Category: Guest blogs (Page 1 of 8)

How should we respond to rising energy prices?

This guest blog comes courtesy of Marco Hacon, the Energy Team’s new Sustainability Champion Assistant. 


A picture of power masts around sunset.On the 5th of January, a group of twenty Conservative MPs and peers published a letter in the Sunday Telegraph calling on Boris Johnson to tackle the rocketing cost of living. I don’t make a habit of reading the Sunday Telegraph. But, the article was forwarded to me by a friend and, having been charged with writing a blog entry on energy, I thought it would make the perfect subject for my first piece. 

In the letter, the writers helpfully remind us that “high energy prices… are felt most painfully by the lowest paid.” Of course, it’s hard to argue with this reasoning. But, it would be easier to think there’s no ulterior motive had this not come from the same people who refused to maintain the £20 universal credit uplift.

Indeed, the letter was organised by Craig Mackinlay, the chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny group. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re a group of plucky politicians intent on keeping the government in check against net-zero commitments. Unfortunately not. They claim that “we have almost uniquely caused our energy prices, through taxation and environmental levies.” The implication? That Britain’s environmental policies are to blame. These are the same policies that are currently to just hit net zero by 2050, arguably too late to stop significant damage.

So, here’s my take on what has really caused the increase in energy prices and what can be done to prevent further increases. First, the increase is a result of a combination of factors. Primarily, the combination of rapid global economic growth after the COVID recession, an incredibly cold and lengthy winter (in the Northern Hemisphere), and lower than necessary supply. 

This lower than necessary supply is the result of decreased global investment in oil and natural gas infrastructure after their price dropped in 2014 and 2020 and delays to essential maintenance because of global lockdowns. This is felt more acutely in the UK, which only has the lowest gas storage in Europe capacity to hold 2% of its annual usage in storage (compared with France and Germany at 25%) after closing sites such as Rough storage. This has left it at the mercy of global wholesale energy markets. These aren’t currently in the UK’s favour with LNG demands from Asia having jumped to avoid blackouts and to keep industries operational, particularly after events like Fukushima. Add weak investment in low carbon energy technology and sources, such as renewables, biofuels, energy efficiency and electricity grids, and you can see why supply hasn’t been able to match soaring demand.

It is worth mentioning that geopolitics is also at play. Although they don’t directly supply the UK, exports from Russia’s state-owned Gazprom, which usually provides one-third of Europe’s gas, are at a six-year low. While the company claims this is because of low storage levels and increased domestic demand, it is quite a coincidence that this comes at the same time as heightened tensions with Europe over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline

The upshot doesn’t look pretty. In Britain, after an initial price cap rise (the maximum price suppliers can charge customers on a standard tariff), about 15 million households saw their energy bills rise by 12% in October. This trend is set to continue with predictions of a further 50% increase after a cap review in April. To cover the costs of failed energy suppliers, the average energy bill could go to almost £2,000 a year, up from £1,138 in 2021. Of course, businesses are also impacted, especially for industries that rely heavily on gas and oil.

To solve this problem, it would be misjudged to cut environmental levies and remove energy taxes. In fact, the opposite is required, greater investment and emphasis on clean energy would reduce reliance on other sources and increase overall resilience to shocks. In the short term, the most vulnerable people and businesses require financial support. After all, is it their fault that a free and competitive energy market has failed them?


Photo of Marco HaconMarco Hacon is currently studying for a Master’s degree in Environment, Politics and Development here at King’s. Before this, he worked in a few start-ups and scale-up companies with social purposes, where he gained a basic understanding of sustainability. He is a strong believer in a just and equitable clean energy transition. He is excited to write about this as well as more King’s-related energy topics for the team’s blog. He also wants to help develop toolbox talks for King’s staff and teams that centre on how to use energy sustainably.

A welcome from Katie Gard, King’s Climate Education Assistant

Photo of KatieHello!

I’ve recently joined King’s Sustainability Team as their Climate Education Assistant, and I’m really excited to have taken on this new role. Part of my responsibilities includes developing educational resources which can facilitate climate engagement, including the KEATS Module Seminar Series and our Vision for the Future workshops, which will take place in 2022.

Prior to working at King’s, I taught in multiple international schools and most recently worked as an Academic English Tutor at the University of Exeter. I also volunteer within the Child’s Rights sector, in which climate change is becoming an increasingly urgent part of the conversation. My work experience has allowed me to meet so many people across the world and taught me that addressing climate change effectively is dependent on the needs of different individuals, societies, and communities. It has also shown me that there are many perspectives on how we can address climate change, which I hope means that there are many solutions, too.

During the pandemic, I decided to change my career and am now studying Social Sciences at King’s. It’s great to be part of the sustainability initiative at my own university. Given that I’m studying Social Sciences, I’m mostly focused on the societal aspects of sustainability, an example of which is climate justice. I believe that climate initiatives must also consider, and strive to mitigate, the degree to which climate change will further exacerbate social inequalities. I believe that ensuring equity shouldn’t only occur when addressing the negative impact of climate change but should also be enacted within any potential solutions. One of my personal aims within this new role is to ensure that social sustainability is central when discussing climate.

