Friday, November 24, 2017

What is One Planet Development?

Something special is happening in Wales. The country is using legislation to shift itself into a very different direction from England. It wants to be more sustainable. It wants to reduce its ‘ecological footprint’ to a level that’s fair compared to the rest of the planet’s population and resources.

Spearheading this approach is the notion of One Planet Development.

What is One Planet Development?

Through its Technical Advice Note 6 (TAN 6) and Planning Policy Wales (PPW) the Welsh Government sets out land use planning policies to support sustainable communities. Planning Policy Wales (2016) says:

4.5.11 Closely aligned to the commitments to tackling climate change is the Welsh Government’s approach to reducing the ecological footprint of Wales. Our Sustainable Development Scheme sets out an ambition for Wales to use its fair share of the Earth’s resources, where, within a generation, our ecological footprint is reduced to the global average availability of resources – 1.88 global hectares per person. The current footprint shows that, if everyone on the Earth lived as we do, we would use 2.7 planets worth of resources. Reducing Wales’ ecological footprint will require a large reduction in the total resources used to sustain our lifestyles. The policy and guidance set out here in PPW will make an important contribution to reducing our footprint, whilst delivering sustainable development and tackling climate change.

Section 4 of TAN 6 defines One Planet Developments (OPD) as being exemplars of sustainable development:

4.15.2 One Planet Developments may take a number of forms. They can either be single homes, co-operative communities or larger settlements. They may be located within or adjacent to existing settlements, or be situated in the open countryside.

In other words, anywhere.

However planning guidance exists currently only for OPD in the open countryside. The criteria include:

  1. An initial ecological footprint of 2.4 global hectares per person or less and clear potential to move towards 1.88 global hectare; the Welsh Government provides an Excel-based calculator on its website to help you work out your own footprint
  2. Buildings being zero carbon over their lifetime;
  3. Carbon analysis and improvement plan for the plot;
  4. Biodiversity and landscape improvement;
  5. A community impact improvement;
  6. Transport assessment and travel plan to minimise carbon impact of travel;
  7. Sustainable water supply;
  8. Zero waste (including biological waste – sewage treatment)
  9. 100% renewable energy.
  10. Over a reasonable length of time (no more than 5 years), to provide for the minimum needs of the inhabitants in terms of income, food, energy and waste assimilation from land-based employment.
No criteria of this nature have yet been determined for urban or peri-urban developments but something comparable is anticipated at a collective community level. I believe it is therefore urgently necessary for planning guidance to be set for making both new and existing settlements satisfy, collectively, the criteria to be measurably ‘one planet’ within a generation.

David Thorpe's book about the One Planet Development policy in action

Meanwhile, I run courses on how to do this, based on my book, The One Planet Life, which is a kind of manual and ‘big book of everything’ for sustainable living.

The One Planet Council, of which I am a co-founder and patron, is also a great source of help, both on its website and Facebook page for anyone wanting to do this or find out more.

How to do it

Anyone wanting to pursue this life in Wales, in the open countryside, where one is not normally permitted to build a home, must satisfy the above criteria. In England, sometimes a Local Development Plan can have similar criteria, or an authority can use a Section 106 agreement to permit it, as with Hockerton Housing Project.

To prove their claim in Wales, applicants must submit a planning application containing a ‘management plan’ that sets out their plans to meet these criteria. This includes detailing the land-based businesses they will run to support themselves.

When you have secured planning permission you have five years to meet the criteria. You can also use the ‘one planet’ label on your products that has been developed for marketing purposes by the One Planet Council.

Measurable and provable

The great advantage of this approach, and its ‘unique selling point’, is that it is measurable and provable. There is no doubt that your life will be a little more sustainable. Many times you hear claims about the sustainability of lifestyles or products and developments, but there is no way of knowing how true they are.

a screenshot of the Excel-based ecological footprinting calculator.

Above: a screenshot of the Excel-based calculator. It uses your expenditure as a way of working out your ecological footprint (click to enlarge).

What is an ecological footprint?

The global population is now 7.5 bn. and is predicted to peak at 11.2 bn by 2100 (UN). But the ability of our lovely planet Earth to support life depends on us staying within a number of ‘planetary boundaries’. Humanity passed this ‘biocapacity’ limit way back in the early 1970s. Our collective footprint has been rising ever since:

Earth's biocapacity - graph

As defined by the environmental charity WWF, there are nine ‘planetary boundaries’. Every couple of years WWF produces a brilliant survey called a ‘Living Planet Report’. The last one, in 2016, said that of these nine limits to growth, four have passed safe levels: climate change, biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows and land-system change.

Earth's planetary boundaries - graph

WWF says that humanity now needs the regenerative capacity of 1.6 Earths to provide goods and services we collectively use. But the per capita ecological footprint of high-income nations dwarfs low- and middle-income countries. What will happen if 11.2bn people want North America’s standard of living?

Ecological footprint is measured in ‘global hectares’. It divides the ‘biocapacity’ of land (supply) by human consumption levels (demand). The biocapacity is a measure of the pollution land can absorb and the services and resources it can provide. The demand is the population level times the consumption level. The result is an average of hectares per person, if it were distributed equally between everyone alive. A hectare is 2.47 acres or 10,000 square metres or 0.01 square kilometers.

According to the last report, the fair level is 1.7 global hectares per person.

Not very much. It is the level of the world’s lowest consuming countries, in Africa and the Indian sub-continent.

So we in the UK must move from an average level of three times this (as if, if everyone were living this way, we had three planet Earths – if only!) to one.

Back to Wales

To go back to Wales, the law there contains a goal to make this shift in one generation.

One Planet Living is about showing the way. It is the start of an immense and difficult journey.

  • To enquire about hosting a workshop or course in One Planet Living, email David.
  • The next post in this series will be about moving from individual to collective one planet living, in other words show towns and cities can shift their consumption levels.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Everything you want to know about using Solar Energy is here!

Knowledge as well as solar energy is power! I'm very proud to announce the publication of not one but two new titles that I've been working on for a long time, that distil much of my learning over this period about these essential topics that will help us fight climate change:

  1. Passive Solar Architecture Pocket Reference
  2. Solar Energy Pocket Reference

Passive Solar Architecture covers: the principles of passive solar building and passive house, a ten-step design and build strategy, calculating solar irradiance, factors affecting the choice of building materials, passive heating and cooling principles and techniques in different climates, the Passivhaus Standard and natural and augmented lighting and notes on technology and building occupation.

The book also includes conversion factors, standards, resources and is peppered throughout with helpful illustrations, equations, explanations, and links to further online resources.

Solar Energy covers: solar radiation and its detailed measurement, the emissivity and absorption properties of materials, solar thermal energy collection and storage, photovoltaics (both at all scales), solar cooling, and the use of solar energy for desalination and drying.

The book also includes conversion factors, standards and constants and is peppered throughout with helpful illustrations, equations and explanations, as well as a chapter making the business case for solar power.

Passive Solar Architecture is ideal for practitioners, architects, designers, consultants, planners, home builders, students and academics, and those working in development contexts.

This book is intended to act as an aide memoir, a reference supplement, a resource and an overview of the field. Rich in background detail, the book also includes at-a-glance tables and diagrams, equations and key definitions.

Solar Energy is for anyone with an interest in solar energy, including energy professionals and consultants, engineers, architects, academic researchers and students.

They will find a host of answers in this book – a practical assimilation of fundamentals, data, technologies and guidelines for application.

Just click on the links above to buy them from the publisher,

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

World Green Building Week and the campaign for net zero buildings

Aktiv-Stadthaus, a net zero residential building in Frankfurt
Aktiv-Stadthaus, a net zero residential building in Frankfurt, Germany of 11,700 m2, built in 2015.

It was World Green Building Week last week, with Green Building Councils from across the world campaigning for all buildings to be “net zero” by 2050.

The week promoted the aspirations of the World Green Buildings Council's (WGBC) report earlier this year, From Thousands to Billions – Coordinated Action towards 100% Net Zero Carbon Buildings By 2050, which calls for a dramatic and ambitious transformation towards a completely zero carbon built environment.

The aim is for all new buildings to be operating at net zero carbon from 2030. The WGBC advocates that net zero carbon buildings must become standard business practice as soon as possible, to avoid the need for future major retrofits and prevent the lock-in of carbon emitting systems for decades to come.

It wants to see not just an acceleration of current renovation rates, but these renovations to be completed to a net zero carbon standard so that all buildings are net zero carbon in operation by 2050.

