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Parliamentary update – October 2020 | Sophie Lethier

Parliamentary update – October 2020 | Sophie Lethier

For her October parliamentary update, Sophie Lethier gives the low-down on the Pensions Scheme Bill currently making its way through Parliament, and why it has a crucial role to play in the path to Net Zero.

 

The Pensions Schemes Bill currently passing through Parliament presents an opportunity to act on the vital role pensions have to play in securing a Net Zero future. The Bill started in the House of Lords earlier this year, was introduced into the House of Commons in July and was debated for the first time by MPs at Second Reading on 7 October. It begins Committee Stage next week.

Close to £3 trillion is invested in pension schemes in the UK. Yet the vast majority of those schemes do not take climate risk into account and savers are often unaware that a considerable amount of this money funds fossil fuels and other carbon intensive businesses. Stranded assets not only undermine our efforts to decarbonise our economy, but also put our savings and retirements at risk.

When first published, the Bill’s objectives sought to establish a new form of pension scheme, improve protections for pension savings and help people plan for their retirement. Thanks to the efforts of environmentally-minded Peers – Baroness Hayman, Baroness Bennett, Baroness Sherlock, Baroness Drake and Lord MacKenzie in particular – the Bill now contains unprecedented measures to tackle climate change. Section 124 of the Bill requires occupational pension schemes to manage the effects of climate change as a financial risk to their investments and to report publicly on how they have done so.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sustainable Finance’s quarterly MP briefings held earlier this month and led by Catherine Howarth, Chief Executive of APPG Secretariat partner ShareAction, focused on this issue. We were pleased to meet with MPs from all major parties to understand their thoughts on the Bill and their views of how it could be strengthened. 

A number of MPs, including APPG member Ben Lake, made the case that all default funds should be required to reach Net Zero by 2050. This has been echoed by APPG supporter Aviva, which has launched a campaign calling on the government to amend the Bill to make it mandatory for all auto-enrolment default funds to achieve Net Zero by 2050.

  • As it stands, the Bill states pension funds should disclose and report on their exposure to climate changes, but it does not require them to reach a Net Zero status.
  • Nevertheless measures in Section 124 of the Pensions Scheme Bill remain the first of their kind on the international stage.
  • When the Bill comes into law, the UK will be the first country in the world to align the actions of pension schemes with the Paris Agreement.

ShareAction has stressed that while progress has been made on climate, more needs to be done to ensure schemes are aligned with the interests of savers. We were pleased to work with APPG member and Chair of the Work & Pensions Select Committee Stephen Timms MP to table amendments for Committee Stage, which encourage diversity in pension schemes and call for the creation of a central repository for schemes’ responsible investment policy.

We’ll be watching the Committee Stages of the Pensions Scheme Bill as it begins on Monday, so keep an eye out for the APPG’s next weekly monitor, published every Thursday, which will include an update on the debate.

Sophie Lethier, Parliamentary Officer & APPG Co-ordinator

Brum Breathes: What Councillor Waseem Zaffar wants for Birmingham

Brum Breathes: What Councillor Waseem Zaffar wants for Birmingham

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone goes live in June 2021. We spoke to the councillor overseeing the progressive new measure, Cllr Waseem Zaffar. He spoke about his wish for the city once at the heart of the Industrial Revolution to be sought after for its clean air. 

 

This is just the start

When Birmingham experienced a 70% drop in traffic during the coronavirus pandemic, with people out and about on foot or bike enjoying its green and blue spaces, Cllr Waseem Zaffar recalls someone telling him they could ‘taste clean air’.

That sentiment taps right into the vision the Cabinet Member for Transport & Environment has for the city. So when it got the go ahead from government to launch its Clean Air Zone on 1 June 2021, amongst all the Covid-19 uncertainty, it was a hugely encouraging step forward for the city. 

For Cllr Zaffar, wanting clean air for Birmingham is personal. His late father was just 54 when he died in 2009 of heart failure. Like him and his mum, his dad was Type 2 diabetic but otherwise fit and active. But he was a taxi driver – a job that consistently exposed him to the brunt of Birmingham’s dirty air.

From Lozells, one of the city’s most socially deprived neighbourhoods, Cllr Zaffar believes that the Clean Air Zone is as much a health policy as a transport policy. But he says it’s just a start – he wants Birmingham to eventually go beyond the strict standards on air quality defined by the WHO.