I look forward to meeting many people across the King’s community as we work to make the university more sustainable.

This article was originally published on the central King’s News pages here.


King’s ranked second in the People & Planet University League

King’s recognised for commitment to environmental and social sustainability

King’s has been ranked second out of 154 UK universities in 2021 People & Planet University League. Rising from 21st place in the previous ranking in 2019, King’s also placed first among the Russell Group universities. This ranking reflects King’s continued commitment to environmental and social sustainability.

The People & Planet University League ranks universities based on their environmental and ethical performance. It is compiled by the UK’s largest student environmental campaigning network, with universities scored against 13 categories, ranging from ‘Environmental Policy and Strategy’ to ‘Sustainable Food’.

King’s received an overall score of 79.5%, achieving 100% for staff dedicated to championing sustainability, the rigour with which we assess our environmental impacts, and our education for sustainable development. The ranking also recognised King’s commitment to wider social impact. High marks were awarded for our accreditation as a Living Wage employer, for in-sourcing our cleaning and security staff, and embedding social and environmental considerations into our supply chain.

I am delighted that King’s has been ranked second in the UK and first among the Russell Group universities in the People & Planet University League. We know we still have work to do but this ranking recognises the tremendous efforts of our students and staff who are dedicated to championing environmental and social sustainability across King’s.Professor Evelyn Welch, Senior Vice President (Service, People & Planning)

In addition, People & Planet scored King’s highly for our sustainability policy and targets, commitment to carbon reduction, and student and staff engagement. Our staff Sustainability Champions programme has grown to more than 500 members, demonstrating the university-wide commitment to sustainability that this ranking recognises.

Our ranking in the People & Planet University League reflects the wider commitment and progress that King’s has made to maximise our positive impact across our university, and we will continue working with our students and staff to create positive change. Our Sustainability Champions and Climate Action Network are just two examples of how our engaged community is making a difference, and we look forward to sharing our forthcoming Climate Action Plan soon.Kat Thorne, Director of Sustainability

As a university committed to making a difference in the world through our research, education and service to society, we recognise that maximising our positive impacts is as important as reducing our negative impacts. At the start of 2021, we fully divested from all fossil fuels, almost two years ahead of target, and we have reduced our emissions by 53 per cent from 2005-06 to 2019-20. As we work towards our net zero carbon target, we are engaging our communities across King’s to help us to achieve this goal. The King’s Climate Action Network gives all students and staff an opportunity to contribute to the development and implementation of our Climate Action Plan and take meaningful actions towards solutions to the climate crisis.

King’s also recognises it can have a significant impact on sustainability through education. There are over 100 modules related to sustainability and climate change across the university, including ‘Sustainability and Ethics’, ‘Sustainable Cities’ and ‘Literature, Climate and Futurity’. Through the recently launched online co-curricular module, ‘Sustainability & Climate’, all students and staff can gain a meaningful understanding of sustainability, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how related issues are relevant to their degrees, work and career goals. We plan to continue our work in this area, and an in-depth audit of our curriculum against the SDGs will be carried out in the next few months, with the goal of ensuring all students at King’s have access to education on environmental and social sustainability.

Find out more

Delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals

King’s College London has a long and proud history of serving the needs and aspirations of society. We are committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a university, and we use them as a framework for reporting on our social impact. The SDGs are a set of 17 goals approved by the 193 member states of the United Nations (UN) which aim to transform the world by 2030. This ranking demonstrates our commitment to delivering all 17 SDGs and particularly 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17.

Why are disabled voices needed in climate change discussion?

This guest blog post was written by Poppy Ellis Logan (she/her) in celebration of the UK Disability History Month running between 18 November and 18 December 2021. Poppy is researching population preparedness for power outages for her PhD with the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response, based in the IoPPN. In her spare time, she is Co-President of the KCL Neurodiversity and Mental Health Society. For more information on either, contact k20120570@kcl.ac.uk or president.NDMH@gmail.com


Why are disabled voices needed in climate change discussion, and how does this link to the disability history month theme of hidden impairments?

The climate change discussion is not just about prevention, but also about the response. The climate emergency is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather and environmental hazards around the world. The term typically used for the consequent events is ‘natural disaster’, however, there is a growing argument that this terminology fails to reflect the fact that these disasters are governed by human decision-making. This decision-making includes the planning, preparation and response to such events, and influences how extensively the local community are affected.

Disabled people experience marginalisation, inequality, and discrimination in many settings, including during disasters. Around the world, disaster planning and response are often not inclusive, failing to accommodate access and functional needs and thereby placing disabled individuals at a greater risk than others. Although policy progress is being made, with the Sendai Framework calling for disability inclusion in disaster management, we continue to see access and functional needs being overlooked. This applies to the climate emergency; local government associations are often unclear on the impacts of climate events on disabled members of the community and rely on local disability groups to advise them about how to even communicate with disabled people (despite 15% of people living with a disability). Consequently, timely warnings, evacuation routes, public shelters and relief or recovery efforts are often inaccessible.