The route to net zero

Ten national GBCs are already working with stakeholders in their markets to create or adopt voluntary net zero carbon building rating systems and support training. These include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Netherlands, South Africa, and Sweden, and UK.

Each national council is developing a program suitable for their markets, and each will respect the following principles:

  1. to use carbon as the key metric
  2. to promote deep energy efficiency
  3. to establish a hierarchical preference for onsite renewable energy, off-site renewable energy, and then offsets
  4. to transparently disclose how each building achieves a carbon balance and promote continuous improvement of the building sector
Achieving the targets would help to ensure that the worst impacts of climate change are avoided, and bring about a number of other political and economic benefits, says the WGBC. These include future-proofing investments, resilience against energy prices, education, technology development and innovation, and new jobs.

The report goes on to describe several net zero buildings in existence today, and suggests that businesses can help by committing to invest in, build or occupy only properties that will achieve net zero carbon.

NGOs have a part to play here. They can help to develop certification programs for net zero carbon buildings for businesses to adopt and support governments to create roadmaps, incentives and tracking systems.

Governments can help by committing, perhaps as part of their work to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, to develop national and/or sub-national regulations for new and existing buildings to achieve net zero carbon standards, as well as themselves occupying only certified net zero carbon buildings before 2030.

One thing governments or NGOs could also do is to keep track of the rates of “deep energy renovation” of buildings in their country.

To achieve the 100 per cent net zero carbon by 2050 goal, this global average rate of renovation must reach three per cent a year if we start in 2017, or higher if we start later.

The current market

But that is currently a distant dream. The best estimates from building inventory studies are that there are approximately just 500 net zero energy commercial buildings and 2000 net zero energy housing units worldwide.

The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction reports that current average renovation rates around the world are just one per cent or less of the existing building stock each year.

The European Union has the highest number of net zero buildings, due to government-sponsored retrofit programs and a history of progressive policies and market interest.

North America is estimated to have the second-largest concentration of net zero buildings. These include many smaller commercial buildings and single-family homes, especially in the western and northeast states.

Residential buildings comprise the highest number and type of net zero projects built to date, but many are single-family homes built as demonstration projects. Office blocks come second by type.

Some public-sector projects built to net zero standards in India, South Africa and the US have floor areas of over 30,000 square metres, but most buildings are under 900 square metres.


There’s an urgent need to identify and overcome the barriers preventing more net zero carbon buildings from being built.

There’s still widespread ignorance that such buildings are possible and, even if a client may have heard of them, a perception that they are either technically difficult, risky or expensive.

This is coupled with uncertainty about which technologies should be deployed and whether energy efficiency or renewable energy should be prioritised.

As a result, client demand is still low and technical know-how rare. Most of the research and evidence has focused on net zero energy buildings – which is much harder and likely more expensive to achieve than net zero carbon buildings.

For example, a 2013 report by International Living Future Institute, New Buildings Institute and Skanska stated that the average cost premium for three net zero energy buildings in Columbia, US was between 5-12 higher.

In practice, investor and owner return on investment in a net zero building can vary greatly, depending on they building type and where it is built, taking into account energy costs, incentive programs and climate policies, such as a tax on carbon.

The need for certification schemes

The WGBC believes that only by introducing voluntary net zero certification can the necessary market transformation occur.

For example, in Australia green building certification schemes promote holistic approaches to sustainable development beyond energy performance (such as water, waste, ecology, materials), and increase global awareness.

The green building market has grown over the past 15 years, including through the introduction of rating tools. Green Star has provided a common language for the property and construction industry to use when describing best practice.

Now, 30 per cent of Australia’s CBD office space has Green Star certification, up from 23 per cent at the end of 2014 and, on average, certified buildings produce 62 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than average Australian buildings.

The benefits to investors are that as the real estate investment market responds to the call to combat climate change, net zero carbon assets will have the lowest operating costs and be the most de-risked and, therefore, highest-quality assets.

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Does opening the Northern Sea Route give Russia a vested interest in not tackling climate change?

Icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov in Arctic Waters along the NSR
Icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov in Arctic Waters along the NSR. Photograph by: TheBrockenInaGlory, distributed under CC-BY 3.0. 
The Russian Federation is driving the development of the Northern Sea Route through Arctic waters – becoming more and more ice free due to global warming – in order to exploit fossil fuel extraction, which it sees as a major economic opportunity. Could it be that Russia has a clear vested interest in not helping to tackle climate change?

By 2022, the volume of traffic on the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is projected by consultants Frost and Sullivan (see below) to reach 40 million tons. In 2016, the volume was already a record breaking 7.3 million tons, representing an annual 35% increase.

Russia is commissioning new facilities for the production of fossil fuel liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the development of infrastructure in the Arctic. This is planned to help significantly increase traffic through the NSR – therefore increasing global warming – and therefore improving the ability of shipping to use this route as the ice melts faster.

The Northern Sea Route and other Arctic sea routes
 The dashed arrow shows the Northern Sea Route (NSR) along the Siberian Coast from Murmansk (Russia) to Cape Dezhnev in Bering Strait.

In his speech to the Eastern Economic Forum, which was held in Vladivostok September 6–7, 2017, President Vladimir Putin talked of the "rich natural resources – coal, oil, gas and metals, as well as low energy prices, which are lower in Blagoveshchensk, Vladivostok and Khabarovsk than in Busan, Seoul, Osaka, Tokyo or Beijing" as being chief among the advantages of opening up the region and developing the Forum.

Putin with President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in at the Forum.

Putin spoke of how the Russian long term plan to make NSR attractive is being developed: "New transportation corridors are being built and ports capacities are being increased to give companies an opportunity to deliver their goods from Asia Pacific to Europe and back, as well as to other regions, as quickly and as cheaply as possible. We are scrutinising the opportunity of building a railway bridge to Sakhalin.

"Taken together with the development of the Northern Sea Route, modernisation of BAM and Trans-Siberian Railway and implementation of other projects, this will help us make the Russian Far East a major global logistics hub."

Industrial output in the Russian Far East has, at 8.6 percent, been more than double the average growth rates in the Russian Federation – the gross regional product grew by 4.2 percent indicating its value to the Russian economy.

Shrinking ice

The Northern Sea Route is the shortest sea route from Asia to Europe. According to experts, because of global warming, after 2050 it will be available for year-round passage of conventional vessels with no ice reinforcement.

The sea ice is shrining fast. At the end of the northern summer this year, the ice surface is down to 4.7 million square kilometers. In the 1970s and 1980s it was roughly seven million square kilometers.

This is why Russia is driving development of the route – not only for pure export of natural resources from the Arctic zone or for the "Northern Supply", but also for container transportation.

According to Dmitry Purim, CEO of PJSC Sovfracht, "the main driver of the Arctic development, the undisputed mainstream, is the realization of hydrocarbon projects".

As the ice retreats, the Arctic routes will become shorter and faster. With the current trend, by 2030 the Arctic will completely get rid of ice in the warm season. So, cargo ships will be less likely to require the help of icebreakers, and navigation will be open at least 6 months a year.

Russian plans

The container traffic on routes where the use of the NSR can potentially give a significant payoff to carriers, is about 455 thousand TEU.

The commercial operation of the NSR is in full swing now, especially in the western part (from Murmansk to the port of Sabetta). The traffic volume can already be compared to the European numbers, say Frost and Sullivan (report sent by email, not yet online).

Evgeny Ambrosov, the First Deputy General Director of PJSC Sovcomflot and Vice-President of the Arctic Economic Council, said at the Forum: "The further growth in freight turnover will be due to the commissioning of new LNG production capacities (Arctic-LNG, Pechora-LNG) and the development of oil and gas fields. By 2025, the NSR will transport about 65 million tons of hydrocarbons."

Commenting on the results of the panel, Leonid Petukhov, the General Director of the ANO "Far East Investment and Export Agency", stressed that: "The development of the NSR is moving in all major directions—the icebreaker fleet is gradually growing, the infrastructure is being upgraded, work is being done to remove administrative and trade barriers; on the whole, conditions are being formed for increasing the volumes of container transportations in the medium term, private (including foreign) investors are involved in the projects."

LNG-powered ships

The fleet of Russia's largest shipping company, Sovcomflot, has recently been supplemented by three new MR vessels (6 in total), and in August 2017, Christophe de Margerie (reinforced ice class Arc-7) gas carrier made its first commercial flight delivering LNG from Norway to the South Korea.

