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RBWM Liberal Democrat Response to the Climate Emergency Strategy Consultation

October 14, 2020 8:30 PM
By Karen Davies

Windsor Long Walk

Cllr Karen Davies, shadow lead member for climate change and sustainability on behalf of the RBWM Lib Dem Group.

We remain committed to an earlier target date for net zero carbon emissions in RBWM than the given 2050 date target aligned with current Government policy, which we believe must evolve rapidly anyway to avoid global warming in excess of 1.5%. We are grateful to the many local activists and experts who have given their time to comment on the strategy already, and to Cllrs Brar, Bond and Del Campo who have made individual responses, and will not duplicate comments but will draw together several themes which we believe are important. We are grateful to the Wilds in particular for their input on the Natural Environment strand and would just reiterate our belief in the need to secure the status of assets such as Battlemead and Thrift Wood.

In the Circular Economy strand, we are supportive of all the actions identified but want to see them expanded and implemented with a much greater sense of urgency, with action dates brought forward. Reducing residual waste is the key objective in this section and the single use plastics strategy being developed by Plastic Free Windsor can contribute much to this.

Concerned that disposable nappies and wipes form 5% of all the Borough's residual waste, we are already working with interested parties to find seed funding to start a Reusable Nappy library and want to see the council introduce incentives to support and encourage parents to use reusables at least some of the time. Cllr Simon Bond has mentioned the benefits of 'hot compost bins' in his response and these are both examples of the types of schemes which could be promoted through partnerships with commercial organisations, perhaps promoted as Advantage Card offers.

To improve recycling rates, we want to see the specialist recycling centre trial start sooner than 2022 and to also be a flagship Terracycle drop off point within the Borough, combined with a Climate Change hub, where residents can get information and education as well as bringing their recycling.

Education for members, officers and residents is key to developing and maintaining the necessary actions to effect and sustain change, as is engaging with those who are not already engaged.

In the Transport strand, we would like to a see a more joined-up approach to promoting active transport, with more attention paid to local journeys within local areas (to schools, local shops etc) as well as into the town centres, with low traffic neighbourhoods. Air Quality Management Areas are a particular concern.

Finance must not be the elephant in the room. The current financial climate within and outside RBWM understandably makes for a cautious approach but we believe that rather than agreed actions on climate change being constrained by the availability of funding, we should decide what action needs to be taken and find ways to pay for it. Cllr Simon Bond's response describes some of the issues around financing the just transition to net zero emissions and the role which can be played by community organisations such as MaidEnergy. Other local authorities are participating in renewable Energy schemes such as Solar Together, which enables group-buying for solar panels and battery storage and we would like to explore this, as well as finding out more about following in Windsor Castle's footsteps by getting involved in hydropower opportunities.

Individual member submission

Cllr Simon Bond, Belmont ward.

I fully support the Environment & Climate Strategy adopting a trajectory for reducing emissions that is based on the latest scientific evidence.

Other responses to the Strategy consultation will no doubt cover a range of topics so my response focusses on two financial aspects:

I have also added a comment on the topic of 'hot composting'. Whilst my comments address the climate side of the strategy, I would not want to detract from the importance of biodiversity.

Financing the transition

Achieving a just transition to net zero emissions will require significant investment, though economists have said it is not excessive when measured against our gross national income and the sooner we start the less it will cost in the long run. The economics is changing as costs for technology such as solar photovoltaic panels and wind turbines have reduced so that in some cases these renewable energy sources are now cheaper than conventional energy. The cost of battery storage is also falling, offering the prospect of solving the conundrum of renewable energy's variability.

Being able to generate competitive renewable energy with minimal or zero subsidy is a big win but the investment will still need to be raised. Some of the options that could be considered are shown in the appendix. This may be pushing on an open door as the financial markets will follow the economics. Companies are no doubt ready and willing to play a role and be part of the solution.

Financing the transition is not just a challenge to the public sector but also to the private sector to find suitable instruments to direct savings into investing in the new economy, and to civil society such as MaidEnergy to leverage their role and groups such as RBWM Climate Emergency Coalition. I've been fortunate to have been invited to a couple of events by a civil society organisation called Footsteps (https://footstepsbcf.org.uk/) which is active in Birmingham and has been examining the role of finance in the transition.

Transparency, pension fund investments and climate-related risk

It is high time the Berkshire Pension Fund fully recognised its broader responsibilities and declared that it is a responsible investor with a long-term time horizon that takes environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into account in its decision making. ESG is not a 'nice to have' add on, if you are investing for the long term you need to do so with the grain of the economy, finding rewarding opportunities in the new economy and disengaging from those sectors where the clock is ticking down.

Pensions investing is all about sustainable long-term value creation with 'engagement' being a critical aspect. Engagement means working with the companies in which the fund invests to change behaviour to the benefit of both parties - it is not about lobbying or shouting from the sidelines! It encompasses both direct engagement with management and how the fund votes at AGMs.

The Pension Fund needs to be much more transparent on climate-related risk. As long ago as 2015, following the Paris climate agreement, the previous Governor of the Bank of England (when chair of the FSB, the Financial Stability Board) launched the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD), which led to Mark Carney being described to me (by an actuary no less) as the climate rock star! Clauses 41A and 41B of the Pensions Bill currently before Parliament will make TCFD disclosure mandatory for larger pension funds by 2022 and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is expected to take a similar approach to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) once the Bill is passed.

