the study brings them closer to being able to work out the real-time impact of climate change rather than the long-term predictions which are normally used. Experts could soon be able to tell almost immediately whether an event was caused by the effects of man or not.

Researchers used a Met Office computer climate model to simulate the weather of autumn 2000 both as it was and how it might have been without the presence of man-made CO2. Volunteers around the world then repeated the experiment thousands of times by logging on to the website ClimatePrediction.net. The data was then fed into a flood model by Risk Management Solutions, which develops risk models for the insurance industry.

It was concluded that the chances of floods occurring in autumn 2000 had increased by more than 20 per cent; and perhaps as much as 90 per cent.

Professor Myles Allen, a co-author of the paper, said while scientists had been more easily able to link climate change to the European heatwave of 2003 – an event which resulted in 40,000 deaths, drought, fires and crop failure – establishing the link to floods had been a longer process. He said: “Whether or not a flood occurs in any given year is still an act of God but with the help of thousands of volunteers we are beginning to see how human influence on climate may be starting to load God’s dice.”

The research will be cited today by Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne in an address at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) calling for closer co-operation between governments to reduce emissions and cope with the effects of a changing atmosphere. He will say: “The evidence for human influence on climate is now even more compelling. Climate change is not a distant threat, it is a clear and present danger – and one that we can do something about.”


In the first major paper of its kind, the researchers used elaborate computer programs that simulate the climate to analyze whether the rise in severe rainstorms, heavy snowfalls and similar events could be explained by natural variability in the atmosphere. They found that it could not, and that the increase made sense only when the computers factored in the effects of greenhouse gases released by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels.

As reflected in previous studies, the likelihood of extreme precipitation on any given day rose by about 7 percent over the last half of the 20th century, at least for the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere for which sufficient figures are available to do an analysis.

The principal finding of the new study is “that this 7 percent is well outside the bounds of natural variability,” said Francis W. Zwiers, a Canadian climate scientist who took part in the research. The paper is being published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature.

A landmark for UK conservation

At the very end of 2010, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced a major achievement for conservation in England with the news that 96% of England’s SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) are now in favourable or recovering condition. SSSIs are the most important collection of wildlife and geological sites in the England and cover 8% of the country’s surface area, so they play a unique role in preserving biodiversity and geodiversity. The 10 year project to reverse the long term decline of England’s SSSIs has involved an unprecedented conservation effort led by Defra, and involving government agencies, thousands of farmers and landowners, and organisations from across the private and voluntary sectors. In recent years one million hectares of land have been surveyed and monitored by Natural England and conservation plans put in place across thousands of sites. Defra’s news announcement marked a fitting end to the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

Natural England will be helping celebrate the success of the SSSI project with the publication of the report – Protecting England’s Natural Treasures – which will be launched at a special reception attended by Caroline Spelman at the London Wetlands Centre on 27th January 2011. ________________________________________ http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designatedareas/sssi/conservationlandmark.aspx


Dramatic fall in number of plastic bags given out by supermarkets


The Independent reports: The number of “single-use” plastic bags given to customers by leading UK supermarkets has fallen for the fourth year in a row.

 The total has dropped from 10.6 billion in 2006 to 6.1 billion in the year to May, a reduction of 43 per cent, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said. That compares with a reduction of 37 per cent in the year to May 2009. Over the same period the total weight of material used has more than halved.

The BRC said the figures were “a ringing endorsement” of the voluntary approach taken by supermarkets at a time when sales volumes increased by more than 6 per cent.

To forestall the threat of legislation or a government-imposed bag charge at the checkout, seven of the big stores have made two successive agreements to cut back on plastic bag use. The stores involved are Asda, the Co-operative Group (now incorporating Somerfield), Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.


There is no formally agreed a new target, but bag use is still being monitored by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap). The figure for supermarket distribution of all carrier bags, including reusable bags, has also continued to decline, and the new numbers for 2009/10 show a decline of 41 per cent over 2006 against 35 per cent in 2008/9. But in one accounting measure, a spot-check analysis of bag use during the month of May, the number of single-use bags had increased compared with last year.

In May 2009 the one-month figure was 48 per cent below that of 2006 – just missing the 50 per cent target the supermarkets had set themselves, and so prominently publicised. But this year the “snapshot” May figure for single-use bags was only 45 per cent below that for 2006, suggesting that momentum may be falling.

In general, though, the figures are very positive. “This is a tremendous achievement by supermarkets, customers and staff, especially as between 2006 and 2009 the amount of goods sold by participating retailers grew by over 6 per cent,” the BRC Director-General, Stephen Robertson said.

“The sustained reduction shows that customers are permanently adopting the habit of reusing their bags. The continuous decrease in total annual bag use demonstrates the voluntary approach continues to make good progress.”

He added: “The reduction in bag use is great news, but it’s the halving of the total weight of single-use carrier bags which shows retailers really scoring on the crucial issue of reducing environmental impact. Retailers are working hard on a range of other environmental measures, such as reducing food waste, reducing and redesigning packaging, as well as providing customers with recycling information through the on-pack recycling label.”

