Sunday, November 16, 2014

Planning, carbon reduction and low hanging fruit

I have just read through  draft Local Plan that is intended to guide development in an English rural area (three market towns and about 30 villages) over the next 15 years.  This is the period that carbon emissions must be reduced by 60% in accordance with the Climate Change Act.  It is also a period during which 20,000 houses are expected to be built with a proportionate level of employment growth (and commuting).   The 4th carbon budget is based on annual carbon reductions of about 6% aimed at getting to 80% reductions by 2050, while the Tyndall Institute already regard between 8% and 10% to be necessary (looking at 90% reductions and seeking to secure these earlier rather than later).

My modest contribution to this debate is to raise a couple of questions to which I am not hearing any answers.

1.   Assuming we are not deluding ourselves that immediate annual savings  of about 6% can be achieved -  why are carbon emissions still rising?

2.   If even early reductions are not being achieved - ie those most affordable and using existing technologies - what hope is there to achieve cuts with expensive and not yet available technologies?

So back to the Local Plan, substantial levels of carbon emissions are attributable to housing, transport, energy production and food supply all of which can be controlled to some extent by planning policies. It would be surprising if a world (or rural English district) emitting 60% less carbon would look very much the same as now.  However, looking at the Plan, the only certainty is that there will be more buildings and roads.  There may be a few more solar panels and somewhat less agricultural land.  The 'low hanging carbon fruit' of carbon negative/solar plus buildings, low energy car clubs, a step change increase in bus travel and cycling (based on privileging buses/ and cycling over cars through investment and regulation), supporting local food production/processing/ distribution, and using new housing (small, south facing terraces) to reduce under-occupancy,  is all being left on the tree. It must be doubtful that even these measures could achieve more than modest carbon reductions without significant behavioural change which remains taboo.

Without the first signs that the planning system has understood the gravity of the situation, and the challenge of 6% plus annual carbon reductions, the planned growth in housing and jobs in this district and elsewhere looks very much like resulting in a proportionate growth in carbon emissions (including those resulting from building/construction).  However, new houses and jobs are needed and could and should act as the drivers of change to a low carbon society/economy.  It seems that the current operators of the planning system are not up to this task but,  of course, the same questions need to be asked of our politicians and public.

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