I’m not quite sure when academics and activists first identified “The Green Economy” as a “coming priority” – at least 25 years ago, I suspect, in the run up to the Earth Summit in 1992.
Since then, the Green Economy has come and gone, as a political issue, more times than I care to remember.
Right now, it’s in a “gone” state. Seriously gone. As this blog keeps pointing out, from the day on which David Cameron committed the Coalition Government to being the “Greenest Government Ever”, to the Prime Minister’s latest stumbling performance as the floods took hold of peoples’ lives and imagination, the Green Economy has been completely overshadowed by a host of competing priorities – deficit reduction, economic growth, reducing the size of the state, and so on.
There is now a distinct possibility that the recent flooding and extreme weather will transform the politics of climate change here in the UK.
That may seem like a pretty dodgy prediction – given that the polls would seem to indicate, right now, that around 50% of people in the UK are still not persuaded that today’s weather is directly linked to climate change.
That remains the case, I suspect, partly because the immediate debate about that potential linkage has been so lamentable. And I’m not just getting at those parts of the UK media whose grasp of science is completely obscured by their ideological world view – including most of our right-wing newspapers. The real disappointment for me has been the BBC.
So how exactly do you find the time to do some of that “stop and think” processing that is so important to sustainability practitioners? Is “reflection” what you do the second before you fall asleep? And how do you find time to keep up to speed with new ideas?
I was thinking about all these questions on the way back from the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, where I had to do quite a lot of new thinking! One of the things I was asked to do was to join a Panel looking at the role that gender plays in the world of sustainable development.
Any take on sustainability that doesn’t have health and social care close to its heart probably isn’t worth worrying yourself about any further. But you’d be astonished at how many people just don’t get that.
A bit of history. The Labour Government set up the Sustainable Development Commission in 2000. It took a while to persuade the powers that be in the Cabinet Office that we should operate across the whole of government but, by 2004, we’d already started to work closely with the Department of Health on a whole range of different initiatives within the NHS. The redoubtable Anna Coote joined the Commission, and we quickly developed a fantastic health team within the Secretariat.
Bit by bit, the solar industry is building its global presence. It’s an uneven story (with one country up one year, and another making the running the next), and it’s a story dogged by completely dysfunctional policy-making, and by the continuing stranglehold of the oil and gas industries over energy policy as a whole. Those two things are of course intricately connected.
At the recent World Future Energy Summit, the solar industry was visibly and compellingly on display. Both established companies (from around the world) and relative newcomers, with a strong case to make for their own individual ‘breakthroughs’, wanted a slice of the action – and a share of the attention of the 30,000 or so delegates!
There’s not a nation on Earth where the drive for increased economic growth isn’t still the dominant political shtick. And there’s not a nation on Earth that isn’t signed up (theoretically, at least) to the scientific consensus that we should be doing everything in our power to ensure that the average temperature increase by the end of the century stays below 20 C.
We’ve all heard of cognitive dissonance – the ability to hold two or more contradictory ideas at the same time. The paragraph above falls into a new category of Meta Cognitive Dissonance: the ability on the part of nation states to subscribe to two totally contradictory ‘big ideas’ in order to keep alive that even bigger idea of Progress as we’ve known it since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
So, we have a shiny new Community Energy Strategy, launched on Monday by Secretary of State Ed Davey. It’s been under discussion for a long time, with umpteen consultation processes, and lots of organisations involved, including Forum for the Future, through its convening of the Community Energy Coalition.
True to my New Year resolution (to try to be nicer to the Coalition Government), I’m happy to report that after taking lots of soundings myself that this is indeed an important step forward. Even a couple of years ago, both officials and Ministers in DECC had not a clue as to what was going on at community level. Yet there’s such enthusiasm out there, in more and more communities, and at long last at least a few people in DECC seem to have cottoned on to its potential significance.
The awards ceremony for the Zayed Future Energy Prize and the World Future Energy Summit overlap every year in Abu Dhabi. But they are very different occasions.
I’ve been on the Selection Committee for the Zayed Future Energy Prize since its inception in 2009. It’s big, incredibly well-managed and genuinely authentic. There are five categories (NGO, SME, Lifetime Achievement, High Schools and Large Corporate), and the total prize money amounts to $4million. Applicants have to go through three stages: a Technical Review Committee, the Steering Committee, and then finally, the Jury, which reviews the shortlist provided by the Selection Committee.
When I was doing my research for The World We Made I was delighted to unearth a wealth of highly innovative initiatives in China, India and South-East Asia. But I sort-of knew that I was just scraping the surface.
I love these reports – this is the fourth – as they have an uncanny knack of identifying brilliant people doing brilliant things to help shape a more sustainable world.
This one is all about Asia – focussing on ‘green innovation flows’ that go both ways: from Asia to the UK and from the UK to Asia. Based on research from Verdantix, Dax Lovegrove eloquently outlines the economic context:
On Wednesday last week, the Government’s Energy Act came into force after more than two years of strangulated Parliamentary debate. On Thursday, DECC issued its Delivery Plan indicating how it’s going to implement its new Electricity Market Reform.
Whenever I read these high-level statements, I can’t help but check them out for their ‘buzz factor’: do the words and the overall tone reveal real excitement about any particular development, or is it just another bog-standard, business-as-usual rollout?
Anything on nuclear, for instance, or even fracking, positively crackles with Ministerial over-egging. By contrast, anything on renewables is usually rather modest and low-key, in a kind of ‘don’t-tell-the-Daily-Mail’ kind of way.
Which isn’t to say the renewables industry has no allies in DECC. It does – not least Greg Barker himself as the responsible Minister. He definitely ‘does the buzz’ on renewables. And there are some who believe that he genuinely means it.
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