The vessel went through the NSR for a record 6.5 days without the help of an icebreaker. "Christophe de Margerie" is the first gas carrier in a series of 15 vessels of this type planned for construction.

There are some climate benefits for the construction of new vessels using LNG as fuel. According to E. Ambrosov, it will reduce the volume of carbon dioxide emissions by 15%, nitrogen emissions by 80%, and sulfur emissions by 90%. The construction will start in 2019 at the Zvezda plant, and the first ship will leave the shipyard in 2022.

Foreign companies are demonstrating high interest in using the Northern Sea Route. "Japan has two main interests related to the NSR. The first one is the diversification of transport routes between Asia and Europe and the second is the development of the energy base,"  said Shinichi Ishii, senior consultant at Nomura Research Institute, Ltd. "The Hokkaido government has a program to participate in the NSR, and in the future, Hokkaido intends to become a gateway to the NSR."

Reduction in the ice area in summer and autumn makes the NSR more attractive for sea container transport. "On the average, over a decade the ice thickness is reduced by 13%" said Riccardo Valentini, professor at the Tuscia University (Italy) and head of the European Mediterranean Climate Change Center. "We need to improve the accuracy of sea forecasts, ice conditions and seasonal risks."

The thematic panel "Development of the Northern Sea Route. From words to action" was held September 6, 2017 within the framework of the 3rd Eastern Economic Forum with the assistance and support of ANO "Far East Investment and Export Agency".

The discussion gathered a number of industry professionals—representatives of Russian and international scientific organizations, as well as functional and top managers of oil and gas, shipbuilding and transport companies from Russia, Japan, South Korea, China, the Netherlands, etc. Among them was Evgeny Ambrosov, First Deputy General Director of PJSC Sovcomflot, Tero Vauraste, Chairman of the Arctic Economic Council, Vladimir Korchanov, First Vice-President of FESCO, Rene Berkvens, CEO of Damen Shipyards Group NV, Riccardo Valentini, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Head of European Center for the Mediterranean Climate Change, and others. Alexander Dyukov, Chairman of the Board and General Director of PJSC Gazprom Neft, also visited the session.

After the discussion, the session moderator, Managing Director of the Russian Frost & Sullivan office Alexey Volostnov and the Director General of the ANO "Far East Investment and Export Agency" Leonid Petukhov signed an agreement on coordination of activities to improve the conditions for the implementation of the socio-economic development strategy of the Far East until 2020, and on the effective assistance to the development of the Northern Sea Route.

The source for many of the quotes above is the Russian Frost & Sullivan office.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

British homes could cost-effectively halve energy demand by 2035

British homes could cost-effectively halve energy demand by 2035, according to a new report.

Man installing insulation on a roof.

A version of this article appeared on The Fifth Estate on 18 September.

In Britain, as a result of efficiency savings in products and efforts to make homes more efficient, homes now use 23 per cent less gas and 17 per cent less electricity than in 2008. Moreover, the average dual fuel household bill was £490 lower in 2015 than it was in 2004, according to the report from the UK Energy Research Council (UKERC).

The report says homes could save a further average of £270 a year at current energy prices, totalling about 140 terawatt-hours (TWh) – or the rough equivalent of the output of six Hinkley C-sized nuclear power stations – in heat and electricity.

This implies that the UK government would be much better off rekindling its home energy efficiency program – moribund for six years – than investing in new nuclear power stations – although much more electricity will be needed to charge the growing number of electric vehicles.

The report (using the government’s own guidance for policy appraisal) says that such investments would deliver net benefits worth £7.5 billion to the UK economy. This could rise to £47 billion if benefits such as health improvements and additional economic activity are counted.

The UKERC is therefore calling for the government to set a long-term target for energy efficiency – as it did on 26 July with a target to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2040 (a target beaten by eight years by the Scottish Government’s announcement to phase them out in 2032, made five days later).

The Committee on Climate Change believes that as much as 85 per cent of potential carbon emission savings in buildings are at risk of not being realised due to poor take-up of measures, implementation or standards enforcement.

The UKERC report makes an estimate of which of these savings are achievable under three scenarios of increasing ambition:

Table of home energy efficiency savings ranked by action, cost and achievability

This makes clear that more efficient appliances and boilers are easy wins – mostly thanks to EU policies (we won’t mention the ironies of Brexit here) driving greater efficiency in household appliances and boilers, and a new EU Regulation setting a framework for energy labelling, which simplifies and updates the energy efficiency labelling requirements for products sold in the EU.

The tough ones are help with insulation – particularly of walls and floors – and heat pumps. It is here where government support could therefore be most usefully targeted.

This graph shows where savings could be made over the next 18 years, and how much impact savings in different areas will make, compared with making no savings at all (the top dotted line):

Graph of home energy efficiency savings possible over the next 18 years

Source: CCC dataset

What is the cumulative value of this investment in the energy efficiency of the housing stock? The report analyses this in the “cost-effective” scenario. In the graph below, anything below the horizontal line is a cost compared to current levels, and anything above is a saving.

It shows that while the core savings come from energy use and a reduction in emissions and pollution, this has a knock-on benefit in health savings and GDP.

Graph of home energy efficiency savings and costs by method over 18 years

Source: produced from BEIS, 2016 using outputs from CCC dataset model

The headline takeaways are that “one quarter of the energy currently used in UK housing could be cost-effectively saved by 2035”, and that, “allowing for falling equipment costs and including the wider benefits of energy efficiency improvements, it should be possible to cost-effectively halve energy demand in UK homes.

“With innovation in technology and delivery, appropriately supported by government, it is likely we can go significantly further than this too.”

But to do so there needs to be significant policy change and public investment. The report points to the forthcoming opportunity in the expected (and delayed) Clean Growth Plan and National Infrastructure Assessment. Plus, to fill the current policy vacuum a new white paper on heat and energy efficiency is urgently required.

Two years after the government scrapped its Green Deal energy efficiency loan scheme, it has yet to announce a replacement. The company which bought the Green Deal Finance company (and some of the Green Investment Bank's investments from Macquarie) is also yet to announce a new scheme.

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

Monday, September 18, 2017

European battle continues over 2030 energy efficiency target

Members of the European Parliament’s environment committee have voted for a legally binding target of a 40 per cent increase in energy efficiency by 2030, as well as for the closing of a number of loopholes that undermine annual energy savings.

A version of this was published first on The Fifth Estate on 11 September.

In doing so they have set a challenge to the disappointing compromise of 30% delivered by EU energy ministers in June – a non-binding target.

Will the EU eventually settle on a 30% or  40% target when it votes later this year? Battle is raging in Brussels between lobbyists of differing persuasions. It is particularly the coal industries of eastern European countries who are most vociferous in arguing for low targets.

You can tell your Member of the European Parliament what you want them to do by writing to them. Find out who they are here.

The environment committee wants to see Europe's nations being much more ambitious on saving energy in order to reach the Paris Agreement targets. They want to see a change in the text of the redrafted Energy Efficiency Directive from:
"Member States should set their national indicative energy efficiency contributions taking into account that the Union’s 2030 energy consumption has to be no more than 1321 Mtoe [million tonnes of oil equivalent] of primary energy and no more than 987 Mtoe of final energy."
"Member States should set their national binding energy efficiency targets taking into account that the Union’s 2030 energy consumption has to be no more than 1129 Mtoe of primary energy and no more than 825 Mtoe of final energy."

This would represent a saving of 162 Mtoe – or 1884 million megawatt-hours of final energy use.

That’s equivalent to the output of 129,041MW of coal-fired power stations operating at a capacity factor of 60 per cent!

Seen in this way, it’s easy to understand the importance of this battle that is raging between the leaders of European countries and their environmentally inclined  MEPs.

Because of their concern that extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods and droughts are expected to affect many parts of Europe more frequently, the environment committee also called for cities to create their own sets of targets for addressing climate change.

These would represent a system of Locally Determined Contributions, directly linked and complementary to their host countries’ National Determined Contributions, which are what every country has to produce to detail how it will help to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Target low-income households

Buildings constitute a substantial potential for increasing energy efficiency and the buildings sector accounts for 40 per cent of Europe’s energy consumption, making it a sector of prioritised importance for achieving further substantial energy efficiency gains.

The MEPs said they wanted a significant share of the 40 per cent energy efficiency target to be aimed as a priority at improvements to the energy efficiency of buildings that particularly benefit low-income consumers at risk of energy poverty, because they won’t have the means to make the necessary investments themselves.