This is a problem. In a disaster context, information is vital – both in terms of providing a warning for an event, and for ensuring that the public is well-informed about what is happening and what they can do to protect themselves. If this information is not accessible or if accessible formats are disrupted due to an event, people who require alternative forms of communication are left behind. On another level, social support typically plays a vital role in disasters, with mutual aid and altruism as a common theme across a range of events. However, disabled people are more likely to be marginalised, and thus may be less likely to receive social support from neighbours. Moreover, simply a practical level, people with alternative communication needs or hidden impairments are less likely to receive the right support from both their neighbours and emergency responders. The consequence is that disabled people may rely substantially on each other, on assistive technology, or on close personal networks for accessible disaster information.

These issues around communication and accessibility have perhaps been less visible during the ongoing COVID-19 disaster, possibly because we have been locked down in our own spaces, with continued access to online networks and digital devices. However, there is a risk that wider conceptions of disability and of ‘vulnerability’ in a disaster now become shaped by COVID-19, despite widespread criticism of their formulation and usage from disabled communities. The likelihood of this could be decreased by centring disabled voices in planning and decision-making for a range of events. Better representation of the diversity of disability in planning and decision-making could reduce the tendency to categorise disabled people into one homogenous ‘vulnerable’ group. Such makeshift categorisation is both ‘Othering’ and leads to assumptions around presumed vulnerability in a disaster context that fails to recognise the diversity of disability, the role of the environment in ‘disabling’ an individual, and the strengths and resources that disabled people may be able to bring to disaster settings.

One crucial point underlying this is the understanding that vulnerability is not static. Access and functional needs are very much context-dependent, and the needs (and members) of Priority Groups will vary from one disaster to another. Those deemed ‘clinically vulnerable’ during a pandemic may be very well prepared to cope during a blizzard. The people who may be affected by severe weather events are therefore not the same as those in our current conception of disability and vulnerability during the pandemic.

As an example, people around the UK are currently managing the effects of both Storm Arwen and Storm Barra. Both storms have resulted in power outages. During Storm Arwen, the access and functional needs of people with disabilities that are clearly reliant on electricity for their management were overlooked, despite media attention. The literature on power outages has previously identified that people who use electronic medical devices will be placed at risk by such events. However, there is a gap in the literature about how best to accommodate these needs. Moreover, it is less widely understood that power outages could remove all social support, crisis alert and information sources available to a person with alternative communication needs common to many hidden impairments.

Accommodating for a range of access and functional needs (including needs that are unrelated to disability) in disaster settings is something that has seen improvements, but still has a long way to go. To speak frankly, involving more disabled voices could cut out a lot of steps – there is nobody better to provide knowledge, experience and insight into access and functional needs during an event than the people who actually experience these needs each day. Universal inclusion may be a pipedream, but it might be easier to trust that the response for the next climate-induced disaster will consider the needs of people who use sign language, have unpaid carers, or require controlled medications, if people with a range of disabilities were prominently represented throughout the planning.


Find out more about the KCL Neurodiversity and Mental Health Society here. Also have a look at the Disabled Students Network and the Disability Awareness Society.

Check out Access King’s and the events they have lined up for the UK Disability History Month. This is the Staff Disability Inclusion Network at King’s College London.

Too Good To Go from King’s Food

This guest blog comes courtesy of Ellie Blackmore, Marketing & Content Coordinator for King’s Food.


For every meal eaten in a UK restaurant, half a kilogram of food is wasted. Whether that’s scraps, leftovers or food past it’s Best Before date, it’s a growing problem, especially in the capital.

Graphic showing a paper bag with the Too Good To Go logo and below text reading "We've got magic bags that need rescuing. Download Too Good To Go to save a meal today"Many individual restaurants are taking a stand against food waste with the help of charities and businesses aimed at tackling the problem. At King’s Food, we recently teamed up with Too Good To Go – an app that allows users to reserve a ‘Magic Bag’ of food from restaurants all over the UK, for 1/3 of the retail price.

 

Too Good To Go was founded in 2015 and now has 7.2 million users across Europe and North America, with 8.2 million Magic Bags being rescued so far. According to Too Good To Go, “saving one Magic Bag from being wasted saves 2.5kg of CO2 equivalent – the same as would be produced by charging 320 smartphones” – that’s a lot of CO2 for a bag of croissants and sandwiches! While it was disappointing to not see food waste feature more at COP26, businesses are taking this issue into their own hands. Not only does food waste cost the environment; it costs businesses money too. According to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Program), food waste from UK restaurants adds up to £682 million a year.

Too Good To Go offers an innovative way to not only prevent food waste, but help restaurants cut some of their losses too, something that is all too important after the pandemic took its toll on the hospitality industry. The app is used by some of the biggest names in London convenience food – Pret, Starbucks, Greggs and Costa. Delicate pastries and baked goods from places that would normally be out of a student’s budget are more accessible via the app too – try the famous brownies from Konditor, decadent cheesecakes from Orèe and seeded spelt rolls from Planet Organic.

