Extinction Rebellion: Briefing Paper to Birmingham City Council

National Principles of EXTINCTION REBELLION

We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. To survive, it’s going to take everything we’ve got.

Our Demands:

  1. The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
  2. The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
  3. A national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

Briefing Paper to Birmingham City Council

This Briefing Paper accompanies the Extinction Rebellion petition to Birmingham City Council (BCC) demanding that the council declares a Climate Emergency and takes action.

The paper is based on the international scientific consensus that man-made and uncontrolled global warming, if not kept below 1.50C, presents an existential threat to humanity and other planetary species. We note the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report of October 2018 concludes that “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe and that urgent changes are needed to cut risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty”; “That limiting global warming to 1.50 C may still be possible if ambitiously supported by national governments and local authorities”.1

At the national level, the Labour Party’s Motion to declare an Environment and Climate Emergency was passed by Parliament on 1 May. Similar motions have already been passed by over 106 local authorities across the UK (as at 23 May 2019),2 including the London Assembly, Bristol, Leicester, Manchester, Reading and Sheffield. Action at the local authority level will be key to effective change. Local authorities must develop plans for action to tackle the local situation, and combine forces to put pressure on national government to provide the funding required.

In line with this nationwide effort, BCC must consider the ideas and actions identified in this paper in order to ensure the Declaration of a Climate Emergency is realised through meaningful planning, policy implementation and action. It should coordinate efforts with other authorities in the West Midlands and with the West Midlands Combined Authority. The approach taken by Greater Manchester, which formulated a Climate Change Strategy in 2011,3 is an example of an integrated plan for a wider area which is now approaching its end date. This could serve as a case study for Birmingham to see what has worked well and to avoid reinventing the wheel.

BCC should immediately set up a Task Force to develop a plan of action within six months. It should allocate a budget and identify sources of funding to pay for this, as other councils have succeeded in doing (e.g. Greater Manchester again).

To ensure that residents have confidence in the Council’s plan and its implementation, the Task Force must report to a body which includes representatives of the public and professionals with relevant expertise. This body should have reserved seats for local environmental groups, trade unions, the NHS, education and business and should have oversight over ensuring that all existing and new policies align with the objectives of the Climate Emergency Plan.

Birmingham City Council’s action plan must incorporate Extinction Rebellion’s three key demands:

  1. Tell the Truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency
  •  Work with Friends of the Earth, Extinction Rebellion, Climate Action Network West Midlands and others including faith-based organisations, to inform all Birmingham residents about the climate emergency and provide practical advice about what they can do as individuals, families and communities to make the changes needed to transition to a clean, green, future.
  • Ensure all schools and educational providers integrate environmental issues in their curriculum, and consider actions which they can take in collaboration with students and parents.

 2. Take Action Now to enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels. (see details below)

3. Set up a Citizens’ Assembly to make change happen

  •  A formal Citizens’ Assembly must be set up by Birmingham City Council as a tool to promote democratic participation. There is an urgent need for informed political engagement by the electorate around all political decision-making including climate, ecological and social issues affecting citizens in Birmingham. The Council can consider ways of incentivizing residents to participate.

Citizens’ Assemblies are formal bodies made up of ordinary people selected by lottery to provide a representative sample of the population. Ideally, this Assembly should bring together around 300-1000 representatives, selected through sortition (a random but balanced selection from the whole population). With the help of impartial facilitators and access to experts, the members of a Citizens’ Assembly discuss key issues and then come to a conclusion about what should be done. The Citizens’ Assembly must have confidence that the Council will act on their recommendations, including changes to local policies. There is evidence to show that Citizens’ Assemblies, with access to experts and evidence, make complex and brave decisions that politicians often cannot make for fear of losing votes.4 In January Oxford City Council agreed to create a Citizens’ Assembly to consider the measures that should be taken to address climate change in Oxford, to start work from September.5

Take Action Now: Actions which can be most effective reducing carbon emissions in Birmingham concern four main areas: the Built Environment, Transport, Waste, and Greening the City. Many of these actions will also create a host of jobs for local people, and in particular an opportunity to provide training and develop the capabilities of our young people.6 As such they should also be a means to secure funding.

The Built Environment

 The Task Force should plan to assess buildings and develop appropriate pathways to zero carbon buildings, e.g. by:

  • Developing the knowledge and skills for a comprehensive programme of building fabric retrofit, bringing existing buildings’ efficiency to today’s standards. This will bring co-benefits of helping to address fuel poverty, and improving comfort and health.
  • Installing PV, battery storage and smart power systems in buildings owned or influenced by the Council, including social housing;
  • Investing in new solar developments, potentially in partnership with a community energy group (and therefore attracting significant community investment);
  • Providing appropriate policy guidance to encourage the installation of PV panels (combined with battery storage) on existing buildings, both commercial and residential;
  • Providing policy guidance and developing incentives to replace gas central heating and hot water with non-polluting alternatives (e.g. heat pumps, district heating);
  • Ensuring all new-builds (Council and other) are zero carbon.