“Investments in households at risk of energy poverty will reap significant benefits for those households and wider society,” they said. “With around 50 million households in the Union being affected by energy poverty, energy efficiency measures must be central to any cost-effective strategy to address energy poverty and consumer vulnerability and are complementary to social security policies at the Member State level.”

One loophole MEPs want closed is to let Member States have the discretion to decide how best to design measures providing better feedback on energy consumption for occupants of units in multi-apartment or multi-purpose buildings who are supplied with heating, cooling or hot water from a central source.

MEPs also ramped up the target for publicly owned buildings. They want to see three per cent of publicly owned buildings over 250 square metres to be eco-renovated a year – up from the current draft’s target of three per cent of central government-owned buildings over 500 square metres.

Even more crucially, they want to see sales of energy used in transport to be fully included in the targets.

Energy performance of buildings

The committee also called for a strengthening of the new Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings to ramp up the current slow annual renovation rate of European buildings (around 0.4-1.2 per cent depending on the Member State).

Currently, there is an urgent need for widely available financing products that would include and support the positive aspects of energy efficiency renovations, such as the higher asset value and healthier living conditions for the occupants.

If adopted, this would call upon Member States to establish a long-term strategy for mobilising investment in the renovation of residential and commercial buildings, both public and private, to decarbonise the total building stock by 2050.

Spanish energy firm Iberdrola’s director of climate change, Gonzalo Saenz de Miera, has said his company would support this target by “improving the insulation on windows that will reduce the consumption of gas, or by improving the efficiency in the transport sector”.

“We’re not going to provide insulation services ourselves. Energy efficiency businesses will sell their services to companies that are obliged to make the reductions” and make those available using a system of white certificates, he said.

The next step in the European legislative process will be taken on 28 November when MEPs in the energy and industry committee are due to consider it.

Dora Petroula, energy savings policy coordinator at Climate Action Network Europe, commented: “This position brings us much closer to meeting the Paris Agreement goals which require the EU to up its game on energy efficiency. The industry committee needs to follow suit and support a 40 per cent efficiency target and a strong set of rules to ensure all EU countries limit energy waste.”

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bitcoin is the future of local and community renewable energy trading and EV charging

Dr Jemma Green, co-founder and chair of Power Ledger
Dr Jemma Green, co-founder and chair of Power Ledger.

A new bitcoin company has raised AU$17 million (£10.3m or $13.7m) in 72 hours to support a revolutionary technology platform that will allow electricity producers and consumers to trade directly with each other in tiny units of power.

This article first appeared last week on The Fifth Estate.

Power Ledger is at the forefront of a disruptive wave affecting the energy market that will see the end of the dominance of centralised generation and the increasing participation of building owners, smaller renewable energy suppliers and electric vehicle owners in a peer-to-peer marketplace, all made possible by the new, internet-based encrypted currency, bitcoin.

Consumer are the ultimate disruptors, David Martin, Power Ledger’s co-founder and managing director says. “Consumers have said, ‘I don’t want to buy energy from a coal-fired station’, instead saying this model of energy transaction is what they want to participate in’.“The concept of peer-to-peer [energy] trading is something that has universal appeal to customers … it’s a demonstration that the community wants to be part of the power economy of the future.”

“The concept of peer-to-peer [energy] trading is something that has universal appeal to customers … it’s a demonstration that the community wants to be part of the power economy of the future.”

Dr Jemma Green is the other co-founder and chair of Power Ledger. Her background is in financing and accounting at JP Morgan in London but also financing environmental sectors. In 2013 she returned to Perth and did a PhD in Energy Markets and Disruptive Innovation and also featured as a member of our Sustainability Salon for Perth and WA.

In a podcast with website she explains how she came by the idea for Power Ledger. She saw that in Australia 20 per cent of houses have rooftop solar but hardly any are on high-rise apartment buildings. She saw the potential for these buildings acting as energy retailers, supplying their residents, and designed a system for a building in Perth.

However, she was unable to find software that allocated the electricity to each apartment until she met some blockchain developers in January last year, and realised blockchain was perfect for her needs.

A problem was identified with the power grid, which is that if some apartment residents are using local energy, fewer are using the grid and so those consumers will pay proportionately more. Power Ledger was formed in May last year, just after the birth of her daughter, to explore how blockchain could circumvent this problem by allocating small transactions to each apartment.

A pilot project in a retirement village south of Perth from August to December 2016 proved the success of the concept. A second trial was conducted in Auckland with the local network operator and linked up with the banking sector to complete the loop.

Sell your solar power when you’re out and don’t need it

“It means that I can sell to others the electricity I might have utilised when I’m not in my apartment,” Green says.

“Schools and any partially occupied building owners can do the same. If I’m not using that electricity, then it can be spread equally across everybody in the apartment block or network. This also incentivises people to use less electricity as they can sell their unused power and make money.”

Power Ledger’s platform connects to smart meters to tally how much power is generated and how much is used. Its software is installed and the revenue information is extracted into the blockchain. It is priced differently according to the time of day and the laws of supply and demand.

The blockchain can be used to fractionalise the power stored in the battery or that is directly generated, and allocate it.

Some of the power may be owned by a third party. For example, a solar farm can be part owned by investors, say a pension scheme, which recoups the revenue from sales.

Presently, if an apartment has rooftop solar and is selling its surplus back to the energy company it will typically not be paid for 60 days. With Power Ledger’s system, participants can monitor their revenue in real time.

“You could also have a marketplace, and this could bring the price down,” Green says. “Supply and demand would set the price. The cost curves for batteries and solar are coming down. It’s low cost electricity.”

Power Ledger issues tokenised values called Sparkz for a unit of electricity, representing one low-value unit in the host country. Electricity is priced in the local currency. Suppliers will be paid in Sparkz at the local cost of power. If the unit price is 30c/kWh they will receive 30 Sparkz. E.g. 1 Sparkz = 1 AUD.

POWRs are another token, which represent investments in the company. Their price can vary, but this does not affect the cost for electricity for the everyday consumer. It is these tokens which are being offered on the market.

“The more application posts offer these, the more competition there is. We’ve created one billion and are selling 350 million at the moment in an initial coin offering (ICO),” Green says.

“We sold 190 million of these last week to raise 17mAU$ in 72 hours in a public pre-sale of 100 million Power Ledger tokens — called POWRs — and a discounted private pre-sale of 90 million POWRs.

“On 8 September we open the public sales and our supporters and platform users say they want to have the option at buying at a market price. This will be determined by the number of tokens left divided by the amount of money pledged in the sale.”

This sale will last for four weeks. Tokens can be bought from the website tge.Power David Martin believes it is “not unreasonable to expect” that this next offer will raise $20-30 million.

The Sparkz power tokens are effectively a means for markets to trade and self-regulate, says Green. Utilities will purchase the tokens and use them as bonds to trade with customers.

People in the banking industry are a little sceptical of blockchain. This is because there is much vapourware out there, Green believes. “A country’s laws needs to be attached to a project in order to support and validate it,” she explains.

“Power Ledger has a platform, the first in Australia. Our lawyers say our tokens are not a financial product as such, but they are designed to the same standard, with a constitution, shareholders and rules under national corporate law, in order to provide confidence.”

The second pilot was across networks and included banks, which it was really hard to persuade to be involved.

Use bitcoins to pay for charging electric vehicles

In the future Power Ledger hopes to use the experience in a project involving solar-powered apartments in Fremantle, Perth. One of these will possess a shared electric vehicle (EV), charged from the panels, which any member of the public can use.

They will be able to pay for it with the bitcoin platform. They will also be able to charge their own electric vehicle on the charging point. All of this gives the building an income stream on the sale of their generated electricity to EV owners.

This means of selling investment in energy projects could replace power purchase agreements in the future. Instead of a generator selling to a small number of large customers they could sell to many small consumers.

Therefore a developer of a community energy project could sell small amounts to purchasers and in so doing provide liquidity by using the tokens for trading the assets. Power Ledger calls this “fractionalised ownership” or “asset germination”. Green says that this approach will be deployed on a project in the near future and that they are in conversation with financial exchanges that could partner on this.

“Not everyone can afford solar panels,” she says. ‘The people who are paying for it are those who can afford it the least. So our platform will provide low cost renewable power to people who don’t have solar panels while utilising the grid and maintaining its relevance.