Wrap said yesterday that the decrease by 4.5 billion per year in 2006 to 6.5 billion in 2009/10 had reduced the amount of material used by 39,700 tonnes annually.

First introduced by the US in 1957, and into the rest of the world by the late 1960s, plastic bags are now one of the biggest scourges of the throw-away society. Worldwide, the annual total manufactured now probably exceeds a trillion. Billions find their way into the environment, especially the marine environment, where their lack of rapid degradability makes them a persistent and serious threat to marine life. They can now be found in the oceans almost everywhere, from Spitsbergen at latitude 78 degrees North, to the Falkland Islands at 51 degrees South.




Are we losing the fight to save our hedgerows?

In The Independent on Sunday: A decade after the first legal moves to protect them, they are still under attack – and now they could fall victim to spending cuts

They are the living seams that have typified the British countryside for centuries. But now hedgerows are disappearing fast, and a report published tomorrow will say we are not doing enough to protect them.

Although “important” hedgerows are protected by law, the majority can be taken down if a landowner wishes, which has resulted in many being dug up to create larger fields that are easier to harvest. For the past 20 years, the Government has provided financial help to landowners to restore and manage hedgerows. But most have still been left unmanaged, sometimes growing into larger trees offering fewer benefits to wildlife because they are less dense at ground level.


The CPRE study focused on England, but the picture nationwide is similarly grim.

Nigel Adams, vice-chairman of the National Hedgelaying Society, said: “The hedgerow is the unsung hero of our countryside. It’s often overlooked, but visitors to England say it’s what makes it so special. The majority are not used for their original purpose [as an animal barrier], but people recognise their importance in terms of wildlife and history.”

Since 1998, the number of legally protected hedgerows has risen by 18 per cent. Currently, 42 per cent of the UK’s hedgerows are protected, but the CPRE fears that the narrow criteria required to register a stretch of hedge as “important” will mean many more are lost.

To qualify for legal protection, a hedge must be at least 20 metres long, 30 years old and meet strict criteria on heritage and numbers of animals and plants relying on it. Some hedges were easy to register, such as Judith’s Head in Cambridgeshire, which is Britain’s oldest, having stood for more than 900 years. But for non-celebrity hedges, the future is dicey. More than two-thirds of local authorities surveyed by CPRE said that the current Hedgerow Regulations needed to be simplified to make them more effective.

Emma Marrington, author of the report, said: “The length of hedgerows in the country is declining, which is worrying. They’re a part of our heritage, but they also offer huge benefits to wildlife and the environment in general. It’s over a decade since the introduction of the Hedgerows Regulations, and the time is ripe for the Government to make improvements that give local authorities the power they need to better protect the great diversity of England’s hedgerows.”

The CPRE is concerned that hedgerow protection programmes could be at risk when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) makes spending cuts in the autumn. “The Defra spending cuts could affect the money for schemes like this,” Ms Marrington said. “I can see how hedgerows could be overlooked; they’re taken for granted as being a part of the English countryside, and people don’t realise how much they’re at risk.”

If hedgerows in Britain decline further, so too will those species that depend on them. Jim Jones of the People’s Trust for Endangered Species is running a study of the impact of disappearing hedgerows on dormice, a species whose population has declined by 40 per cent in 20 years. “Dormice have disappeared from seven counties where they existed in the 1800s, at the same time as hedgerows have declined,” he said. “Hedgerow corridors are crucial because they allow them to forage and move around.”

Species in peril: An ecosystem teeming with life


Dormice, harvest mice, hedgehogs, six species of bat, and polecats are all at risk as hedgerows decline. They rely on the covered corridors that allow them to move around.


The copse bindweed and the Plymouth pear are among the plants that flourish in hedgerows.

Fungi and lichens

From the sandy stilt puffball to the weather earthstar fungus, many fungi do particularly well in hedgerows. Lichens such as the orange-fruited elm lichen and the beard lichen are also at risk.


Stag beetles, brown-banded carder bees and large garden bumblebees are among those at risk. More than 20 of Britain’s lowland butterfly species breed in hedgerows, including the brown hairstreak and the white-letter hairstreak butterfly.

Reptiles and amphibians

Hedgerows connecting with ponds are vital for great crested newts to move through the countryside. The common toad, grass snake, slow worm and common lizard are also at risk.


Many woodland birds rely on taller hedges for breeding. The turtle dove, grey partridge, cuckoo, lesser spotted woodpecker, song thrush, red-backed shrike and yellowhammer are all in danger.

 Research from the Campaign to Protect Rural England has found that though hedgerows enjoy more protection than ever before, in England their overall length fell by 26,000 kilometres between 1998 and 2007. The study, England’s Hedgerows: Don’t Cut Them Out!, calls for current legislation to be strengthened.

As well as having a nostalgic place in the aesthetics of the countryside, hedgerows are a vital part of the ecosystem. Research by Hedgelink, a network of British hedge conservation groups, shows that without them some 130 species – from the hedgehog and the dormouse to stag beetles and the cuckoo – would be under threat.