So, how do you use it? It’s so simple to help reduce food waste and get a discounted meal from your favourite restaurant!Picture of a paper bag with a croissant, apple, sandwich, and a breakfast pot. Download the app here and search for your favourite restaurant or cafe in your local area. King’s Food has 9 outlets listed across all campuses. Since joining the app in August 2021, 211 Magic Bags have been rescued from our cafes. On top of this, our outlets offer 50% off food that’s about to hit its Best Before date, 30 minutes before closing. So, if you’re not after a whole bag of goodies, you can head to Chapters (Strand), Wohl Cafe (Denmark Hill), or any of our cafes to grab a bite right before they close.

Reducing food waste in these ways is the best of both worlds – food doesn’t go to waste, and you don’t go hungry on the journey home. All while saving money. Bon appétit!


Note: Magic Bag and 50% off stock depends on availability. Some days, there is no stock left to reduce – this is a good thing! Less stock leftover = less waste.

 

Doughnut Economics: Amsterdam’s response to the lack of sustainability in cities

This guest blog comes from Lou Lefort, a third-year student of BA Social Sciences in the Education, Communication and Society Department (Faculty of Social Sciences and Public Policy).


In 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the worst impacts of climate change could be irreversible by 2030. In 2021, the COP26 was designated as “the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control”. A strengthening of the global response to the climate threat is urgently needed, by way of combined efforts towards sustainable development.

It is in this spirit that, in April 2020, the College of Mayor and Alderpersons approved the Amsterdam Circular 2020-2025 strategy. Despite the already steep fall of the world’s economies due to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the City Council saw the situation as an opportunity for a more sustainable start.

The Amsterdam City Portrait

Towards a sustainable city

Today, the world’s urban population is estimated to be around 4.4 billion people (International Institute for Environment and Development, 2020), and is expected to keep increasing over the years. However, cities are not sustainable. As hubs of consumption, they are connected to supply chains all around the world and their food, transport and energy networks induce a massive ecological footprint.

It is through a circular economy strategy that Amsterdam strives to become sustainable and maintain an ecological balance. Circular economies seek high rates of recycling, refurbishment and reuse in order to reduce the use of new raw materials and avoid waste. The Amsterdam Circular Strategy was approved with the objective of halving its use of new raw materials by 2030 and achieving a fully circular city by 2050. Rather than an obstacle, the slowdown of all activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing a brief thrive in nature, was considered as an exceptional opportunity to introduce new politics. Working with the Dutch government and the European Union, the City of Amsterdam selected Kate Raworth’s Doughnuts Economics to implement and satisfy the demands of climate change and sustainability.

The Doughnut Economics

Firstly published in 2012, Doughnut Economics thrive for “meeting the means of all people within the means of the planet” (Raworth, 2012). The doughnut represents the “safe and just space for humanity” (Figure 1.). The inner ring is the social foundation, standing for life’s essentials that no one should fall short of, such as food, health, education or peace. The outer ring is the ecological ceiling of the planet. It constitutes the planetary boundaries not to overshoot to remain sustainable, such as air pollution, ocean acidification or ozone layer depletion.

A visual representation of the doughnut by Kate Raworth. It shows the social foundation (e.g. energy, water, food) and the ecological ceiling (e.g. ozone layer depletion, climate change). In between these two, there is "the safe and just space for humanity".

Figure 1

The economist Kate Raworth vouches for a thriving economy, dismissing the contemporary imperative for endless growth. She rejects Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth as a measure of economic success and instead, advocates for this dashboard of indicators based on objective values and grounded in human and ecological flourishing. In practice, the Doughnut must be transformative to shift the long-term dominance of capitalist growth, through the enacting of new regulations and institutions embedded in nature. In addition, it must be regenerative by design. Biological materials need to be regenerated and technical materials restored, in order to close the cycles of use and avoid waste. Finally, the Doughnut in practice must also be distributive. Wealth, education and empowerment should be equally accessible to all and circulated by a bottom-up and peer-to-peer pooling of knowledge. The objective is to redistribute resources, power and control to decentralised networks in ways that address inequality while supporting innovation and representation in the fight against climate change.

In order to satisfy these demands in the context of Amsterdam, the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) created the Amsterdam City Portrait, in collaboration with Biomimicry 3.8, Circle Economy, and C40. Analysing the city life and its impact through four lenses – social, ecological, local and global – the portrait presents what it would mean for Amsterdam to thrive as a city. It essentially asks a 21st-century key question:

“How can Amsterdam be a home to thriving people, in a thriving place, while respecting the wellbeing of all people, and the health of the whole planet?”
(Amsterdam City Portrait, 2020, p.3)

The analysis is made through recent and relevant data from official sources to give a holistic snapshot of the current status of the city. The portrait is a result of a cross-departmental collaboration within the city, between its municipality, businesses and residents. It also required input from internal and external stakeholders, such as private and non-profit organisations. The application of Doughnut Economics relies on technological solutions to manage environmental risk, focusing on biomimicry in cities. The plan is to use scientific and technological knowledge to ‘work like nature’ and reproduce healthy local ecosystems. From the use of ‘bee-hotel bricks’ to the incorporation of green roofs, the City Doughnut provides a smoother and achievable transition from the capitalist economy while benefiting the planet, by scaling down ecologically destructive and unnecessary industries.