“It will also work for any type of electricity. It’s ambivalent about the source, so could be used for wind. Wind and solar are good partners as one is often providing power without the other, lessening the need for storage.”

Green recently attended a gathering hosted by Richard Branson about blockchain on his island where she heard about other social uses for blockchain. For example blockchain is being used to eliminate land theft in places like Georgia and Afghanistan where it’s being used to update the land registry.

“It’s about the democratisation of power,” Green says. “We see ourselves as being a distributed ledger for distributed energy markets. It’s a revolution, away from the one way street of the century old system.

“The old centralised system will continue but we will have a hybrid one. This disruption is happening with our without Power Ledger but what I think our system offers is to do this without the destruction of value.”

David Thorpe is the author of Solar Technology and The One Planet Life.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

UN leads new global push to make cities more sustainable

A meeting of the United Nations General Assembly beginning today, over 5-6 September, is expected to approve the creation of a first-ever official international body focused on urban sustainability – UN Urban.

It signals that the UN is finally getting to grip with the fact that the world is now more urban than not, and rallying itself to address its sustainable development efforts accordingly.

The reorganisation follows last October’s adoption of the New Urban Agenda at the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador by UN member states. This agenda sets a new global standard for sustainable urban development and aims to help the world rethink how to plan, manage and live in cities.

The new body will reform the UN’s current lead agency on urban issues, UN-Habitat, the body tasked with making human settlements more sustainable, but which has lately been struggling.

The proposal for the body represents part of UN secretary-general António Guterres’ drive to bring up to date the UN bodies concerned with development issues.

This, it is hoped, will rekindle the confidence of member-nation donors to finance its efforts.

Earlier this month, a report by a high-level independent panel was published – requested by Guterres – designed to assess and enhance effectiveness of UN-Habitat.

The report made several recommendations. At the top is a transformed governance structure for UN-Habitat that includes universal membership. The transformed UN-Habitat will continue to help member states implement the New Urban Agenda and incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their development operations by providing guidance and tools for strengthening urban work at the country level.

But to help it, the new UN Urban body will be established. This will be “a coordinating mechanism similar to [other thematic UN bodies] UN-Water or UN-Energy, as part of the system-wide UN reform”.

It will have a small secretariat based in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York and “convene all UN agencies and partners on urban sustainability”.

UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said “the secretary-general considers rapid urbanisation and its links with poverty, inequality, public health, migration, climate change and natural disasters to be one of the most pressing concerns of the United Nations”.

A new global Urban Assembly

Therefore, next year, according to the report, the world will see the establishment of a universal “Urban Assembly”, under the presidency of the UN General Assembly, to which UN Urban will report. All member states and their local governments will be eligible to participate. Together, this gathering will define a new set of institutional, financial and citizen engagement strategies.

The need for such an effort is paramount. An unprecedented amount of sustainable infrastructure, building and housing is required around the world as the world urbanises.

Providing this is core to the priorities of the SDGs. Cities are being helped to move towards achieving the 17 SDGs by 2030 by the establishment of platforms for city-to-city learning.

These are called Local 2030 Hub for Sustainability Solutions.

Plugging the data gap

Working out whether cities are making progress in realising the SDGs depends on the provision of accurate data and here there are huge gaps, especially in Africa. Cities also need access to finance and to sustainable energy sources.

All three topics are supported by Local 2030 Hubs. The Local 2030 project, involving 25 UN agencies, is encouraging cities to create their own hubs.

There are plans to create a global data hub in Toronto, as well local and regional hubs in Buenos Aires, Cambridge (Canada), Dubai, Haiphong (Vietnam), Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Makati (the Philippines) and Minna (Nigeria).

The World Council on City Data (WCCD) is among the groups behind the initiative. It seeks to harmonise city data so that cities can compare their performance. It is working with the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and has just released a major report mapping ISO indicators to the SDGs.

This massive 546-page report is the world’s first attempt to standardise data collection in cities everywhere. It optimistically points to a post-2030 future in which all cities have achieved the 17 SDGs, and in which these achievements can be verified and compared.

Cities in the WCCD network highlighted in the report use standardised indicators from ISO 37120 (Sustainable development of communities: indicators for city services and quality of life) to compare their performance, exchange knowledge and share solutions with other cities.

The 38 participating cities include Brisbane and Melbourne, London and Amsterdam, as well as Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Buenos Aires, Johannesburg and Taipei. They have built a numeric reporting system for cities to embrace the SDGs at local level and monitor their progress to 2030.

Many of these cities are rich. Cities after all represent 80 per cent of global GDP. Some have already achieved all of the SDGs. But most cities in the world are far from rich and have a way to go. The successful cities have a responsibility to help the poorer ones and they are doing so. It is this process that the UN hopes the new UN Urban and the Urban Assembly will encourage.

Urban includes rural too

But UN Urban won’t only focus on cities. One of the panellists who produced the report, former Johannesburg mayor Mpho Parks Tau, explained that “UN Urban must challenge the artificial urban-rural dichotomy and work to mainstream a territorial approach to development across the UN”.

“We have called for ‘the urban’ to be understood in its broadest sense: encompassing metropolitan areas, intermediary cities, peri-urban areas, and the rural surroundings with which they are interdependent.”

To this end, the new body will be staffed not just by personnel from UN-Habitat but staff from other agencies with urban expertise, such as UNESCO’s World Heritage Cities Programme and the UN Development Programme’s Sustainable Urbanization Strategy.

The expert panel recommended two priority areas:

  • promoting inclusion in urban development so “no one gets left behind”
  • a focus on the urban planning, legislation and standards, along with environmental sustainability and economic robustness.
It will mean there will be a greater emphasis – budgets allowing, and particularly in developing countries – on training programs, policy guidance, promotion of good urban management governance, and the compilation of research and data on global trends in urban and human settlements.

Looking beyond the daily headlines in the news of war and terrorism – which, though significant, are short-term compared to the immense global challenges the world faces – you could say that the world is slowly growing up and, like any growing individual, unless it does so it will not survive. The above efforts represent attempts by the UN and its allies to accept responsibility for this process.

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Buildings, Solar Technology and The One Planet Life.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Courses in One Planet Living

We are in the process of developing an accredited course in ‘one planet’ living, using my book 'The One Planet Life' as a basis (see right). 
I can offer courses to organisations and venues of any length from a single day’s workshop to a long weekend, week, or year depending on the amount of depth required. The following are already fixed up and filling up:

Current courses:

Sep 10, 2017, Cultivate, Newtown, N. Wales
Oct 14-15, 2017, Coed Talylan, S. Wales
Nov 10-13, 2017, the Centre for Alternative Technology, N. Wales.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Public talk, September 8: The rise of climate fiction

I'm speaking about 'The rise of climate fiction: beyond dystopias and utopias' at the second part of this free event below:

1. Thursday, September 7th, 6pm: Professor Jackson Lears (Rutgers) on “The Return of Animal Spirits: Toward A Vitalist Narrative Of Environmental Risk” A public lecture. To find out more and to register to attend:

2. Friday September 8th, 10-5.30pm: Fate, Luck and Fortune: Popular Narratives of Environmental Risk. Workshop exploring the nature and role of the concepts of fate, luck and fortune in different types of narratives. 

Speakers: Nick Alfrey (Nottingham University), Claire Craig (Royal Society), Karen Henwood (Cardiff University), James Lyons (Exeter University), Joe Smith (Open University), David Thorpe (author and journalist), and Jonathan Wolff (Oxford University). To find out more and to register to attend: 

They are free and will be held at: University of Liverpool in London (Seminar Room 9), 33 Finsbury Square, London, EC2A 1A.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The European Union is losing its way on climate change

New EU rules agreed on 31 July mean Europe’s 3000 large combustion power plants – coal burning for the most part – will have to cut pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, mercury and particulate matter by 2021. But this is not as good news as it seems.

A version of this article was published on The Fifth Estate last week.

Eighty-two per cent of the EU’s coal-fired plants are estimated to be be non-compliant, emitting excessive levels of pollutants. The cost of compliance is estimated to be over €15 billion (AU$22.4b) according to the European Climate Foundation. This seemingly sounds the death-knell for the coal industry in Europe. But will it?

European climate policy is succeeding in decoupling GDP from energy use, but enthusiasm for climate action is waning.

Primary energy consumption and GDP in the EU, graph

Christian Schaible, a member of the working group that helped draft the revised standards, explained that “not all plants will have the will, the financing, or even the access to the equipment needed to reduce pollution levels”.