When air pollution causes 1,000 people a year to die in the UK’s second city, it’s not hard to see why. Cllr Zaffar wants it to become a place where people want to live for its clean air. And he urges Brummies to reimagine their city with far fewer cars – where kids play in the street and business still thrive.

“This is very personal to me,” Cllr Zaffar said. “The role that poor air quality has on me, my family, my community, my neighbourhood, my neighbours. It’s kind of a deadly problem that you can’t see and because you can’t see it, you think it doesn’t exist.

“During lockdown somebody said to me, ‘I could taste clean air’. That is the reputation I want for this city – where people say we need to move our families to Birmingham because it has fantastic air. 

“The Clean Air Zone for me will be a start. I want to see clean air in every single neighbourhood in Birmingham, particularly when it comes to schools. I want schools to be safe havens. I want it to go way past legal compliance. WHO guidelines are just a start. Getting there is an absolute must.

“There was an air pollution public health crisis  pre-Covid and it’ll be there post-Covid. More than 1,000 people a year are dying prematurely and kids are losing six months of their life in our city. 

“You compare that to 30 deaths because of collisions on our roads each year. That’s 30 too many but if you put it into contrast it shows why this is such an important area of work.”

How the city will support people through the transition

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone will cover an area of the city inside the inner ring road (A4540 Middleway, but not the Middleway itself). Once live, owners of the most polluting vehicles, which account for around 25% of Birmingham’s traffic, will need to pay a daily charge to drive into or through the Clean Air Zone.

It’ll be a big change for the city and Cllr Zaffar is not underestimating the challenge it’ll pose to many businesses, especially for its taxi community. In response, the city council is providing exemptions and financial incentives of around £35m to help residents, city centre workers and businesses prepare.

And Cllr Zaffar feels what Birmingham has negotiated with government could give other local councils a head start.

“I’m not underestimating the challenge that the Clean Air Zone will have on many in Birmingham at the same time as the Covid pandemic,” the Lozells councillor said. “This is real tough stuff, I absolutely get that. 

“Part of the reason for announcing the launch in October and going for the grants is we want to give people as much time as possible to prepare for this. That’s why we’re encouraging them strongly to apply for the financial incentives and the exemptions as soon as possible. 

“I’ve got to know a lot of colleagues predominantly through UK100. Where we’ve negotiated with the government on the mitigations and exemptions package, and the financial incentives in particular, that’s where other councils can start their negotiations. 

“As in, ‘you’ve given Birmingham this, you need to give us this plus this, this and this’. I’ve had conversations with colleagues in Bristol so there’s a lot of comparing notes.”

 

Getting the message right

Cllr Zaffar believes the messaging around the Clean Air Zone is an important part of gaining support among residents. He believes it’s about framing it beyond a transport issue – this is a discussion just like, if not even more important, than the debate around smoking in public places 20 years ago.

“I think there’s still a lot more work to be done with our communities and we’re absolutely committed to that,” he said. “We’re listening. we’re engaging, and we’re going on this journey with them.

“I think messaging is really important. This is a transport policy but for me it’s more of a health-related policy. This is about reversing health inequalities. 

“Taxi drivers and bus drivers are three times more likely to be impacted by poor air quality than a normal person because of the hours they spend behind the wheel.

“This is about making people fitter and healthier, allowing your children to grow up fit and strong, and our elderly to live longer. Find me a doctor who doesn’t tell me that clean air is important.

“I just want our communities to reimagine Birmingham with less cars. I used to play football and cricket in the alleyway by my house, in the middle of the road because there were fewer cars.”

 

Reimagining how Birmingham does business 

But it’s also about embracing concepts like the ‘15-minute city’, where people can meet most, if not all, their needs within a short walk or cycle from their home. Waltham Forest Council has seen success with this kind of urban planning, breathing new life into small shopping parades that used to be rat runs.

“We’re exploring this very seriously,” he said. “I had a briefing yesterday on the big development plan for Birmingham and it’s right at the heart of that.

“It’s part of the green revolution in Birmingham – the way people and goods move across the city, the way we operate post-Covid, and having access to services 800m to a kilometre from where you live are absolutely vital. I think that’s the future.

“Paris has been very bold and brave with the work they’ve done, and if they can do it, many others can follow suit. It’s an exciting time for us. The moment we get through this pandemic, there’ll be so much there on the other side for us to really use as our economic recovery across the country.” 

Find out more about Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone. Applications and expressions of interest for all of its support schemes are now open with more information available at BrumBreathes.co.uk.