In order to keep track of the progress and determine the social and ecological impact of the transition, Amsterdam developed a monitor. It will identify the areas which need more work to reach their targets in time and ensure the city keeps its promise to become fully circular by 2050.

Application and challenges

The Doughnut Economics’ motto aiming to “meet the means of all people within the means of the planet” (Raworth, 2012) is an ambitious vision that cannot be fulfilled without active participation across the whole community. The DEAL and its collaborators stressed the importance of bringing together the city stakeholders to bring about change in a thriving manner. To ensure the participation of every willing Amsterdammer, they held workshops in seven diverse neighbourhoods to hear their vision and priorities concerning the city. Everyone is invited to participate and share their ideas, as the emphasis is put on the citizen-led aspect of the city’s transformation. The aim is to empower and connect the citizens while giving greater recognition to the existing community networks. Such collaboration between the residents, the businesses and the municipality enables the identification of common goals, making them co-authors of the Doughnut strategy. One of the Doughnut’s principles is to “nurture human nature” (Amsterdam City Portrait, 2020, p.18) by promoting diversity, collaboration and reciprocity. Such a mindset strengthens community networks and trust, helping to create social and ecological benefits. It can encourage citizens to consume locally, to exchange services, but also to respect each other, and hence, each other’s environment. As a result, the City Portrait was created by and for the people of Amsterdam, including them in each step of the process from decision-making to the sharing of tasks via community-based projects.

However, practical challenges can impede these ideas. Despite the City Doughnut aiming to always engage critically with power relations, the distribution of power can be limited. It is important to acknowledge who came to the Doughnut workshops, but also who did not, and why. Some citizens might not have been able to attend the workshops or to voice their concerns. Different actors present different types of knowledge, and some types of knowledge may be favoured. As a transformative practice, Doughnut Economics seek to enact new laws and regulations, and will consequently work more closely with the political actors. It is vital to keep the citizens in the loop and maintain the idea of distributive responsibility in the context of policymaking. For this purpose, it is crucial that the sources and methodologies to extract data on the city and its ecological footprint remain transparent and critical.

As a developed European capital, another practical challenge will concern Amsterdam’s choice of investment and imports, which can both hinder the social foundations as well as the planetary boundaries imposed by the Doughnut. The port was identified as a major practical issue, being the 4th busiest in Europe and the world’s single largest importer of cocoa beans (ibid. p.12). The labour conditions of cocoa workers are often exploitative, undermining their rights and well-being. The portrait remains optimistic and presents the many innovative companies that have been developed as alternatives, or the civic organisations committed to the defence of human rights.

 

To conclude, Amsterdam’s response to becoming more sustainable relies on Doughnut Economics which can be summarised as striving to ensure life’s essentials for all people, within the planetary boundaries. Following a transformative, redistributive and regenerative design, the city’s circular transformation seeks to be citizen-led, allowing Amsterdammers to be at the core of the process, from the decision-making to the implementation. Nonetheless, some practical issues remain and must be carefully monitored.
Overall, the adaptation of Doughnut Economics in Amsterdam represents real and hopeful progress for the development of sustainable cities and the fight against climate change.


References

C40 Knowledge Community. (2020). Amsterdam’s City Doughnut as a tool for meeting circular ambitions following COVID-19. [online] Available at: https://www.c40knowledgehub.org/s/article/Amsterdam-s-City-Doughnut-as-a-tool-for-meeting-circular-ambitions-following-COVID-19?language=en_US

Doughnut Economics Action Lab, Circle Economy, Biomimicry 3.8 and C40 Cities (2020). The Amsterdam City Doughnut. [online] Available at: https://www.kateraworth.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20200406-AMS-portrait-EN-Single-page-web-420x210mm.pdf.

Gemeente Amsterdam (2015). Policy: Circular economy. [online] English site. Available at: https://www.amsterdam.nl/en/policy/sustainability/circular-economy/.

International Institute for Environment and Development. (2020). An urbanising world. [online] Available at: https://www.iied.org/urbanising-world#:~:text=The%20world’s%20urban%20population%20today,1900%20and%2034%25%20in%201960.

Raworth, K. (2012). A safe and just space for humanity. [online] Oxfam Discussion Paper. Available at: https://www-cdn.oxfam.org/s3fs-public/file_attachments/dp-a-safe-and-just-space-for-humanity-130212-en_5.pdf.

Raworth, K. (2018). Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist. London: Random House Business Books.

THE ALTERNATIVE UK. (2018). Are there holes in “doughnut economics”? Kate Raworth takes on a major critic. [online] Available at: https://www.thealternative.org.uk/dailyalternative/2018/6/28/raworth-doughnuts-critics.

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/

What is success? COP26 and beyond

What will “success” at COP26 look like? Glasgow is different from Paris: it is not about signing a single treaty, but about the sum of its parts: the accumulated pledges of each country, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Dr Tamsin Edwards from the Department of Geography shares her thoughts about the global climate summit.


