Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Count carbon correctly councillor !!

This post is about the importance, in these days of beginning to count our carbon and measure our footprints, of being accurate and seeing the figures in their proper perspective (something I spend time talking to my environmental technology students about). This is vital if we are to properly assess progress, or lack of it, towards achieving vital emissions reduction targets.

Give Lib Dem Cllr Neil Harrison what is due to him. He has worked persistently on getting the 'Merton rule' on a minimum % of renewable energy in new housing developments, adopted by Bristol City Council and deserves congratulations ('New Bristol homes have to be eco-friendly', Bristol Evening Post, 18 June). Greens have already welcomed his work (see Green Cllr Charlie Bolton's blog).

I must take issue with his comments on the figures in the local press however. He correctly says that Bristol has a target of 60% carbon emissions cuts by 2050 and then says,

'Taking this step [ie 20% renewable energy in all new housing that Cllr Harrison has fought for] will make that achievable and take us closer to becoming a green capital'.

It may take us a bit closer to becoming a green capital as its a step in the right direction but there is no way that taking the step of having 20% renewable energy in all new housing can on its own achieve an overall 60% carbon emissions cut across Bristol by 2050 - anyone can see that the figures just dont add up.

I thought this considerable inaccuracy could be down to reporting quality. However, its seems more likely that Cllr Harrison is either not seeing the figures in their proper context or is blowing his own trumpet too loudly, or both (lets face it, it wouldn't be the first time a Lib Dem has talked up their environmental achievements in Bristol). He says,

'This approach will make a massive dent in the city's carbon footprint in years to come'.

Any effect on the city footprint is very unlikely to be massive since this approach only applies to new housing, a small proportion of total housing, and in any case housing is only one contributor to our total carbon footprint albeit a fairly significant one. [Authors note 22/6/08 - average footprint per household may well go down a bit but total footprint will rise because of the new housebuilding itself. Office for National Statistics projections show Bristol's population soaring by over 30% , from 410,500 in 2006 to 542,800 by 2031, which will affect all plans, targets and work of the council markedly if/when/as it comes about - See 'Huge rise in Bristol's population is looming', Bristol Evening Post, 14 June]

I'm also wondering how the government 'ambition' of all new homes being zero carbon by 2016 is to be achieved in practice. Building firms are already warning about the impact of this on the number of houses that can be built. I strongly agree with the ambition but in 2008 Cllr Harrison has had to work very hard over several months to get the council to agree to just 20% renewable energy in new build housing - there seems to be far too little drive here if the zero carbon ambition is to be achieved.