These regulatory changes are all about trustees and others responsible for pension funds (such as local councilors with quasi-trustee roles) thinking through climate-related risk in relation to their pension fund. They are intended to avoid it becoming a 'tick box' exercise where the responsible body simply nods through recommendations put before it.

There is a lot that the Berkshire Pension Fund can learn on this subject from private sector 'final salary' pension schemes and other LGPS funds (including some run by Conservative administrations).

The Pension Fund's current investment manager already has access to a range of tools it needs to assess and disclose climate-related risk which it uses for the other pension funds it manages. These include the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) which assesses companies' preparedness for the transition to a low carbon economy. This tool can be used for many investments quoted on exchanges.

The main committee responsible for the Pension Fund, the Berkshire Pension Fund Panel, should not shrink from discussing this topic in public. Currently those who ask questions are given an impression of obfuscation with a typical comment being, "Do we assume that the Fund is heavily invested (in old economy fossil fuel extraction companies) if no-one will tell us that it is not?" (In this instance I defended the Fund with the information available). The Pension Panel has started to tackle climate-related risk but still has a way to go, especially in terms of transparency.

Whilst this issue is primarily one for the committees responsible for the Pension Fund rather than the Environment & Climate Strategy, it is such an important topic that it would be perverse not to mention it in the Strategy.

Hot composting

I'm a keen advocate for my latest personal lifestyle contribution to slowing climate change: hot composting - where even a smallish garden can have a sort of insulated dalek in the corner, kitchen waste and weeds go in and just a few months later soil-improving compost comes out. This saves both me and the council money so could also be viewed as having a financial aspect.

Appendix

Some of the options for financing the just transition to net zero are:

Ask the government

In favour:

Against:

The council's internal resources

In favour:

Against:

Borrowing

The council could borrow, e.g. short term (current interest rate around 1%), from the Public Works Loan Board (longer term, typically at 2.8%) or by issuing 'municipal bonds' (typically 1.2% for a five year term).

In favour:

Against:

The council is already budgeting to borrow a very significant sum and in practice has probably already reached its limit on borrowing and paying interest from its revenue account.

Community funding

A community organisation like MaidEnergy could expand its role with individuals making their own judgement on the risk / reward profile and investing on a crowd funding basis (typically returns to investors are around 4%).

In favour:

Against:

Individual Member Submission

Cllr Mandy Brar, Bisham and Cookham ward

RBWM Environment and Climate Strategy Public Consultation

In June 2019, RBWM declared an environment and climate emergency. As part of the commitment, it was agreed the council would review the carbon footprint:

The public consultation document is a pretty coloured version of the one passed by council, but with one important addition. It shows what happens at 1.5 degree warming (Paris agreement target) and the shocking consequences of 2 degrees. However, it never states that scientifically, the easy straight-line reduction plan of RBWM is precisely that for a 2-degree warming.

The RBWM target is 10mtons CO2, but the scientifically calculated need for 1.5 degrees is 5 Mtons (half that amount). The big issue is then next few years are all important. Start on the wrong trajectory, and its too late.

RBWM ignored totally the advice from the Tyndall centre for Climate Change, despite a specific report being prepared. It ignored the government-sponsored Scatter Tool that advises councils on approach. It showed that the current plan of RBWM is the least ambitious possible.

The original draft said RBWM would take advice from the Tyndall Centre, but it was ignored and the reference was removed.

A learned academic paper from world class experts points out the errors of the councils in following the committee for climate change paper:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14693062.2020.1728209

The CCC supports all greenhouse gas reduction and must consider aviation and carbon mitigation technologies. The RBWM strategy does not its about carbon dioxide only and the energy use of citizens. That is the reason the government sponsored Anthesis to produce the tools and also Tyndall Centre.

In 1.13, it says strategy was by consultation. No it wasn't, It says it will use best practice. Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, and particularly Manchester have set aggressive targets in line with science. RBWM was introduced to the people at Tyndall and Manchester City Council.

There is also consistency with the local plan. The BLP had 6 out of 10 clauses about wind energy but it is not mentioned in the Climate Strategy.

To review household waste collection regime to deliver increases in recycling. RBWM must prepare a review of the benefits of recent changes to waste collection and make recommendations on future provision, with the aim to increase household recycling to 50% by 2050.

Why has the Council chosen the path to 2 degrees warming.?

Individual Member Submission

Cllr Catherine del Campo, Furze Platt ward

Activities outside our operational control (Appendix 1, page 34)

The goal of the borough is to achieve net-zero emissions by the year 2050 or earlier. However, the draft strategy excludes emissions relating to activities outside our operational control, stating that leisure centres run by third parties, investment properties and contractor activities will not be included in our emissions data.

The draft strategy states that procurement teams will look at ways to contractually require contractors and operators to reduce emissions, but it will be impossible to measure progress if we don't include them in our baseline emissions figures. And without those baseline figures, we won't in the future be able to accurately declare net-zero emissions.

Interestingly, the borough's schools are included, even though many are outside of local authority control.

The strategy should be updated to: