CLIMATE CHANGE : Greenland reaps benefits of global warming

Greenland (Photo credit: Beechwood Photography)

Climate change is allowing agriculture to boom. The Independent on Sunday reports 

Inside the Arctic Circle, a chef is growing the kind of vegetables and herbs – potatoes, thyme, tomatoes, green peppers – more fitted for a suburban garden in a temperate zone than a land of northern lights, glaciers and musk oxen. Some Inuit hunters are finding reindeer fatter than ever thanks to more grazing on this frozen tundra, and, for some, there is no longer a need to trek hours to find wild herbs.

This is climate change in Greenland, where locals say longer and warmer summers mean the country can grow the kind of crops unheard of years ago. “Things are just growing quicker,” said Kim Ernst, the Danish chef of Roklubben restaurant, nestled by a frozen lake near a former Cold War-era US military base. “Every year we try new things,” added Mr Ernst, who even managed to grow a handful of strawberries that he served to some surprised Scandinavian royals. “I came here in 1999 and no one would have dreamed of doing this. But now the summer days seem warmer, and longer.”

It was -20C in March but the sun was out and the air was still, with an almost spring-like feel. Mr Ernst showed me his greenhouse and an outdoor winter garden which in a few months may sprout again. Hundreds of miles south, some farmers now produce hay, and sheep farms have grown in size. Some supermarkets in the capital, Nuuk, sell locally grown vegetables in the summer.

Major commercial crop production is still in its infancy. But it is a sign of the changes here that Greenland’s government set up a commission this year to study how a changing climate may help farmers increase agricultural production and replace expensive imported foods. Change is already under way. Potatoes grown commercially in southern Greenland reached over 100 tons in 2012, double the yield of 2008. Vegetable production in the region may double this year compared with 2012, according to government data.

Some politicians hope global warming will allow this country, fully a quarter the size of the United States, to reduce its dependence on its former colonial master, Denmark, for much of its food as political parties push for full independence.

Greenland, which is self-governing aside from defence and security, depends on an annual grant from Denmark of around $600m (£395m), or half the island’s annual budget. But the thawing of its ice sheets has seen a boost in mining and oil exploration as well as an interest in agriculture. “I expect a lot of development in sheep farming and agriculture due to global warming,” said the outgoing Prime Minister, Kuupik Kleist, whose government set up the commission. “It may become an important supplement to our economy.”

Locals love recounting how Erik the Red first arrived in the southern fjords here in the 10th century and labelled this ice-covered island “Greenland” to entice others to settle, an early instance of hype to lure unwary customers. There is evidence that the climate was warmer then, allowing Viking settlements to grow crops for five centuries before mysteriously dying out.

The scale of this new agriculture is tiny. There are just a few dozen sheep farms in southern Greenland, where most of the impact of climate change can be seen. Cows may number fewer than a hundred. But with 57,000 mostly Inuit human inhabitants, the numbers to feed are also small. “You need to put this into perspective. We used to be high-Arctic and now we are more sub-Arctic,” said Kenneth Hoegh, an agronomist and former senior government adviser. “But we are still Arctic.”

The symbolism is enormous, however, highlighting a changing global climate that has seen temperatures in the Arctic increase by about twice the global average –about 0.8C – since pre-industrial times. “There are now huge areas in southern Greenland where you can grow things,” said Josephine Nymand, a scientist at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk. “Potatoes have most benefited. Also cabbage has been very successful.”

Sten Erik Langstrup Pedersen, who runs an organic farm on a fjord near Nuuk, first grew potatoes in 1976. Now he can plant crops two weeks earlier in May and harvest three weeks later in October compared with more than a decade ago. He grows 23 kinds of vegetables, compared with 15 a decade ago, including beans, peas, herbs and strawberries. He says he has sold some strawberries to top restaurants in Copenhagen. But Mr Pedersen is sceptical about how much it will catch on. “Greenlanders are impatient,” he said. “They see a seal and they immediately just want to hunt it. They can never wait for vegetables to grow.”