“Investments in plants that are already essentially on life support in order to meet climate commitments simply doesn’t make sense.”

He said that plants committing to close could “under strict conditions and in exchange for reduced operation, be granted exceptions in the short-term”.

This is a nod partly to Eastern European countries still struggling with and committed to the legacy of inefficient Communist-era power systems.

Graph showing Poland is the biggest polluter of NOx gases from coal plants followed by Germany.
Poland is the biggest polluter of NOx gases from these plants, followed by Germany.

Fossil fuel subsidies

Subsidies for coal continue to abound, as highlighted in a new study, which shows that in Europe, loans of €47.7b (AU$71.1b) have gone to fossil fuel projects since 2013, and many of these projects will continue.

The study, from the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), also shows that 89.1 per cent of preventable deaths from air pollution in Bulgaria come from fossil fuel pollution.

“Fellow Eastern European countries Romania and Poland could also cut air pollution-based deaths by 71.3 per cent and 51.3 per cent, respectively,” it says.

The Rise of the Visegrad Factor

The Berlin’s Institute for International Political Economy Cenk Olgun said: “The most vehement opposition to ambitious European climate policies have historically come from the post-Soviet eastern member States,” in particular the Visegrad Group (founded in 1991 by Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia) because the bloc “still struggles with a post-communist economic legacy and conventional power sectors”.

Energy prices and domestic fossil fuel consumption are especially important issues in these countries. They are highly dependent on imported gas and oil.

The Visegrad Group has succeeded in obtaining a high number of free emission allowances from the EU:

Pie chart of countries free emission allowances from the EU

Hungary currently holds the presidency of this group and its declared objectives for the coming year are to promote energy infrastructure, security (meaning more gas and LNG, both seen as a way of weaning off coal) and competitiveness, striking its own idea of a “balance between economic growth and meeting climate policy goals”, and expressing anxiety about “carbon leakage” and “investment leakage”.

Permitted emissions

These Eastern European countries are being permitted to increase their greenhouse gas emissions up to 2020 under rules announced on 20 July. These permits to increase are proposed in the Effort Sharing Decision limits released by the European Commission.

Graph of GHG emission limits for EU member states within the overall European target in order to decarbonise the non-Emission Trading Scheme sectors

These allocate climate targets to each member state within the overall European target in order to decarbonise the non-Emission Trading Scheme sectors – transport (except aviation and maritime shipping), buildings, agriculture and waste.

The overall European emissions target is a 30 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. The UK’s share of this will be 37 per cent – equivalent to a 45 per cent reduction on 1990 levels. The UK has a domestically agreed Fifth Carbon Budget, which has passed into law and commits it to cutting emissions by 57 per cent on 1990 levels by 2030 – further than the proposed European limits.

Then there’s Brexit

The effect of the UK leaving the European Union has not yet been translated into the effect on Europe’s climate goals. As the UK’s emissions savings compensate for emissions increases in other nations, there will be a knock-on effect. Other nations will have to improve at a faster rate.

But this is not reflected in the above 2030 limits. By 2030 the UK will, on its present path, have been out of the EU for a decade.

This oversight is part of the impression coming out of Europe that its climate policy is in disarray.

We saw this in June with the passing of an ineffectual draft of the revised Energy Efficiency Directive.

In addition, the Energy Performance of Buildings directive – agreed by the national governments and the European Parliament – is not being effectively implemented, according to energy efficiency expert Andrew Warren. He complains in a recent piece that “Article 27 of the Directive requires our government to introduce ‘effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties’ for non-compliance with the directive. These don’t exist.”

Countries very rarely prosecute building owners for non-compliance. The last study of compliance in 2015 found: “In general, information flows and data collection systems across member states for MEP requirements were not fit for purpose” – amongst many other problems with implementation.

The Energy Union strategy and the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement commits to staying “well” below 2°C, while pursuing efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. Taken with other countries’ pledges the EU’s would lead to global emissions of at least 55 GtCO2-e by 2030. But the absolute maximum level of emissions for staying below 2°C would be 40 GtCO2-e. To close this gap, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has asked all countries to reduce their 2030 emissions by at least another 25 per cent.

The currently proposed EU energy efficiency target of 30 per cent is too low to meet the Paris Agreement goals. Looking at energy savings alone, by totalling the amount of savings reported by member states in 2014 and 2015 the total savings target is currently on track to be below zero.

One of the few good signs is in France’s newly published climate action plan. This states that France will push the EU to increase the ambition of its emission reduction targets. Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, said this “sends a clear message to the whole EU that the full implementation of the Paris Agreement means much deeper emission cuts”.

There is now only a five per cent chance that the planet can avoid warming by at least 2°C come the end of the century, according to research published in Nature Climate Change.

The recent deadly heatwaves in southern Europe look likely to be just a taste of what is to come unless far more drastic action is taken by the European bloc. It could mean over 150,000 people a year dying from heat by 2100 if nothing is done, said The Lancet Planetary Health journal.

The European Union used to lead the world on climate change action. This is not the time for it to lose its nerve.

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Buildings, Solar Technology and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

Monday, August 14, 2017

How shall we feed the future cities?

54% of the world’s population were living in urban areas in 2016. That is predicted to rise to 66% by 2050 according to the United Nations (UN). How will we feed them sustainably? A couple of recent reports offer some valuable pointers, but in this complicated topic, have they missed something?

How to feed ourselves properly is one of the biggest questions facing the human race. Food provision can either worsen or improve climate change, biodiversity, health and soil quality. Poor food provision can lead at its worse to wars, to refugee crises, to mass starvation.

We are feeding ourselves without regard to the biosphere that nurtures and protects us. This is partly why we are in the middle of the sixth greatest species extinction in the history of the planet.

To an extent, the mess we're in is because we have mostly left food provision to the private sector. This is primarily interested in short term profit and does not factor in the external costs of their activities on their balance sheets. These costs include pollution, soil loss, climate change, diet-related health crises.

Governments at all levels need to implement policies to correct this tendency.
 What Makes Urban Food Policy Happen report cover

A new report, What Makes Urban Food Policy Happen? looks at these issues and contains insights from case studies. It is a substantial effort from The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, and examines ways in which cities can design and maintain highly-developed, integrated food-related policies.

But first, more about the context:

The general picture

Ten facts show how much there is to do:
  1. Global population (currently 7.5 billion) is scheduled to peak at 11.2 billion by 2100 (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2017).
  2. As many as 795 million people were still food insecure in 2015 (FAO et al., 2015).
  3. Two billion suffer from the ‘hidden hunger’ of micronutrient deficiencies.
  4. Over 1.9 billion adults are obese or overweight (IFPRI, 2016).
  5. One third of agricultural land is degraded (Status of the World’s Soil Resources, 2017)
  6. More than enough food is produced for today’s global population ( The Global Food System: an Analysis, 2016) but much is wasted and doesn't get to everyone.
  7. Of the nine 'planetary boundaries' assessed by WWF in its 2016 Living Planet Report four of these global processes have passed beyond their safe boundaries (climate change, biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows and land-system change).
  8. Humanity currently needs the regenerative capacity of 1.6 Earths to provide the goods and services we use each year (WWF).
  9. The per capita Ecological Footprint of high-income nations dwarfs that of low- and middle-income countries (Global Footprint Network, (GFN) 2016).
  10. 1.7gha is the available per capita share of ecological biocapacity now - this will decrease with a rising population (GFN). (That means that, if we all had the same equal share of land to support ourselves it would be just 1,700,000 square kilometres each. It sounds a lot, but not when you include all the other species on the planet.)

Global Ecological Footprint by component vs Earth’s biocapacity, 1961-2012
Global Ecological Footprint by component vs Earth’s biocapacity, 1961-2012. Carbon is the dominant component, and the largest component at the global level for 145 of the 233 countries and territories tracked in 2012, mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels. The green line represents the Earth’s capacity to produce resources and ecological services (i.e., the biocapacity). It has been rising slightly, mainly due to increased productivities in agriculture (Global Footprint Network, 2016). Data are given in global hectares ( gha).

Map: The relative ecological footprints of different countries.

The relative ecological footprints of different countries. High income countries have a much higher footprint. WWF's report says: "Consumption patterns in high-income countries result in disproportional demands on Earth’s renewable resources, often at the expense of people and nature elsewhere in the world."