Jonny Wilkinson, Senior Communications Officer

Road to COP26 | October update: Why local leaders are essential to a successful summit

Road to COP26 | October update: Why local leaders are essential to a successful summit

UK100’s Campaigns Officer and COP26 Lead Talia Berriman gives a recap of why COP26 is so important and why the government won’t reach its climate commitments without the involvement of local leaders. 

 

What’s all the hype about COP26?

After decades of disagreements over responsibility for climate change, representatives from all 195 countries came together in Paris in 2015 for the 21st annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP21). They agreed to limit global warming to 2°C degrees or as close to 1.5°C as possible, in a bid to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and this became known as the Paris Agreement.

Next year, the UK will host the conference (known as COP26) in Glasgow, which is expected to be a similarly significant moment in history. The annual conferences (COPs) after Paris were mostly spent negotiating the terms of the Agreement, the deadline for which is in Glasgow. By COP26, which is taking place in November 2021, countries must submit their action plans on how they will cut carbon emissions to align with the Paris Agreement and how they will accelerate climate action over the next decade. Scientists agree that what we do over the next 10 years is crucial as to whether or not we will be able to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees.

 

A great vision but no real plan 

In November 2021, all eyes will be on the UK. World leaders will descend on Glasgow, expecting the UK to show leadership on climate action. The UK parliament has already demonstrated that it is serious about tackling the climate emergency, being the first major world economy to pass legislation to bring emissions from all greenhouse gases to Net Zero by 2050. This will mean cutting our production and use of dirty and polluting fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas so that no more harmful emissions are released into the atmosphere.

However, despite this ambitious target, we are not on track yet to even meet the previous target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, which was set by the 2008 Climate Change Act. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has stated that although Net Zero by 2050 is technically possible, it will be highly challenging

The goal of Net Zero by 2050 shows ambition far beyond what many other countries have legislated. However, we must remember that, as of yet, it is still only a goal. We don’t have a plan of how we’re going to get there, and we need to act fast if we’re to do it in a way that benefits our communities and that brings people along with us.

 

National government can’t meet Net Zero without local leaders

Local authorities influence up to 70% of the UK’s emissions, so they are essential to the UK government’s intention to reach Net Zero by 2050. They know their communities best and so are best placed to deploy the solutions that will both tackle the climate crisis and bring about a fair and just transition to a Net Zero economy. 

National government will, no doubt, be making some major announcements in the year to COP26 as world media and the international climate community focus their attention on the UK. We want to see local government placed at the heart of any national climate action plans, if those plans are to be more effective and to accelerate emissions reductions in the UK.

 

What UK100 is doing to help make COP26 a success

UK100 is leveraging the opportunity of COP26 to secure more ambitious climate commitments from our members, and together we will advocate to national government for the powers and support to act on these commitments. 

Our first step is updating our membership pledge to reflect the huge progress that has been made by our members, many of whom have plans to reach Net Zero well before the UK’s legislated target of 2050. This will demonstrate to national government, as well as those across the world, the commitment of local leaders in the UK to limit the worst impacts of climate change by acting now.

In the coming months, we will also be launching our new online knowledge hub with exemplar projects developed by our members that deliver real emissions reductions. This will enable local leaders to learn from each other, grow confident in the solutions that work and design and adapt them to their own communities’ needs.

For UK100 members, the year to COP26 is going to be a year of demonstrating the action and ambition of UK local leaders, a year of dialogue that connects them with each other and global leaders to build climate ambition and action, and a year of advocating for the powers needed to accelerate the path to a Net Zero society. We hope you join us on this journey.

Talia Berriman, Campaigns Officer and COP26 Lead

How a Local Energy Hub is supporting local authorities

How a Local Energy Hub is supporting local authorities

We spoke with Maxine Narburgh, Regional Manager of the Greater South East Energy Hub about how it supports local authorities implementing clean energy projects. Here she talks about how a ‘Net Zero energy family’ is taking shape.

 

A ‘Net Zero energy family’ taking shape across the South East

Across England are five Local Energy Hubs that provide local authorities with practical support in developing energy projects. When UK100 presented a report in 2017 that proposed local clean energy partnerships, the Hubs were an oven-ready idea within BEIS.

In response to our report, the then BEIS minister Claire Perry signed off the Hubs proposal. And two years down the line, the Greater South East Energy Hub (the Hub) is going from strength to strength.