There is still potential. Mr Hoegh estimates Greenland could provide half of its food needs from home-grown produce, which would be cheaper than Danish imports. But global change is not all about benefits. While summers are warmer, there is less rain. Some experts say that Greenland could soon need irrigation works – ironic for a country of ice and lakes.

“We have had dry summers for the last few years.” said Aqqalooraq Frederiksen, a senior agricultural consultant in south Greenland, who said a late spring last year hurt potato crops.

On the Arctic Circle, a flash flood last summer from suspected glacier melt water – which some locals here blamed on warm weather – swept away the only bridge connecting Mr Ernst’s restaurant to the airport. It came right in the middle of the tourist season, and the restaurant lost thousands of dollars.

It was an ominous reminder that global warming will bring its problems. Still, for Mr Pedersen and his fjord in Nuuk, the future looks good. “The hotter, the better,” Mr Pedersen said. “For me.”

Island life


• World’s largest island (not counting Australia), part of North America, but politically and culturally linked with Europe.

• In the early 18th century, Denmark claimed sovereignty over Greenland, and still has control over foreign affairs and defence matters.


• Population: 56,370; the least densely populated country in the world.

• Language: Greenlandic.

• Official religion: Evangelical Lutheran.

• Unemployment: 4.9 per cent in 2011.


• The economy relies on fishing and fish exports. Tourism plays a big role in generating capital too, and Greenland receives an annual grant from Denmark of $600m.

• It could be the world’s next mining frontier, as global warming makes it easier to recover precious metals from glacial surroundings.

• The largest employers in Greenland are public bodies, including the central government in Denmark. Most positions are in the capital, Nuuk.


• Greenlanders elect two representatives to the Folketing – Denmark’s parliament.

• Greenland has its own parliament, with 31 members. The new PM, after winning 42.8 per cent of the popular vote in this month’s election, is Aleqa Hammond of the Siumut (Forward) Party. It wants Greenlandic independence.

• Queen Margrethe of Denmark, is head of state. A high commissioner is appointed to represent the island.

Mathew di Salvo


Climate Talks End With Modest Deal on Emissions

From the International Herald Tribune  

CANCÚN, Mexico — The United Nations climate change conference began with modest aims and ended early Saturday with modest achievements. But while the measures adopted here may have scant near-term impact on the warming of the planet, the international process for dealing with the issue got a significant vote of confidence.

The agreement fell well short of the broad changes scientists say are needed to avoid dangerous climate change in coming decades. But it lays the groundwork for stronger measures in the future, if nations are able to overcome the emotional arguments that have crippled climate change negotiations in recent years.

The package known as the Cancún Agreements gives the more than 190 countries participating in the conference another year to decide whether to extend the frayed Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement that requires most wealthy nations to trim their emissions while providing assistance to developing countries to pursue a cleaner energy future.

The agreement is not a legally binding treaty, but the success of these talks allows the process to seek a more robust accord at next year’s climate conference in Durban, South Africa.

“This is not the end, but it is a new beginning,” said Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who serves as executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “It is not what is ultimately required, but it is the essential foundation on which to build greater, collective ambition.”

The agreement sets up a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes, creates new mechanisms for transfer of clean energy technology, provides compensation for the preservation of tropical forests and strengthens the emissions reductions pledges that came out of the last United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen last year.

The conference approved the package over the objections of Bolivia, which condemned the pact as too weak. Bolivia’s chief climate negotiator, Pablo Solón, said that the emissions reductions laid out in the plan would allow global temperatures to rise as much as 4 degrees Celsius over the next half century, twice the stated goal of the agreement and a level that would doom millions in the poorest and most vulnerable nations.

But his protests did not block acceptance of the package. Delegates from island states and the least-developed countries warmly welcomed the pact because it would start the flow of billions of dollars to assist them to adopt cleaner energy systems and adapt to inevitable changes in the climate, like sea rise and drought.

But it left unresolved where the $100 billion in annual climate-related aid that the wealthy nations have promised to provide would come from.

Todd Stern, the American climate envoy, said the package achieved much of what he had hoped, including a more solid commitment by all nations to take steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and a more formalized international program of reporting and verification of reductions. It adds needed specifics to the fuzzy promises of last year’s Copenhagen Accord, he said.

“This is a significant step forward that builds on the progress made in Copenhagen,” he said in a news conference after the package was adopted. “It successfully anchors mitigation pledges of the Copenhagen Accord and builds on the transparency element of the accord with substantial detail and content.”

Mr. Stern had been particularly insistent that the agreement include a consistent formula for countries to disclose their emissions, report on the measures they are taking to reduce them and provide detailed statements of economic assumptions and methodology. Although a number of large developing nations like China, Brazil and South Africa balked at the intrusiveness of the system, Mr. Stern helped devise a compromise they could live with.

Yvo de Boer, who stepped down this year after four years as executive secretary of the United Nations climate office, said that the success of this year’s conference was in large measure attributable to the modesty of its goals.

“This process has never been characterized by leaps and bounds,” he said in an interview. “It has been characterized by small steps. And I’d rather see this small step here in Cancún than the international community tripping over itself in an effort to make a large leap.”

In all, the success of the Cancún talks was a shot in the arm for a process that some had likened to a zombie, stumbling aimlessly but refusing to die.

“None of this, of course, is world changing,” said Michael A. Levi, who follows climate issues at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “The Cancún agreement should be applauded not because it solves everything, but because it chooses not to: it focuses on those areas where the U.N. process has the most potential to be useful, and avoids other areas where the U.N. process is a dead end. The outcome does not change the fact that most of the important work of cutting emissions will be driven outside the U.N. process.”

John Collins Rudolf contributed reporting from New York.

Cancun climate conference deal – hopefully some good news for the planet

More than 190 countries have struck an agreement at the latest round of UN climate talks putting efforts to secure a new international deal to tackle global warming back on track. Skip related content Related photos / videos Cancun climate deal struck Enlarge photo .Related content Radioactive cobalt vanishes from Polish factory Hammer protest at UN climate talks Lib Dems urge delay on student fees vote Related Hot Topic: Environment Have your say: Environment The talks in Cancun, Mexico, are the latest attempt to make progress towards a new global deal on tackling climate change, after last year’s meeting in Copenhagen failed amid chaotic scenes, to secure a new legally-binding treaty on cutting emissions, instead delivering only a weak voluntary accord. At the end of two weeks of talks in Mexico, government ministers and officials agreed a deal which Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne described as a “serious package” of measures. He acknowledged the agreement did not give everybody everything they wanted and would still require work towards a final deal at a meeting next year in Durban, South Africa. Environmental campaigners said it threw a lifeline to efforts to get a deal to tackle climate change but there was still much work to do, in particular to close the “gigatonne gap” between the greenhouse emissions cuts countries have pledged and the reductions needed to limit temperature rises to no more than 2C. Friends of the Earth’s international climate campaigner Asad Rehman described the Cancun agreement as weak and ineffective – but said it gave the world a “small and fragile lifeline”. And he warned: “”The emissions cuts on the table could still lead to a global temperature increase of up to five degrees which would be catastrophic for hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people.” The agreement acknowledges the need to keep temperature rises to 2C and brings non-binding emissions cuts pledges made under the voluntary Copenhagen Accord, hammered out in the dying hours of last year’s conference, into the UN process. Representatives from country after country acknowledged the agreement was not perfect, but that they supported it as progress towards a final deal – although Bolivia hit out at the proposals, likening them to genocide.

#Cancún climate talks: In search of the holy grail of #climate change policy

At Cancun, we have an opportunity to make the change – in strategy and our way forward.  