As more people become wealthier and live in cities, they will expect their consumption patterns to rise. If we have to feed more people, and reduce our consumption of the Earth's resources to within planetary boundaries, what can we do?

WWF's report says: "root causes include the poverty trap, concentration of power, and lock-ins to trade, agricultural research and technology." To these I would add: ignorance of the sustainable alternatives.

Concentration of power and lock-ins to trade

Much of the problem has been analysed by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).

Their analysis argues that to increase food security we need "policies and programs to diversify diets and improve micronutrient intake; and developing and deploying existing and new technologies for the production, processing, preservation, and distribution of food".

WWF's Living Planet Report agrees, adding that we need a change of mindset – to adjust our 'systems thinking'. "For instance, individual consumers can change their purchasing behaviour, or people with greater political or economic influence can formulate strategies for policy change."

Four certainties arise from this. We need:
  1. More locally produced and varied diets;
  2. To generate less food waste;
  3. To take care of our soils;
  4. To eat less intensively-reared meat.
Why? Well, just a handful of mega-companies dominate global food production. In food trading there are only four agricultural firms: ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis-Dreyfus, who exert huge influence.

They affect biodiversity through massive land-use intensification and land conversion – habitat loss, and, with just a few crops, a dramatic loss of genetic diversity.

As a result, 75% of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species (FAO, 2004). Large-scale monoculture operations mean high volumes of chemical inputs equating to pollution, carbon emissions and soil degradation.

Grassland (23% of the Earth's surface) is ideal to retain as grazing for ruminants (since this system of farming supports the soil and sequesters carbon).

But indoor, intensive rearing of animals has the opposite effect. This is mostly because they need feed (soya and grain). A staggering third of agricultural cropland is used to grow this animal feed. The ecological footprint is huge, especially when rainforests are cleared to provide this food.

Eating less of this type of meat would have multiple benefits: on animal welfare, the land, transport impacts, greenhouse gas emissions and human health.

Systemic patterns in the food system – agricultural subsidies, trade agreements, commodity markets – need to alter to effect this change, as do mental habits – such as the belief that higher economic status means higher levels of consumption, especially of meat.

Feeding cities

Cities used to feed themselves from their hinterlands – which were nearby. Now food can come from anywhere in the world. Mapping the ecological footprint of food consumed in cities nowadays would be a huge and complex task.

Then there's the problem of equity. Good, nutritious food may enter a city but does not necessarily reach everyone. Many urban neighbourhoods are poorly served by markets and stores selling healthy, cheap foods, contributing to high incidences of obesity and diet-related ill-health in those areas.

The ‘New Urban Agenda’, adopted by the UN Habitat III conference in October 2016 (Quito, Ecuador) to guide the urbanization process over the next 20 years, makes commitments to improving food security and nutrition, strengthening food systems planning, working across urban-rural divides and coordinating food policies with energy, water, health, transport and waste.

Also, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 (United Nations, 2015) include one to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ and many of them address food in one way or another.

In response, a growing number of city governments are developing urban food policies.

Ten examples of urban food policies

Feeding our cities in a way that regenerates the planet's ecology is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity. Many cities are developing policies to tackle this issue, while others have not even begun to consider it.

Empress Green, Staten Island, New York.
Empress Green, Staten Island, New York.

Cities have limited (and variable) powers and responsibilities to deal with food issues within their boundaries. Some of the issues are dealt with at national level, others not at all. 

To generate a policy to tackle these issues typically requires different government departments and policy areas to talk to each other and new bodies to be established.

Urban growing in the town of Colomb, near Paris, France
Urban growing in the town of Colomb, near Paris, France.
Most policies have targeted actions with specific goals – such as addressing health or food waste. These can later be incorporated into more general, integrated food policies, as understanding of the issues increases amongst participants.

The policies form just one part of the broader scale food systems change that is ongoing. This consists of overlapping policies at local, national, regional and global level.

Types of policy

Hundreds of cities around the world have food policies or governance structures. They are often focussed on specific food-related issues such as:

  1. Lack of access to nutritious food (for example the Public Policy on Food Security, Food Sovereignty and Nutrition in Medellin, Colombia, which includes improving agricultural production in the city districts);
  2. Obesity (for example the Healthy Diné Nation Act, Navajo Nation, US – a tax on junk food);
  3. Climate change and waste (for example protection of the “greenways” in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Fasso, and the zero waste policy in San Francisco, US)
  4. Reviving the local economy and providing jobs, especially for women (for example urban agriculture policy in Cape Town, South Africa; and the Central Market programme in Valsui, Romania)
  5. Leveraging existing policy responsibilities (for example public food procurement) to achieve new ends
  6. Rethinking urban planning systems to achieve multiple win-wins (for example the Policy for Sustainable Development and Food in Malmö, Sweden)
  7. Or a whole a range of different urban challenges (for example the Toronto Food Strategy, Canada).

Toronto Food Strategy, Canada
Toronto Food Strategy, Canada

Ten examples of urban food policies

  1. 140 signatory cities (as of April 2017) of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, launched in late 2015, have committed to working towards “sustainable food systems that are inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse” — and to encouraging others to do the same.
  2. The concept of City Region Food Systems has taken off, which involves a "network of actors, processes and relationships to do with food production, processing, marketing, and consumption” across a regional landscape comprising urban, peri-urban and rural areas. This is particularly exciting because it aims to maximize ecological and socio-economic links and co-governance by both urban and regional players:
     City Region Food Systems concept diagram
     City Region Food Systems concept diagram
  3. The UN Committee on World Food Security is preparing policy recommendations on “Urbanization and rural transformation: implications for food security and nutrition”, to be put forward later this year.
  4. The C40 Food Systems Network is a workstream of C40. In cooperation with the EAT Initiative, it supports the efforts of 80 global cities to develop and implement measures to reduce carbon emissions and increase resilience in food systems.
  5. EUROCITIES’ food working group is a “creative hub” for sharing information, ideas and best practice on urban food between members of the network of elected local governments in 130 European cities. Its new report will be out next month.
  6. The UK Sustainable Food Cities Network has 48 member cities that are developing cross-sector partnerships to promote healthy and sustainable food. Its Policy 1.2.1 calls for "the establishment of statutory Food Partnerships in each regional, metropolitan and local authority in England built on broad civil society and cross-sector participation":
    map of UK Sustainable Food Cities Network
  7. The Association des Régions de France signed the Rennes Declaration for Territorial Food Systems in July 2014, through which they committed to promoting agriculture and food policies for territorial development, economic development, and sustainable use of natural resources.
  8. In the Netherlands, 12 cities, one province and three ministries signed the CityDeal “Food on the Urban Agenda“ in early 2017. Not only will the cities and province include food in their own plans and strategies, but they are also collaborating to build an integrated food strategy for the whole country.
  9. Dame Ellen MacArthur – who sailed single-handedly round the world – calls cities “great aggregators” of resources and materials – especially nutrients from food. The opportunities to collect and reuse these is described in her Foundation's latest publication, URBAN BIOCYCLES, which "highlights the opportunities to capture value, in the form of the energy, nutrients and materials embedded in the significant volume of organic waste flowing through cities, through the application of circular economy principles":
    URBAN BIOCYCLES report cover
    Cover of URBAN BIOCYCLES report
  10. Gunhild Stordalen, from the EAT Forum in Sweden, believes food is the main issue around which coalesces all the others: climate change, poor health, social inequality, soil loss, biodiversity loss. "Food is the biggest driver of climate change. There is no scientific consensus on solving these interconnected problems. We need action to change this and to end the disconnect between consumption and production".  Her work encourages collaboration across sectors globally. "We need new business models as much as new practices."

Gunhild Stordalen speaking at the Harmony in Food and Farming conference, July 2017.
Gunhild Stordalen speaking at the Harmony in Food and Farming conference, July 2017.

These are all very exciting, but we are only at the beginning. The potential is huge for involving cities' populations in providing their own food, and linking them back to the origin of their food, and so to nature – a connection all too easily lost in urban life.

The issue of feeding cities sustainably is gradually rising up the political agenda.

Six cities leading in urban food policies

There is evidence that we can feed the future Earth's population of 11.5 billion even if 70% of them live in cities, without reducing the Earth to one big intensive farm and increasing climate change. And if we can learn from six existing cities on how they are beginning to tackle this issue, then there's a chance we can actually do it.