Speaking to the Regional Manager Maxine Narburgh, you can sense her pride in the progress made so far. They’ve now delivered projects that have attracted £15.5m of investment.

The 55 projects across 35 local authorities and public sector partnerships to which they give 1-2-1 development support are valued at £407m and save about 82,000 tCO2/yr.

Solar farms, public sector building and domestic energy efficiency, fleet decarbonisation, heat networks and smart grids are just a few of the projects the Hub works on.

The Hub has built a network of stakeholders in the innovation landscape, supply chains, the public sector, and community energy groups – the sorts of partners they need to spur on the energy transition.

“It’s challenging but it makes you very proud,” Maxine said. “The team has been absolutely brilliant in what they’ve achieved. From a baseline of nothing to supporting local authorities and bringing new ones into the world of local energy. 

“It is certainly a Net Zero energy family that’s taking shape. Much more than individual projects, it’s really about how this all starts to join up, and in particular how it starts to scale up.”

“Our local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships are very positive about the impact the Hub is having in progressing local energy. 

“A lot of the more complex interactions across the energy vectors haven’t yet happened at scale, so it really is a path that you forge in partnership.”

 

How the Local Energy Hub supports local authorities

When there’s only so much a local authority can do within its own power to reach ambitious targets, the service the Hub provides has become an incredibly valuable resource.

Each Local Energy Hub, funded by BEIS, has a team of energy experts that support local energy projects throughout their development stages, from options appraisal and feasibility, business-case preparation, design and planning, through to financing.

Beyond Net Zero, local authorities are asking the Hub whether projects can go a step further and generate revenue to support frontline services. To this end, the Hub’s support can tick several boxes for local authorities’ ambitions and requirements.

 

Broader benefits 

Maxine said where the Hub has been able to provide capacity to local authorities, they’re seeing them able to develop more projects, take more ownership of them, and increase ambition thanks to learning from the Hub, and each other through its networks.

“We definitely see local authorities as key,” said Maxine. “If you’re looking at energy efficiency retrofit, the residents tend to have trust in their local authority. So to be able to support local authorities to deliver programmes they have confidence in is important to us.” 

 

Engaging unconvinced colleagues

Maxine would like the Hub to develop support for local authorities on how to engage chief finance officers and senior management teams. These decision-makers are often unsure of the benefits or what’s possible with energy projects.

Maxine said: “We’re now developing different case studies and financial models and other resources that can start to tell that story. If there’s not something to show and to share then people might not want to be the first.

“It’s developing that portfolio of materials that might engage people just to support those officers that have got great ideas but find the resistance within their own internal systems.” 

Read more about the Greater South East Energy Hub and how you can get support as a local authority.

Jonny Wilkinson, Senior Communications Officer

Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland: why LTNs are so important for clean air

Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland: why LTNs are so important for clean air

We spoke to Cllr Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader of Waltham Forest Council, about how the borough has been a pioneer for LTNs. In this interview he explains why ‘mini Hollands’ are so important, gives some insight to councils looking to do the same, and urges government to pick up the pace.

 

How Waltham Forest is leading the way for low traffic neighbourhoods

When the government gave councils £250m to promote active travel in May, the low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) that sprung up were a novel experience for many. But for residents in Waltham Forest, its borough was six years ahead of the curve. With its Mini Holland project, it’s gone beyond simply encouraging more walking and cycling.

Chic shops and bustling cafes have sprung up on roads that used to be rat runs. Neighbours now stop to chat while their kids play in the street – a sight not seen by many Londoners for decades. Parents drop off their children at school by bike before picking up a coffee. And with working from home now the norm, residents meander through the borough’s pocket parks on their lunch break.

The ‘Mini Holland’ in Waltham Forest certainly lives up its name. With its modal filters – measures that limit the passage of some modes of transport – the 50% of residents who do not own a car can now safely travel by foot or bike. 33km of segregated cycle lanes now criss-cross the borough, along with more than 70 roads closed to through traffic, 500 bike hangers installed in residential streets, and seven cycle hubs at key rail and tube stations.

The scheme mirrors the ‘15-minute city’ concept, which has attracted attention since the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo embraced it as part of her 2020 re-election campaign. Developed by Sorbonne professor Carlos Moreno, the ‘15-minute city’ allows residents to meet most, if not all, their needs within a short walk or cycle from their front door.