“What’s COP?”, asked my friend last week. It’s a bit unfair of me to quote him: he lives abroad, where media coverage is likely to be less blanket-like than in the UK; I didn’t use the full acronym “COP26”; and I gave no context (in fact, he was asking about my health).

But it’s a useful reminder that other people’s worlds are not revolving around the two week event that started today in Glasgow. For many of us working in climate change, life is currently consumed by COP26: reading about it, worrying about it, teaching about it; organising and writing talks for events there and elsewhere; talking to the news and recording podcasts; writing blog posts and opinion pieces about…well, what, exactly?

What will “success” at COP26 look like?

So I suppose the obvious reply might be: COP26 will be a success if climate scientists crunch the numbers of the final NDCs and find the predicted warming successfully meets the Paris Agreement target. But this is difficult to define, for a few reasons.

First, there are officially two targets: to limit warming “well below” 2°C, and to “pursue efforts” to limit at 1.5°C. So would success mean a predicted warming of 1.8°C? 1.7°C? 1.6°C?

Second, many would say these targets are not strong enough. We are already seeing changes to our weather at our current warming of 1.1°C. Each further tenth of a degree will make these changes more frequent and severe, and will make it more likely to trigger irreversible, long-term changes such as collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. A strong narrative has built up that we must limit warming to 1.5°C — rather than “pursuing efforts” to, which implies something higher — to limit the damage as much as possible.

Third, predictions of warming are inherently uncertain. Warming could be higher or lower than the central prediction. So only a central prediction below 1.5°C would have a better than 50:50 chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

Fourth, pledges are not the same as policies: the nuts-and-bolts plans of how to cut emissions using tools such as laws, taxes, grants, and encouraging behavioural change. The UK published their long-term strategy just-in-time before COP26, but few countries have plans with as many details. And they must be credible: Australia’s plans, for example, appear to be neither accurate nor physically possible. Without detailed and realistic plans for how to cut emissions by 2030, all talk is just…hot air.

And policies are not the same as reality: they must be successfully implemented, effectively enforced. There can be good surprises too, of course: faster-than-expected improvements in technology, energy efficiency, behaviour change. Future implementation is not necessarily something by which we can judge the success of COP26, but it is important to consider when assessing those Nationally Determined Contributions and any plans to achieve them.

Finally, there are other important aspects to COP26 that I haven’t discussed here (see explainer below): progress on these, or lack of, will also add to the bigger picture feelings of hope or disappointment.

I’m never a fan of binary thinking. The outcomes of COP26 will lie on a sliding scale, where it is unlikely we can reach the end — and the end is not clearly defined — but even a near-miss could be seen as successful in the stated aim to “keep 1.5 alive”. I agree with Christiana Figueres (former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and legend of the Paris Agreement) that some people will judge it a relative success and others an abject failure. This is inevitable when different groups are applying, at best, different value judgements and aims, and at worst, simplistic binary thinking, to outcomes that are not completely straightforward to categorise. I also agree with Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Climate Change Committee which advises the UK government, who has said that COP26 will be seen as successful if people describe it as successful: in other words, if this is the dominant narrative emerging afterwards. We should ask, of course, which groups will determine that narrative?

It’s important to acknowledge that much of the progress of this COP26 has been made well before the meeting itself. Countries have been stating net zero aims and converting these into short-term targets and official Nationally Determined Contributions for the past few years. Without any action, we had been heading for a world 4°C warmer, or more. But given the policies we have already put in place, we are predicted to be heading for just under 3°C, perhaps a little lower. Under the official pledges updated before last month — if successfully translated into effective policies — we would limit warming to around 2.5°C. And since then, another 25 countries have updated their pledges.

Progress, yes, but by the minimum metric of limiting warming to below 2°C, nowhere near enough. Global emissions under the Nationally Determined Contributions are predicted to flatline or slightly increase this decade — China, for example, only aims to peak by 2030 — but limiting warming to 1.5°C requires us to cut global emissions by around half by 2030. By this measure, it is extremely unlikely we will see a prediction of 1.5°C warming for the final NDCs after COP26, though I remain hopeful we can improve beyond the current 2.5°C once they are all submitted and final. Keep an eye on that Climate Action Tracker

Glasgow is a very important push point, but not the only point at which we can make progress. After COP26, countries can always increase their ambition outside the five year update points of the Paris Agreement (most obviously, when governments change, as for the USA). Countries responsible for around three quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have adopted, or are considering, targets to reach net zero by 2050 or 2060: if successful, the predicted warming would be around 2°C (and if we were very lucky with the climate, perhaps as low as 1.5°C). This isn’t enough yet either, but it shows that this month’s pledges are not the only part of the story.

Longer-term, I think few people are aware that climate scientists also talk about the possibility of overshooting and then coming back. If could limit our rise above 1.5°C to just a couple of decades, this will be a better outcome than the fixed final temperature that I think most people imagine.