Although Copenhagen fell short of delivering a legally binding global treaty, Cancún is another step towards that ultimate goal

Climate change mission: clean up the mess after #Copenhagen


The conference which begins in Cancun today must restart the battle to lower emissions, says Michael McCarthy

From Editorial of The Independent

Snowfalls grip swathes of Britain. Temperatures in Wales dip to minus-17. As Britain shivers in the kind of freezing winter that we normally associate with Eastern Europe, it’s hard to remember that the world is at the tail end of the hottest, or second hottest, year on record. That is the problem with global warming. The steady rise in temperatures is incremental and often almost undetectable, especially in the cold northern hemisphere, where some feel tempted to celebrate the prospect of more Mediterranean-style summers.  Unfortunately, the price that the rest of the world stands to pay for more agreeable northern summers is catastrophic in terms of rising sea levels, drought and desertification, which is why progress on curbing greenhouse gas emissions at this week’s climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, is vital.

The article in full  

Officials and ministers from nearly 200 countries meet in Mexico today to attempt one of history’s greatest repair jobs: the mending of the world’s project to cope with climate change, which was comprehensively wrecked in Copenhagen a year ago. For the delegates gathering in the Caribbean “super-resort” of Cancun, it will not be possible to achieve the aim of the failed conference in the Danish capital, which was a new, legally binding treaty involving all countries, to slash the emissions of the greenhouse gases which are causing global warming. But what they may be able to do is “put the wheels back on the wagon” and restore momentum to the climate change negotiating process – which after the Copenhagen meeting seemed to have been smashed to pieces – in the hope of achieving a legal treaty at a future United Nations climate conference, perhaps even the next one, which is scheduled for Durban, South Africa, in a year’s time. They badly need to, because although climate change may have fallen out of the headlines and slipped down the political agenda in recent months, not least because of international financial turmoil, the threat of rising world temperatures has continued to mount. Last week, the Met Office in London released a report which asserted that evidence of global warming was stronger than ever, and later this week the World Meteorological Organisation is expected to announce that 2010 has been either the hottest or the second-hottest year ever recorded. Today, another group of British scientists claims that if the warming is not checked, children born today may live to see a world on average 4C hotter, which is unprecedented in human history.