The productivity question

If the amount of food produced per hectare at present can be increased then it will be possible to feed more people with less land as the population of the world increases. Big agriculture uses the argument that it alone can do this to justify its continuing grip on food policy and research, and to push for more genetically modified crops and chemical inputs.

But are they right? Firstly, reducing chemical inputs (nitrate and phosphate fertilisers and pesticides) should be an important policy aim. This is because they are produced using fossil fuels, reduce biodiversity, pollute our watercourses, harm health and, year-on-year, deplete soil fertility and soil carbon.

In the nineteenth century Paris fed itself by obtaining 6-7 harvests a year from its surrounding hinterlands. It did this by using thermophilic (heat-generating, from manure) composting in conjunction with a high labour input and what we'd call today agro-ecological methods, according to regenerative cities expert Herbert Girardet.
Herbert GirardetCreating Regenerative Cities by Herbert Girardet book cover.
Creating Regenerative Cities by Herbert Girardet (left) book cover.

Of course, Paris would need a lot more land now as it's far bigger, but 6-7 harvests a year? That's more than big agriculture can manage.  It turns out there are four strategies to get more from less land and feed more people in cities:

1. GM crops are acceptable and useful for resisting pests and drought as long as the seeds are 'open source' and do not lock farmers in to using specific products. They are more resilient and do improve productivity.

2. Vertical farms growing leafy vegetables claim to be able to produce over 12 harvests per year. They're being developed in many paces, such as the CityFARM project of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab’s City Science Initiative. In New Jersey, New York State, Aero Farms has built the largest indoor farm so far. It is 130 times more productive per square foot annually than a field farm, uses 95% less water, 40% less fertiliser, and no pesticides. Crops that usually take 30 to 45 days to grow, like the leafy gourmet greens that make up most of the output, take as little as 12. With aquaponics and hydroponics, potatoes, root vegetables, and fish such as tilapia can be provided.
Aero Farms' indoor farm in New Jersey.
Aero Farms' indoor farm in New Jersey. There is a synergy between fish and vegetable growing involving aquaculture and hydroponics.

3. Agro-ecological smallholdings are more productive than farms. Data from a conversion of a Welsh sheep farm to this type of horticulture has shown a 30-fold increase in productivity, without subsidy. In addition they improve biodiversity and soil fertility year-on-year through composting and employ more people to keep a closer eye on each square metre of land. Animals (dairy, fowl, pigs) are used productively as part of the growing cycle.

In cities, growing areas using these methods should be encouraged through education. Such mini-farms can be extremely small and so fit in well within and around urban areas. Ribbon developments an draw their sustenance from the land either side. Growing can also be done on rooftops and back yards (also tackling urban air quality and over-heating). 'Patchwork farm' arrangements such as Farmdrop in London are springing up whereby multiple producers use mobile technology to coordinate direct sales to customers of organic produce.

The Marta farm, 20 km outside Havana
The Marta farm, 20 km outside Havana. Cuba is leading the world in regenerative urban farming.
4. Diet change. We will have to get used to the idea that to feed half as many more people, we need to adjust our diets and eat less meat and grain. As mentioned in the first article, grassland grazing should be kept to provide meat, but intensive indoor livestock farming reduced because of their respective positive and negative effects on soil quality and climate change. This leaves the production of grains and large-scale pulses like soya. These will have to continue to be grown in fields for bread and other products, but in a more regenerative way,  more and more organically using natural pest control techniques.

Cities to learn from

The IPES report, What Makes Urban Food Policy Happen?, contains five case studies: Belo Horizonte, Nairobi’s Urban Agriculture Promotion and Regulation Act, The Amsterdam Healthy Weight Program, Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Action Plan and Detroit’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance. Shanghai provides an additional example as it is forging ahead with vertical farming.

The following are only summaries. Much more detail on how the projects came about, the problems they faced and what we can learn from them to replicate elsewhere, is contained in the IPES study.

Belo Horizonte

Belo Horizonte food market.
Belo Horizonte food market.
Belo Horizonte is a much-praised pioneer in this area. Its government-led alternative food system runs in parallel to the conventional, market-led system.

Programmes are delivered in partnership with civil society, private companies and municipal departments and reach around 300,000 citizens — 12% of the population — every day.

In 2015 the School Meals programme served 155,000 children in the public school system, while the Popular Restaurants served over 11,000 meals per day.

Food is provided locally, creating jobs and educating children about the link between food and the land. There are 133 school vegetable gardens and 50 community gardens. The Straight from the Country programme supports 20 family farmers and  21 grocery stores are in the ABaste-Cer programme.


Children benefiting from the Amsterdam healthy food programme.
Children benefitting from the Amsterdam healthy food programme.

Amsterdam aims to eradicate overweightness and obesity by 2033.

Unlike obesity programmes in other cities, its policy contains integrated actions across the departments of public health, healthcare, education, sports, youth, poverty, community work, economic affairs, public spaces and physical planning, and organizations from outside local government. It seeks to address the structural causes, including the living and working conditions that make it difficult for people to ensure children eat healthily, sleep enough and exercise adequately. It aims to make the healthy choice the easy choice, and create a healthier urban environment.

The policy was driven by one man: Eric van der Burg of the liberal-conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. The policy was given no initial budget, in order to show what could be achieved through cooperation and taking joint responsibility.

Golden Horseshoe

Map showing the reach of the Golden Horseshoe Toronto hinterland food supply programme.
Map showing the reach of the Golden Horseshoe Toronto hinterland food supply programme.
The Golden Horseshoe region runs around the western shores of Canada’s Lake Ontario, including the Greater Toronto area and neighbouring communities. It is densely populated with rapidly expanding cities of educated, affluent professionals.

In 2011/12 seven municipalities adopted a common ten-year plan to help the food and farming sector remain viable. This Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Plan 2021 has five objectives:

  1. to grow the food and farming cluster
  2. to link food, farming and health through consumer education
  3. to foster innovation to enhance competitiveness and sustainability
  4. to enable the cluster to be competitive and profitable by aligning policy tools, and
  5. to cultivate new approaches to supporting food and farming.

Its broad aims and membership have achieved much but also seen conflict arise between advocates of small-scale, ecological agriculture and so-called "big agriculture". Face-to-face meetings are sorting out differences but unfortunately no major food company is represented.


Children in Detroit enjoying locally produced food.
Children in Detroit enjoying locally produced food.

This post-industrial ghost town is reinventing itself using urban farming. In 2012, the Detroit City Plan was updated to feature urban agriculture as a desirable activity, acknowledging the environmental, economic and social benefits.

2013's Detroit Future City Strategic Framework made it a priority for all city stakeholders in order to accelerate economic revival, address land use issues, improve city services, and foster civic engagement. It gave urban agriculture a zoning ordinance, thereby formally permitting, promoting and regulating certain types of food production as a viable land use.

This planning barrier is often a vital issue facing those who want to practice urban farming, especially indoors with “vertical farms”. Entrenched attitudes and vested interests are still being dealt with. This is in the nature of all attempts at “system change”.

But Mayor Mike Duggan has stated a preference for vacant land to be put in the hands of local residents for growing food. Detroit contains several vertical farms, often built in disused warehouses. These grow food organically in controlled conditions, recycling water and nutrients, and using low carbon LED lighting.


Vertical farms exist in an increasing number of cities around the world such as Anchorage, Berlin, Singapore and Tokyo, providing fresh vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and salads, fish, crabs and other foods.

Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District
Cutaway diagram of part of Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District
China is leading the world in vertical farming in cities. It's been pioneering the research for many years. Atop the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, indoor patches of tomatoes, lettuce, celery and bok choy yield between 40 and 100 times more produce than a typical open field of the same size.

Now China is planning a 100-hectare urban farming district in Shanghai, which has a population of 24 million. The Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District, designed by US-based firm Sasaki Associates, between Shanghai’s main international airport and the city center, will use urban farming as a living laboratory for innovation, interaction, and education. Construction is expected to start in late 2017.

There will be a range of techniques, including algae farms, floating greenhouses, green walls, and vertical seed libraries. An interactive greenhouse, science museum, aquaponics showcase, and market will help to educate children about where their food comes from.


There is no shortage of solutions to the related crises of food, health, climate change and city design. But, from ordinary citizens to government ministers, people need to be more engaged in where their food comes from and what they eat.

Every planner and architect, every health professional, and every educationalist deserves to explore this, for, when it comes down to it, we are what we eat. And what we eat ultimately determines the fate of the planet.

David Thorpe is the author of The One Planet Life, a Blueprint for Low Impact Living.