Transport

 Mike Childs, Head of Science, Policy and Research at Friends of the Earth, has said:

“Transport is the UK’s biggest source of climate wrecking emissions. In order to deal with the climate crisis we know that we have to encourage people out of their cars, but right now cycling across much of England is unsafe, bus routes are being cut, and far too many trains are overcrowded, late and ridiculously expensive. White elephants like HS2 aren’t the answer. It will take over a decade to build, destroy ancient woodlands, and only 4% of those projected to use HS2 would otherwise have driven.”7

The Task Force should consider ways to cut carbon emissions and air pollution by road transport:

  • Set a target to double passenger miles within a time frame, by improving public transport options (rail, metro and buses) and cutting fares. Buses need to be in a decent condition and properly policed, so that people can use them with confidence. So long as the bus services are not re-regulated, this should be the responsibility of the bus companies with fines for non-compliance. Bus travel in Birmingham is currently a worse experience compared to other cities, as well as being expensive. The Task Force could also consider introducing a free service over a wider area, as in Manchester;8
  • Ban diesel buses and replace with zero carbon alternatives;
  • Develop a city-wide cycling network to match that in a cycle-friendly city such as Amsterdam;
  • Develop a coherent strategy for decarbonizing private transport;Promote the use of canals for freight. This would:
    • Help meet targets for reducing air and noise pollution: the University of Birmingham’s hydrogen powered barge has set a carbon-free standard;
    • Cut road deaths;
    • Reduce the need for expensive new road building;
    • Reduce road maintenance costs: HGV traffic is a major contributor to road wear.

Transport is an area where working across the West Midlands will be important, as transport does not stop at city boundaries. The WMCA mayor has announced a pilot scheme in Coventry to provide motorists with up to £3,000 p.a. per person in vouchers to be used on public transport in exchange for not using their cars.9 However, the pilot is only scheduled to include 100 people initially and is unlikely to make a significant difference, even locally. The measures listed above should be far more effective. BCC should link up with the other six authorities to look at a coordinated approach.

In December 2017 a one-day experiment in cutting air pollution on Kings Heath High Street achieved a significant reduction in emissions on the day by measures including free bus tickets and installing a green corridor of trees in planters. An important element of the experiment was targeting school drop off at St Dunstans School, where engaging with pupils resulted in far less queueing traffic than usual.10 This links to the point under the first Key Demand, of encouraging schools to take action, and also to Greening the City below.

Waste

The Task Force plan to reduce carbon emissions from waste should include the following:

  • Set up a food waste collection and composting system;
  • Reduce the amount of waste generated (e.g. by targeting packaging, banning single use plastic, “disposable” cups);
  • Consider environmental factors when giving planning permission for fast food outlets and other polluting sectors;
  • Review the current system of incineration.

Birmingham’s current system of incinerating all general household rubbish is hugely inefficient and damaging. Food waste has a considerable water content, and can only be incinerated in combination with large amounts of dry material, using the heat generated to burn off the water. If Birmingham starts composting food waste as other local councils do (e.g. Sandwell, Stroud, South Oxfordshire11) the composting process by anaerobic digestion will produce energy while the compost can be used to improve soils, both yielding an income stream.

The US city of San Francisco, a city of over three-quarters of a million people whose diversity matches that of Birmingham, shows what can be done in high density urban areas. The city authorities have engaged in an enthusiastic and successful programme of education about food waste collection, particularly in hotels and restaurants (with financial incentives part of the deal), but also in residential apartment blocks (considered problematic by many urban authorities). San Francisco’s composting facility is located away from populated areas to avoid odour problems, and close to farms that purchase and use the high-quality compost to grow fruit, vegetables and grapes for wine – much of which produce is consumed in San Francisco, thus minimising CO2 emissions from transport.12

Greening the City

 The Task force plan should include maximizing the planting and maintenance of trees and plants throughout the city, to improve air quality, reduce noise, provide insulation on buildings, provide habitat for insects thereby promoting biodiversity, and retain water, helping to prevent flooding at flood-prone sites.

Any contractor hired to maintain the roads must commit to maintaining existing street trees and planting more. Expert advice will be required on appropriate species and location.

In several European cities green roofs are already required for all new or renovated flat roofs. Birmingham has vast expanses of flat roof which should be either generating electricity (solar panels) or absorbing carbon dioxide (plants).

The Council should do more to promote allotments, advertising vacant plots locally and providing more support for the volunteers who run them. Allotments are not only carbon absorbing green spaces, but also potentially carbon-neutral food sources, as the inputs and food grown are transported over such short distances as to be offset by the beneficial effect of the green space. In recognition of this value, there should be incentives for managing them efficiently.

The council should reconsider its decision to partner with Lendlease to develop the Smithfield site, and go for a full scale city park instead. This would do much to improve air quality in the city centre and would be generally popular, unlike the controversial Clean Air Zone.

Birmingham has over 4,000 empty homes as well as derelict brownfield sites which should be brought into use for housing, rather than building on greenfield.

 

Links

1 https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

2 https://climateemergencydeclaration.org/climate-emergency-declarations-cover-15-million-citizens/

3https://secure.manchester.gov.uk/info/500002/council_policies_and_strategies/3833/climate_change/4

4 https://extinctionrebellion.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/xr-strategy-format-v1-feb-4th-2019-pdf.pdf

5https://www.oxford.gov.uk/news/article/1064/oxford_city_council_to_establish_uk_s_first_citizens_assembly_to_address_climate_emergency

6 Unlocking the job potential of zero carbon: https://gef.eu/publication/unlocking-the-potential-of-zero-carbon/

7 https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/19/axe-hs2-north-midlands-london-new-economics-foundation

8 https://www.tfgm.com/public-transport/bus/free-bus

9 https://coventryobserver.co.uk/news/coventry-motorists-to-be-offered-up-to-3k-credit-for-not-using-their-cars/

10 See the BBC documentary “Fighting for Air”, https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/bbc2-documentary-highlight-pollution-kings-14131117

11 http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/info/200160/bins_and_recycling/1971/food_waste; https://www.stroud.gov.uk/news-archive/food-waste-recycling-in-stroud-district-is-an-unprecedented-success; http://www.southoxon.gov.uk/services-and-advice/recycling-rubbish-and-waste/food-recycling

12 https://www.epa.gov/transforming-waste-tool/zero-waste-case-study-san-francisco

[The petition is on the Council meeting agenda for 11 June]

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