It remains no less a critical issue, then, on the table at Cancun. The two-week meeting it is about to host will be seen, and even defined, in terms of the failure at Copenhagen last December. That was the most traumatic event in the two decades of international talks which have gone on since the global warming issue burst on to the scene in the late 1980s, not least for the enormous weight of expectation which had built up behind it. “Hopenhagen”, the young climate campaigners were calling it beforehand. Never have hopes been so dashed.The disenchantment was the greater for the fact that the 194 countries involved in the talks all accepted that if radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions were not made, average temperatures might rise by up to 6C by the end of the century. The threshold for dangerous climate change is generally thought to be a rise of about 2C. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculated that to be on a path to halt the warming, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) had to be cut by between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020. A new, legally binding agreement to achieve this was Copenhagen’s central aim. But such a deal would have to go much further than the existing climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which did not include the world’s two biggest emitters of CO2 – the US and China. George Bush had withdrawn America from Kyoto shortly after taking office in 2001; and under the terms of the protocol, China, along with all other developing countries, was not obliged to make actual emissions cuts. (Only the rich developed nations were so bound). Yet the US and China were each annually emitting about seven billion tonnes of CO2, making up nearly a third of the global total. The project to construct a new, all-embracing legal climate treaty that would incorporate them fell apart principally because of dissension about the form of the new agreement. The developing countries, led by China and India, were strongly attached to Kyoto, and wanted a renewal of its commitments (which run out at the end of 2012), because Kyoto made sure the rich countries were doing something, while they – the developing nations – did not have to do anything. Perhaps not unreasonably, they take the view that the rich world put most of the CO2 up there, and should take the lead in dealing with it. The developed countries, on the other hand, strongly led by Britain and the other EU states and backed by the US – which under the leadership of President Barack Obama was prepared to re-engage with the process and had set itself an emissions target for the first time – wanted to tear up Kyoto and replace it with a new deal, to set legally binding targets on the developing world alongside those on the rich nations. The gap between these two strongly divergent positions proved unbridgeable and the negotiations foundered. As more than 100 world leaders arrived for what was intended to be the triumphant final agreement, they faced the nightmarish prospect of there being nothing to agree on. The situation, and their faces, were saved by a last-minute, patched-up deal for which the main architect, it is entirely fair to say, was the former British prime minister, Gordon Brown, and for which the credit was taken by Mr Obama. This was the so-called “Copenhagen Accord” – a three-page, 12-clause statement of intent, legally binding on no one, saying in effect that climate change is a Jolly Bad Thing and promising that We’re Jolly Well Going To Work Together To Stop It. On one level – in terms of the legally binding agreement which is needed – it is meaningless. But over the past year, the Copenhagen Accord has proved to have virtues, not least because all countries were invited to submit plans (entirely voluntary ones) for how they might cut emissions, to be inserted into an Appendix of the Accord, and 80 of them have now done so, including the leading carbon emitters, China, the US and India.Some of the targets (China’s and India’s for example) are for reducing the energy intensity of their economies rather than for actual emissions cuts, and the US target, to cut emissions by 17 per cent on 2005 levels, was dependent on the Senate passing legislation which is not, for now, going to happen.Nevertheless, it was unthinkable even two years ago that the US, China and India, along with other major emerging economies such as Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa, would have set out specific pledges to reduce their carbon emissions, yet all have done so, and this is a major step forward – as long as the pledges are carried out. An analysis published last week by the UN Environment Programme calculated that, if implemented in full, they might go 60 per cent of the way towards the emission cuts needed by 2020.This is where Cancun begins. There is no possibility of the 16th conference of the parties of the UN Climate Convention – COP-16, in the jargon – agreeing a new, legally binding climate treaty. The subject is not even on the agenda. So what can it do? The first thing is that it can regularise the Copenhagen Accord and the pledges it contains. The accord is not a decision of the COP, which is what is needed to give it legal status; it is at present merely a document which the conference of the parties has “noted”. More than that, the pledges, which were put forward from the end of January onwards, have not been formally acknowledged by the UN Climate Convention in any way at all, other than by being listed on its website. They need to be brought into the convention legally so they can be regularised and