To put it more succinctly:

It’s never too late to do as much as we can.Greta Thunberg, The Andrew Marr Show, 31st October 2021

So 1.5 is still alive, but it’s on life support. We need to bring it out of critical care and into recovery: getting stronger month on month, year on year.

What does success look like elsewhere? I’ve been extremely fortunate over the past three years, with opportunities like co-authoring the first part of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report and a related study, co-presenting the BBC Radio 4 series 39 Ways to Save the Planet, and co-directing an expanding MSc Climate Change.

But it hasn’t been sustainable, especially with the post-chemo fatigue (cognitive and physical) that seems persistently worse since February, so I went part-time in September. It’s been a time of tying up loose ends and passing things on. I think the hundred or so masters students are starting to settle in, with grateful thanks to co-director James Porter for helping them so much. I’ve taught four of my five weeks of climate science this term to them and our first year undergraduates. The King’s Climate Hub research network is going from strength to strength, thanks to incredible support by new coordinator Rachel Harrington-Abrams. The 39 Ways series is done. I’ve talked to interesting groups in the run-up to COP26, ranging from a huge, exciting event hosted by Stowe School (Schools’ Climate Action) to a lunchtime event for general counsel lawyers who want to make their business resilient to climate-related risks, as well as recording podcasts and other interviews (links below). In the next two weeks I’ll finish the teaching, travel to Glasgow to do a few events (also below), then round it off with a talk to a lot of vets.

I certainly haven’t yet been successful in going part-time. But I’m saying no to new events, projects and roles to make up the difference and rest after COP26. Success for me will therefore mean not a flatlining of activities, nor a slight increase, but substantial cuts: though hopefully not year-on-year until 2030.


This post was originally published on the All Models Are Wrong blog. You can read the original post and find a list of Tamsin’s COP26-related activities. She also includes an explanation of what COP26 is, or why it’s particularly important, and if you don’t know your NDCs from your UNFCCCs. It has since also been published on the King’s website here.

Why should you become a Sustainability Champion Assistant?

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant, supporting the King’s Energy Team.

With a new academic year approaching, you may be thinking about how you can get involved in sustainability at King’s. While many students come to university eagerly anticipating joining societies, less think about volunteering. I’ll be honest, I was one of them. When I became a Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), I had little idea of what it would entail. But here I am to explain why you should become an SCA for King’s Energy.

Clock volunteering hours

Did you know that at KCL you can log your volunteering hours on an online portal for an award? You could receive a bronze, silver or gold award for your efforts which is not only a personal pat on the back but would also be viewed favourably when included on your CV. It should be noted that you can mix-and-match volunteering experiences so you won’t only be reliant on King’s Energy, but over an academic year, you can easily attain a Gold award just through being a Sustainability Champion.

Learn new things

I’ll be honest, when I was allocated to King’s Energy, I whipped out the old CGP GCSE Physics revision guide to refresh my knowledge. However, prepare to be surprised. You will work with experts in the field who have extensive experience working in their field. I’ve been working with the Energy Team for 6 months, and I feel like a bonafide expert already, so you’ll be surprised how quickly and easily you will pick up information. Another thing that may surprise you is just how versatile the topic of energy is and how it links with so many different things around us.

Gain experience doing something you love

No, I don’t mean energy. We don’t expect you to love energy (although you may just fall in love with it along the way), but you likely have a skill that we are looking for. For me, that skill is writing. I love writing but it is so difficult to gain experience in a low-pressure environment. Enter King’s Energy. Whether your skill is writing, social media marketing or team management, there is a role for you here.

Make a positive impact

How could I ignore this one? As I mentioned, energy is all-encompassing, and it’s becoming an increasingly important issue in the modern world. Not only will being an SCA enable you to learn more about this crucial matter, but you will also be raising awareness and spreading that knowledge in an impartial, non-political way. In other words, you will play a vital role in the education of climate issues and, in doing so, help protect the future of our planet.

There you have it – my top four reasons to become an SCA!

The Sustainability Champions Assistant programme is an opportunity open to all King’s students to help the King’s Sustainability Team deliver the Staff Sustainability Champions programme. Find out more here

Bethan’s experience living in one of our Sustainable Living Communities

This blog comes from Bethan Spacey, Sustainability Engagement Assistant and BA English student. 

My name is Bethan and I’m an (about to be) third-year English Student. For my first year at King’s College London, I lived in Wolfson House in one of the Sustainable Living Communities (SLCs).                                                                                            

The SLC I lived in was one of the zero-waste flats, and I was lucky enough to get to do this in its pilot year. In this blog I will talk a bit about what SLCs are, the ones that are on offer, and my experience. 

SLC is an initiative being run by King’s Residences and King’s Sustainability to facilitate the sustainable education, living and community of change-makers. The programme works alongside ResiLife to bring sustainability-focused events, themed around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into King’s halls.  

