Ten steps greener – a manifesto for a lower-carbon decade

Climate-change charity Possible has published a ten-point manifesto, listing priority projects, policies and changes to deploy over the coming decade to keep global heating below the 1.5°C threshold come 2050

The ten proposed ideas are:

1 Community volcano power

Several UK regions could support deep geothermal wells, tapping a continuous source of heat conducted from magma in the planet’s mantle – either from hot sedimentary aquifers or from hot, dry rocks. Possible says geothermal heat could generate 4 per cent of annual UK heat-energy demand – and should be community-led.

Southampton has generated clean electricity and heat for its district heating network from hot water under ground for more than 25 years. Central Scotland, Wessex, Cheshire and the east of England are sitting on similar hot-water reserves. Possible says it may be more commercially attractive to tap hot-rock energy, found below the Lake District, Weardale, Devon and particularly in Cornwall.

A three-mile well near Falmouth completed flow tests this autumn and will generate its first energy this year. However, tapping the Cornish granite for renewable heat demands the same drilling equipment and processes as fracking for shale gas; it can cause seismic tremors.

2 A climate helpline

With so many confusing, contradictory messages, most of us struggle to cut our carbon emissions. But the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says we will only reach our emissions targets if the general public changes its behaviour and choices.

Possible says a climate helpline could offer practical advice on decarbonising homes and workplaces, mental-health support for people struggling with climate dread and grief, and respond to climate crises, helping to tackle impacts. The phone line could underpin a multimedia approach, with a web page, an app, or interactive content using bots, texts and WhatsApp.

3 Fixing factories

Creating a repair economy to fix broken things could create 10,000 UK jobs by 2035 and would cost less than a major infrastructure project, Possible says. It would reduce demand for materials and plastic waste, to benefit the environment.

Imported goods and services increase the UK’s carbon footprint by a quarter. Having a fixing factory on every high street would make our clothes, electronic goods and homewares last longer, reducing the amounts we recycle, dump on developing countries and send to landfill. Neighbourhood fixing factories would also unite and reskill communities, tackling poverty and reducing social isolation.

4 Electric motorways

Transport is the UK’s largest emitter and decarbonising freight transport has made slow progress. Could we turn every motorway’s slow lane into an electric motorway for lorries and coaches, powered with community-owned renewable energy?

An electric motorway would supply power via overhead electrified cables, linked to a rooftop pantograph on the electric truck or bus. Electric freight corridors could cut 80 per cent of long-haul articulated trucks’ emissions and would improve air quality.

China is already developing electric-powered, trackless trams and demonstrator schemes have started on motorways in Germany, Sweden and the US. The UK could set tolls to recover the infrastructure’s £7 billion cost.

5 Plant a climate forest

Abandoned coalfields scar the British landscape, covering an area three times bigger than Birmingham. The CCC says the UK must scale up its tree planting, increasing cover by 50 per cent to improve carbon capture.

Possible recommends replanting a national climate forest on top of old coal mines to lock legacy carbon into the ground and create hundreds of new, public green spaces. The UK’s 845 sq km of abandoned mines could support up to 200 million new trees, providing wildlife habitats and improving flood protection.

6 Heat pumps for parks

A third of UK carbon emissions come from heating buildings, as most of that energy comes from burning oil and gas. Installing heat pumps under public green spaces could decarbonise buildings and generate revenue for cash-strapped local authorities.

Heat pumps harvest ambient heat from soil, air and water – but built-up areas lack space for new pipes to collect it. Laying heat pumps under parks and allotments would help to unlock this heat source. The local authority could use the money to improve local green spaces. National Trust is testing heat pumps and local trials are under way in Edinburgh and Bristol.

7 A climate war chest

In November 2018, Bristol city council declared a climate emergency; by July, nearly 250 local authorities had followed suit – including more than half the UK’s largest councils. Many have set far more ambitious zero-carbon targets than central government.

The CCC says the UK must channel 2 per cent of GDP into fighting climate change, doubling current spending to an annual £42 billion. Possible argues for a nationwide climate-response programme, giving local authorities help, support and funding to deliver their targets. “With a highly centralised political system and local government budgets straining under a decade of budget cuts, councils lack the means to accelerate towards their goal,” it says.

A climate-fund accelerator would combine funding, finance, devolved powers and institutional support to unlock resources and promote a joined-up approach, to support transformative action at local level.

8 Energy-positive homes

The UK has some of the oldest, least fuel-efficient housing stock in Europe and one in ten of us lives in fuel poverty. Cold homes cost the NHS £1.3 billion a year, according to the Fuel Poverty Action Group. But in 2015, George Osbourne scrapped the Zero Carbon Homes standard to make all new homes carbon neutral.

Possible argues for standards requiring all new homes to produce more energy than they use. This would cut householders’ bills, helping to tackle fuel poverty. In 2015, the Welsh School of Architecture built the UK’s first energy-positive house near Bridgend.

9 Standardised reuse systems

Getting rid of packaging is a headache – could it be easier to standardise systems to collect and reuse takeaway boxes, supermarkets’ own-brand goods and coffee cups? Plastic packaging accounts for 4 per cent of global carbon emissions and only 9 per cent is recycled.

In the past, households ordered milk for door-to-door delivery, sending back the empties to clean and refill. Possible sees too much focus on recycling, too little on reducing and reusing packaging. Banning single-use packaging is feasible only with sustainable new systems to distribute, collect and clean reusable packaging for food and household goods.

Possible says the easiest option is to start with supermarkets’ own-brand goods. Councils would set up kerbside systems to add reuse to their rubbish and recycling collections. Specialist reuse trucks could gather containers for cleaning, sorting and returning to the manufacturer. A tax on single-use plastics could cover the costs.

10 National service for climate

Possible’s last proposal is a national programme for everyone in the UK to take paid climate leave. A National Climate Service would encourage everyone to give up time – it would train people for green jobs, build practical kills and support a network of climate job shops.

Everyone would be included, bringing together people of different classes, cultural backgrounds, ages and political views. This would empower people to learn about and join in with creating a zero-carbon world.

Climate service could also boost incomes for low earners and the unemployed. It could offer a one-year living wage to every school leaver – a more sustainable answer to the traditional gap year, still offering new experiences, skills and training. Everyone aged over 25 could take a year’s paid climate service up to retirement age, over 12 months or in shorter bursts, to be negotiated with the employer.

Do you agree with the list? Join the debate on LinkedIn. Find out more about Possible’s proposals at: https://www.wearepossible.org/latest-news/ten-bold-ideas

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