possibly improved. British officials are working towards this.Second, Cancun can make real progress on a number of climate side-issues, of which the most prominent are finance and forestry. The meeting can agree on the structure of a new fund to control the huge sums of money which were promised at Copenhagen, in its main positive outcome, to help developing countries cope with a warming world – $30bn (£19.2bn) by 2012 and $100bn annually by 2020. Third and finally, it can – it must – start out once more on the road to that treaty, and the object of cutting world emissions by 25 to 40 per cent by 2020.For its part, the British Government (along with the rest of the EU) now accepts that the attachment of developing countries to the Kyoto Protocol is very strong. It will contemplate a double deal, with a renewed Kyoto running alongside a new agreement which sets climate targets for developing as well as developed countries.But there is a price. Any new agreement, as far as the UK is concerned, has to be legally binding on the signatories. Countries might set their own targets, but once set, to avoid cheating they must have a legal obligation to meet them.This, potentially, is the crucial stumbling block on the road ahead. The Chinese made it crystal clear at Copenhagen that they were absolutely unwilling to be legally bound with regard to their future emissions.As for the US, Mr Obama’s pledge to cut emissions by 17 per cent last year was predicated on the US Congress agreeing it. Since the triumph of the Republicans in the midterm elections, that agreement and that legislation are dead in the water.The climate project ran into the ground in snowy Copenhagen. Now there is a chance to resurrect it in sunny Cancun. But nobody is saying it will be easy; the road ahead will be long and hard.Climate change: the paperwork* The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate ChangeThe basic international mechanism under which the fight against climate change is carried on. Signed in June 1992, the convention now covers virtually every country, including the US (which has withdrawn from Kyoto).  * The Kyoto ProtocolSigned in Japan in December 1997, this treaty commits countries to making legally binding cuts in their emissions. So far, only the rich nations have targets. The US was part of this group until George Bush withdrew in 2001. Kyoto’s targets do not go far enough to slow down warming, and it does not set targets for developing countries. * The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change A UN body which reviews the science of global warming. There have been four assessment reports so far. The last, published in January 2007, warned that if emissions were not drastically cut, world average temperatures could rise by up to a devastating 6.4C by 2100.  * The Copenhagen AccordThe outcome of the 2009 UN meeting (COP-15), at which it was hoped that a new treaty would be signed to make much more drastic cuts in emissions. It fell apart because the industrialised nations wanted a new treaty binding all states; the developing countries wanted to renew Kyoto. The patched-up accord instead consisted of pledges with no official status whatsoever. * Cancun – COP-16The Cancun meeting will try to pick up the pieces of the wreckage of last year; one of its tasks will be to try to make the pledges of the Copenhagen Accord an official part of the convention.WHAT AN AVERAGE TEMPERATURE RISE O F 4 °C WOULD REALLY MEAN FOR THE PLANETOVERVIEWThe average rise will not be spread uniformly, and temperatures over land will be significantly higher (5.5C on average) than over the ocean, as the land heats up more quickly than the sea.THE ARCTICTemperatures at higher latitudes, particularly in the Arctic, will rise much more steeply in a four-degree world as they experience climate feedbacks due to the loss of sea ice and snow cover.Already, scientists have detected signs of unusual permafrost melting in Siberia and the release of vast quantities of underground methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.SOUTHERN EUROPEThe summer of 2003, when night-time temperatures were far beyond normal, caused many thousands of deaths through heat stroke and other related conditions. A four-degree world will make such summerscommonplace, causing environmental as well as medical problems.INDIAN SUB-CONTINENTA growing population puts pressure on water supplies, which will be exacerbated in regions of the world that will experience the greatest increase in numbers of people, such as India. In a four-degree world, however, the problems of water shortages will be primarily caused by climate change – a double whammy for the most populated countries.AMAZONAt higher temperatures, the Amazon rainforest is vulnerable to drought and uncontrolled spread of fires. Some climate models predict increased rainfall, while other “more realistic” computer projections predict severe drying in the Amazon. SOUTH-EAST ASIASea level rise is inevitable in a warmer world, but the problem will be significantly worse in a four-degree world because of melting ice sheets, glaciers and thermal expansion. Low-lying, heavily populated river deltas and coastal regions are especially vulnerable to flooding. Small oceanic islands will experience increased storm surges and problems with increased soil salinity.SUB-SAHARAN AFRICAAt 4°C, virtually all cereal-growing regions of the world experience crop failures or shortages. The areas affected most will be semi-arid regions where agriculture is already difficult, such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Some regions may become uninhabitable with widespread famine