For 21/22, they’ll be running vegan and zero-waste SLCs. The vegan or zero-waste SLC members live in a designated flat in one of King’s residences and will have support and specific events and activities to complement the respective lifestyle choices.                                              

My experience with SLCs began when I received an email about a zero-waste project that they would be running in a small number of flats in my allocated student accommodation, Wolfson House.  I had been interested in a zero-waste lifestyle for a while – even giving it a go in my hometown – but I had never been successful. At that time, I was living low waste: I’d massively reduced my plastic usage and was purchasing more consciously, but there were still major factors that were inhibiting my progress, such as money, living with my family and resources (living in a small village in South Wales).  

This was one of my concerns: that I’d enter one of the zero-waste flats keen, but not quite good enough. I was worried that I’d make mistakes and be reprimanded or fall out with my peers, or that I wouldn’t be able to fulfil the requirements of complete and total zero-waste. I applied anyway and was quickly allocated a place. 

When I arrived at the flat, I discovered that the other people that had opted into the scheme were just like me – some with even less experience living a zero-waste lifestyle. This was reassuring. It was also, to my surprise, a mixture of people regarding backgrounds, genders and ages. This I was also glad about, as I was worried that choosing to enter one of these flats would be choosing to pigeonhole myself and only interact with a certain kind of person.  

I attended the first SLC event after settling into the flat and was gifted a bag of zero-waste goodies, such as a reusable cup and a mason jar. I have these things to this day, so it is sufficient to say that they have helped me out on my zero-waste journey. In between SLC events, leading the lifestyle of our choosing within our flat was up to us; staff were not sent to police if we were living ‘zero-waste enough’. This made me feel like I had the space to learn and grow without judgement. Luckily for me, Wolfson House was right next to King’s (now sadly closed) zero-waste store, Nought! This was perfect: not only could I get zero-waste products near my accommodation, but I could also get them at a student-friendly price. This store has since shut, but I’ve been surprised at how many zero-waste or bulk food stores you can find in London that aren’t insanely expensive. Some of the bigger Lidls even have sections where you can buy nuts in bulk! 

I attended several SLC events before an early covid-related departure in March. My favourite was the Vegan Christmas potluck, an event at GDSA where everyone brought their own dish and we all shared food. I got to chat with quite a lot of people from the different residences hosting SLCs, as well as eat some yummy food. Meeting people in the other residences was great because although I ended up in a zero-waste SLC, I would have happily partaken in a vegan one, so it meant that I got to meet more people with similar interests.  

As I mentioned, my year got cut short when the UK went into its first lockdown, and we were all sent home in March. However, I loved my experience in Wolfson House and more specifically, in a zero-waste SLC. I would recommend the experience to anyone already living attuned with either one of the zero-waste or vegan lifestyles, but also just to anyone interested. For me, it was a great way to officially begin my zero-waste journey with someone holding my hand and giving me useful advice and insight. 

Applications to join one of the Sustainable Living Community flats are now open. Join the SLC Facebook group for updates on how to apply!

 

 

 

Mason’s experience working with King’s Energy

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

Those of you who are regular readers of our weekly blog posts may notice the same name every week next to the title – that’s me. You may be questioning what I actually do, why I volunteer for King’s Energy and how I keep churning out these posts – or not. But I will tell you anyway.

To be completely honest, I didn’t sign up to volunteer as a sustainability champion because I was particularly passionate about being an ecowarrior. In fact, I didn’t even sign up at all. My girlfriend signed me up because she felt some volunteering experience would look good on my CV. I must confess, I wasn’t pleased. I interpreted that I would be collecting rubbish in my already limited spare time. When I was assigned to King’s Energy, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. To give you some background info, I studied History as my BA and Politics and Contemporary History as my MA – nothing “sciency” and very little to do with energy.

But I attended the first meeting with the team, consisting of two permanent members plus whichever sustainability champions have been coerced into joining. When I started, there were two of us. Neither of us knew a thing about energy. You would think it is quite over-awing being dropped in a call with two people who work and have extensive experience in the field, but they’re completely normal people who are relaxed and accommodating, creating a laid-back, low-pressure environment. Additionally, they had no initial expectations of us. Instead, they allowed us to establish what roles we wanted to take on – enabling us to play to our strengths. Finally, the role did not involve hours of scouring the beach for litter. Instead, I spent an hour a week partaking in our virtual team meetings and around the same time researching and writing blog posts.

When it comes to this part of the role, you agree as a team what the post will be about, but the content and how you write it is entirely up to you. There is also the opportunity to create graphics for social media, but if you were to see some of my attempts, you would understand why I stuck to writing. In terms of researching and writing posts, as I mentioned, it is not terribly time-consuming, and it is actually interesting. Energy is not just about telling people to turn the lights off; it covers how it is generated, the impacts of this and educates you on how energy affects your life. It is a topic of huge importance, and quite simply, there is no better place to educate yourself on this than working with King’s Energy.

Six months on from being forcibly signed up, I am here advocating the role. As my girlfriend initially suggested, it will take pride of place on my CV, but it has been so much more than that. I have gained valuable writing experience and been exposed to a potential future career.

The Sustainability Champions Assistant programme is an opportunity open to all King’s students to help the King’s Sustainability Team deliver the Staff Sustainability Champions programme. Find out more here

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