But Cllr Clyde Loakes, who’s led the east London project since it began in 2013, says he’s reclaiming it as a Waltham Forest idea. And it’s because it started as a TfL-funded scheme to promote safer, greener and healthier streets, but quickly evolved into something which has fostered economic resilience and community cohesion.

Cllr Loakes said: “I looked at the 15-minute city concept and thought ‘that’s what we did six years ago with Mini Holland’. So I’m reclaiming it. It’s a Waltham Forest idea.

“What we were proposing wasn’t tinkering – it was bold and transformational. With the modal filters, instead of 2,500 vehicles a day driving down your road you now may have about 60. There were absolutely huge drops.

“Some of us still have that picture in our mind of what some of these roads looked like before the interventions. You wouldn’t see that kind of conversation happening in the street, or children messing around in the road. Back then there were hundreds of cars – it would have been dangerous.

“It’s not just your Lyrca-clad commuters whizzing down Lea Bridge Road on Chris Boardman bikes. It is actually those who are dropping off their children and then pootling off for a coffee. That’s what you’re starting to see. You’re seeing Muslim women and older people on bikes, and children cycling to school again.”

And the evidence speaks for itself. According to 2018 King’s College London research, more than 51,000 households across the borough now no longer live in areas with dangerous levels of air pollution compared to a decade before.

Blenheim Road

The business case

Cllr Loakes said the Mini Holland concept has tapped right into people’s needs during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen working from home soar. Whether it’s grabbing a coffee, a bite to eat at lunchtime, being able to buy a birthday card, or taking some exercise, people now want things like this close to home.

This is what you’re seeing in Waltham Forest with the reinvention of small shopping parades on the borough’s Orford Road and Frances Road. These local businesses have been able to take advantage of the changes in behaviour that Covid-19 has forced upon many of us.

“Now we know it is possible to work fruitfully at home, more of us are probably going to work more often at home,” Cllr Loakes said. “That starts to change the dynamic of what’s required in your local residential areas. And that’s got to be a positive thing for the economy, for personal and neighbourhood health and wellbeing, and for the climate.”

 

Sticking to a focussed path in the face of opposition

The project initially faced stiff opposition from a vocal minority of residents. 41% of those surveyed in the first area where work was planned were opposed. For local authorities looking to adopt similar projects, Cllr Loakes advises sticking to a ‘true and focussed path’ and says the more consultation you can carry out, the better. Now just 1.7% in that same area want to go back to how things were before.

Before: Francis Road and Albert Road in 2016

“It doesn’t happen overnight, that’s for sure”, he said. “But you have to inject pace and win the arguments. If we’re serious about building back better and greener then you have to stick to a very true and focused path.

“There will be angry people, demonstrations and shouty questions at council meetings. Some of you leading on this may get some really unpleasant emails and social media posts. It will be difficult but it is the right thing to do for a whole raft of reasons.

“You tend to talk to either the fanatics in favour or the fanatics against, certainly on social media. But actually 95% of people are probably somewhere just either side of ‘yeah it’s alright, I just have a few questions about it’. Because we’re humans and we adapt all the time.

“I think people are more aware that air quality is a big health challenge. The more resilience we can build into our population with regard to healthy living, then the more resilient they will be to some of these big challenges around respiratory diseases in particular.

“The evidence is stacked in favour of these kinds of interventions. To do anything other than this would be totally irresponsible, not just for current Waltham Forest residents but future residents too, and would be hugely damaging to any potential ability to reduce our impact on our planet.”

After: Francis Road and Albert Road

Picking up the pace in central government

With the Environment Bill returning to parliament on 3 November, Cllr Loakes is urging the government to pick up the pace on its climate commitments.

“It’s about pace,” he said. “I understand Brexit was going to take up a lot of time but I think the climate emergency is quite important to be perfectly frank. In a world driven by the internet, people expect change at a pace now. I don’t think our legislative processes, the way we design policy, has really caught up with people’s expectations around pace.

“That could be a negative thing or a positive thing. But I just think there is some link to how we respond, reflect, design and deliver that isn’t right. There’s stuff in there that’s common sense. There would be no argument with cross party support. Just get on with it – you know what has to be done.

“In the past 10 years and definitely the past five years national governments have been tied up with either Brexit or the economy. It’s required the leadership of local government to come forward to say, actually, there is a better way to do things. We can make it work.”

Read more about Waltham Forest’s mini Holland project, and find out more about low traffic neighbourhoods with this handy guide from Living Streets. Header image: Ramsay Road

Jonny Wilkinson, Senior Communications Officer