Climate change is very ‘real and present danger’ say the ‘relatives’

Australians change their mind about climate change

 The idea that Aussie impressions have changed is an interesting one – perhaps it depends on ‘who’ you ask, ‘what’ questions you ask and the like… Certainly within my Aussie side of my family – via my oz wife – they all acknowledge climate change and human impact on this as fact and growing concern.  

Monday, 9 August 2010



Fewer Australians believe that humans are responsible for climate change, but despite this, the market for environmentally friendly products such as LED bulbs is growing and manufacturers are releasing increasingly innovative and eco-friendly products. 

An August 6 report by Gallup Worldview has revealed that while Australians are still concerned about climate change, fewer blame it on human activities.

The percentage of Australians who are aware of climate change and say it results from human activity fell from 52 percent in June 2008 to 44 percent in March 2010, while the number of Australians who attributed climate change to natural (i.e., not man-made) causes, rose by 10 percent from 21 percent in 2008 to 31 percent in 2009. Only 2 percent of Australians had not heard of climate change, down 1 percent from 2008.

This shift in attitude is surprising as Australia is considered one of the most knowledgeable countries in the world on climate change; 97 percent say that they know at least ‘something’ about the issue.

However despite changing minds over the causes of climate change, the market for environmentally friendly products in Australia and the world is growing. One such area for growth is that of LED lighting: the market is expected to reach €15.5 billion ($20.4 billion) by 2012. LED lighting solutions are more energy efficient than standard incandescent bulbs, and it is estimated that the widespread adoption of environmentally friendly LED bulbs would reduce carbon emissions by 246 metric tons across the US alone. In Europe the EU plans to completely phase in LED lighting by 2016.

On August 4 Australian manufacturer Hot Beam released the innovative series of Streamline LED strip lamps (prices based on individual quotes): the 500 mm lamps, not bulbs, can be positioned on desks or hung from the ceilings and contain individual, changeable LED modules, making the lighting source more versatile than LED bulbs. In the global market LED lighting solutions such as Philips Endural bulbs (€13) or Toshiba’s E-Core 500 bulbs (e40) are already widely available.

In 2008, when asked whether global warming was caused by natural or artificial reasons, 49 percent of Americans, 48 percent of British, 58 percent of Chinese, 63 percent of French and 88 percent of Japanese people  thought human activity was to blame.

Environmental sustainability is out the window…(!!?)… if Commission is cut

The Government is expected to axe its environmental watchdog this week as part of Whitehall budget cuts. If the Sustainable Development Commission is to be cut, it is a blow on a nunber of fronts -logic, the environment, sustainable government, indeed the concept of sustainability – are all losers!

Shadow energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband: “They promised to be the greenest government ever but they’re completely betraying that promise.”

Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said: “The Sustainable Development Commission has played a crucial role in helping Government departments work together to tackle the triple threats of climate change, economic downturn and inequality – as well as keeping a critical check on progress.

Jonathon Porritt: As the former Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission from 2000-2009, I’m clearly going to be a bit biased about the Government’s decision yesterday to get rid of the Commission.

The Government is expected to axe its environmental watchdog this week as part of Whitehall budget cuts.

An announcement that the Sustainable Development Commission is to be abolished is expected tomorrow, just as the environmental and sustainability watchdog publishes its latest report outlining the savings departments could make from being greener.

The report will detail how the Government could make hundreds of millions of pounds of savings over the next Parliament by reducing transport, water use, energy waste and rubbish – savings worth many times the £3 million expenditure on the SDC.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was unable to confirm today if the arms-length body, which is jointly operated by the UK Government and devolved administrations, is to be disbanded, saying no final decision has been made.

But reports of its imminent demise have raised concerns in the Welsh Assembly, where it was last week described as playing an important role in Wales’s efforts to become greener.

The SDC has helped central government departments save the equivalent of £16 million in carbon emissions reductions and £13 million in reducing water waste.

The commission has also worked with the NHS and schools to reduce their emissions and energy use and recommended the “whole-house” green makeovers to make them more energy efficient, a policy that was adopted by all three parties before the General Election.

Its advice on whether a Severn barrage could be built sustainably also paved the way for consideration of tidal schemes in the Severn Estuary.

Greenpeace campaigner Louise Edge condemned the decision to axe the SDC as “incredibly short-sighted”.

“The commission has always given great value for money, cutting wasteful energy use across Whitehall and providing vital advice on how departments can slash their carbon emissions.

“You have to wonder about the thinking behind scrapping a £3 million body with a record of success while pushing ahead with the multibillion-pound Trident replacement, which the military doesn’t even want. This is muddled thinking,” she said.

Margaret Ounsley, head of public affairs at WWF-UK, said: “Everybody knows that we are facing a heavy deficit, and we should not be too prescriptive about how the Government deals with it.

“However, it would be the worst sort of mindless hacking from Government if we were to lose the capacity to measure and report on its moves towards meeting its own commitments to become leaner and greener.

“Shooting the watchdog does not make always make for savings.”

And Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said: “The Sustainable Development Commission has played a crucial role in helping Government departments work together to tackle the triple threats of climate change, economic downturn and inequality – as well as keeping a critical check on progress.

“The coalition must be held to account on its promise to be the greenest Government ever – and explain how it will continue to green Britain, saving money and creating jobs at the same time – without the Sustainable Development Commission’s expert guidance and overview.”

Shadow energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: “The coalition has made some terrible decisions on the environment – scrapping the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, shelving Labour’s plan for the Green Investment Bank.

“They promised to be the greenest government ever but they’re completely betraying that promise.”

As the former Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission from 2000-2009, I’m clearly going to be a bit biased about the Government’s decision yesterday to get rid of the Commission. So I’ve been working really hard to put myself in Ministers’ shoes in terms of the ‘rationale’ they’ve advanced for this reprehensible decision. They’ve put forward four justifications:1. It will save moneyThe SDC costs the taxpayer around £4 million a year, around 50% of which come from Defra. The rest comes from the Devolved Administrations and other Whitehall Departments – all of which wanted to carry on working with the SDC. As George Monbiot has pointed out, the SDC’s advice on reducing costs through increased efficiency has already saved the Government many, many times that negligible amount, and would have gone on doing so year after year.2. Sustainable development is now mainstreamed across government.Defra Ministers are now claiming that sustainable development has been embedded in every department. In other words, no specialist capability at the centre is any longer required, simply because the Government ‘gets it’.Like hell it does. To hear Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State in Defra make such a totally fatuous claim after a few weeks in power is irritating beyond belief. She clearly knows nothing of the constant slog required (of the SDC and many other organisations) to achieve the limited traction that is all that can be laid claim to today.There’s a rich irony here. The SDC is a UK-wide body. Neither Wales nor Scotland was in favour of getting rid of the Commission, no doubt because both Countries have done an infinitely better job than Whitehall on ‘mainstreaming’ sustainable development.3. It will avoid duplicationThis is a bit trickier, simply because the SDC does a number of different things. It advises Ministers – and there are indeed lots of other people who do that. But rarely if ever from an integrated sustainable development perspective. It helps countless public sector bodies (from the Audit Commission to the Department of Education, from Local Authorities to Primary Care Trusts in the NHS) to make sense of sustainable development, and no other government body does any of that. And it scrutinises government performance on a completely independent basis across the whole sustainable development agenda – not just on climate change. And no other body does that.4. Sustainable development is too important to delegate to an external bodyIt’s worth recording Caroline Spelman’s actual words here: “Together with Chris Huhne, I am determined to take the lead role in driving the sustainable agenda across the whole of government, and I’m not willing to delegate this responsibility to an external body.”Even after nine years working with dozens of Government Ministers, I’m astonished at such utterly brazen cynicism. The only thing Mrs Spelman has done so far as Secretary of State at Defra is publish a new strategy for the Department. This has not one serious reference to sustainable development in it. Such is the depth of her concern.If Defra’s next step is to get rid of what’s left of it’s own internal Sustainable Development Unit, then it will have literally no capacity to ‘drive the sustainable agenda’ even within Defra, let alone ‘across the whole of government’. And how can you drive anything if you haven’t the first clue what it actually means? And it just got rid of the only part of the system capable of providing you with a basic primer for beginners?So let’s not beat around the bush: their justification for getting rid of the SDC is transparently vacuous, if not downright dishonest. This is an ideological decision – in other words, a decision driven by dogma not by evidence-based, rational analysis.And the only conceivable reason for allowing dogma to dominate in this way is that the Government doesn’t want anyone independently auditing its performance on sustainable development – let alone properly-resourced, indisputably expert body operating as ‘a critical friend’ on an inside track within government.I don’t suppose the Prime Minister was even consulted about such a footling little matter. But it’s clear that his advisors hadn’t the first idea about the kind of signal this dogma-driven decision sends out, ensuring that his claim that this will be the ‘greenest government ever’ is in deepest jeopardy. It’s too early to make any definitive judgement about how the Green agenda will fare under the Coalition. But it’s not encouraging. ‘Greenest ever’ has to mean something substantive. Simply smearing a sickly ideological slime over everything just won’t cut it.