Casework can be a bit like the ending of those horror films when the vanquished foe struggles back from the dead for one last attempt to prevent a happy ending.
Well, one real horror story is the prospect of being committed to a high carbon, gas and coal-burning future. A sticky end that becomes more likely if the coalition Government is really intent on breathing life into the dirty coal business.
News, today, that the environmental performance standard (EPS) is not to be included in the coalition Government’s Energy Bill signals that the pressure will be reduced on companies to limit the carbon they emit from power stations burning coal or gas. This is one of those moments when the media love to say that the news was greeted by howls of protest from environmentalists, I think that’s a bit of euphemism as I haven’t heard an actual howl yet, but quite a few choice words.
Choosing his words very careful is our head of Climate Policy, Harry Huyton ‘The conservatives and liberal democrats have been enthusiastic supporters of an emissions standard for new power plants during their time in opposition. Dropping it from this year’s Energy Bill without clear plans to introduce one any time soon, and shelving the plans apparently indefinitely can only be interpreted as a failure to stand by one of the coalition’s flagship green commitments’.
This risks letting Hunterston, or any other new coal plants (including Kingsnorth) through the net and deflecting the UK from the path towards emission targets set under the Climate Change Act. At a stroke, we could be locked into a pathway to a high carbon dependant future with the UK’s reputation as an international leader in tatters.
An EPS is a crucial signpost on a fork in the roads to high or low carbon futures, in needs to be an important part of the new Government’s first attempt at energy legislation. Failure to include an EPS for new coal and gas sends a signal that the coalition Government is back-tracking on their commitment end dirty fossil fuels.
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Pond-dipping, reptile walks and bee talks – the wildlife was certainly centre-stage at the Dungeness Wildlife and Countryside Fair over the weekend. The birds didn’t disappoint either with the 6 species of herons on show, great white egret, little egret and cattle egret – the cattle egret even keeping company with the cattle grazing the reserve, grey heron, bittern and purple heron. There was a constant flow of updates crackling over the reserve radios -news even of a wasp spider (pictured, photo by Bob Gomes).
People were there to get up-close and personal with Dungeness’ fantastic array of wildlife – I talked to several about the proposed airport extension next door at Lydd airport. This was a group of people who’s minds were clearly made up, the airport expansion was a bad idea and it simply wasn’t going to happen. Clearly we can’t take that chance and preparation for February’s public inquiry continues.
The weekend’s Dungeness Wildlife and Countryside Fair put the emphasis exactly where it should be – on the fantastic wildlife of this special place. I was delighted to be trampled in the rush as the room holding the talk about bees filled expectantly. Well done to our staff and volunteers for putting on such a great show.
This post merits a cup of tea (if you are planning to read all the links) but it’s a story worth sticking with.
This blog deals with the urgent work of protecting the best wildlife sites from damage - we’ve ranged widely and have followed cases both in the UK and further afield. The plight of Kenya’s Dakatcha woodlands has featured as an Important Bird Area at risk of imminent damage – the threat of the clearance of up to 50,000 ha of woodland in order to grow jatropha (pictured) – a ‘non-food’ crop from which oil can be extracted – you can catch up on the latest stage of this story here.
The story behind the threat is both fascinating and directly relevant to the way in which the European Union is seeking to meet its laudable goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions by pushing for greater use of biofuels.
You can read, here, about how the company behind the Dakatcha development, Nuove Iniziative Industriali Srl and their Kenyan subsidiary are a major player in the dash for biofuels (and you can feel the contempt for the campaign to save the Dakatcha woodlands barely concealed in the reaction of the company’s owner, Luciano Orlandi).
No one really doubts that the impetus to utilise biofuels didn’t start from the best of intentions – the threat of the impact of climate change is real and urgent. But that doesn’t excuse setting up a mechanism that is going to have predictable (and thus avoidable) negative consequences – the threat to the Dakatcha woodlands is but one. Growing biofuels takes up land – some estimates suggest an area the size of Denmark. That land will either involve further pressure on natural environments or will elbow less-profitable food production out of the way, thus creating an inevitable indirect pressure on land-use and with it the potential to generate further greenhouse gases as a result of this indirect land use change. If you want to dig deeper, here’s an excellent article which is also a splendid example of investigative journalism.
In Europe, the policies around the push for the use of biofuels comes from the Renewable Energy and Fuel Quality Directives. We are on a promise that the so-called ‘sustainability criteria’ within these important legal instruments will deliver environmental protection – but we know they’re not enough without measures to prevent indirect land use change And the European Commission is actively avoiding doing anything about it, despite their clear legal obligation to do so.
The environment legal firm Client Earth, have looked closely at this issue and have recently issued a legal briefing. Tim Grabiel, a Senior Lawyer at the firm, sums up the situation ‘Legal mandates do not get much clearer than this: gather the best available scientific evidence and fix this known accounting error undermining renewable policies and promoting destructive biofuels. That is what the European Commission has been charged with. This is no time to being playing politics of delay when our climate policies and millions in public subsidies rest in the balance’.
So currently we have a powerful drive for biofuels which could, through pushing land use change, actually increase the emission of greenhouse gases while, at the same time, causing the destruction of precious natural habitat. Mad? Well, we think so.
It’s been a long and anxious wait for the news that the UK’s first purple heron chick has fledged successfully – and here’s the first picture of the youngster taken by Philip Eglise.
At some point soon the purple herons will be heading south to spend the winter in Africa – let’s hope they return next year. If they do, they will find they have missed the Public Inquiry into the proposed extension of Lydd airport. We now know that the Inquiry is scheduled to start on 15 February 2011.
As the purple family hide themselves away in some papyrus-fringed African wetland, my colleagues will be continuing the pains-taking work of assembling our case. The Lydd story is now featured, here, on the Guardian’s new Piece by Piece project. The purple family also get a mention here in an article by the Guardian’s Juliette Jowit looking at the state of site conservation in the UK.
Do visit Dungeness this weekend if you can - it's the Dungeness Wildlife and Countryside Fair. I will be there lending a hand on Sunday.
And as an extra treat – here’s the common crane family in flight over the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire – the youngster (Cambridgeshire's first for 400 years) is flanked by Mum and Dad.
In a move that buys a little time for the Dakatcha Woodlands, Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has refused a licence to a 50,000ha biofuels plantation. At headline level, this looks like good news – and it certainly is a significant outcome of the campaign led by Nature Kenya and the local community. We’ve been following the story on this blog – and you can read more here.
But lets not be under any illusion – this is, at the moment, just a stay of execution as NEMA has told the developer to consider scaling down the application to a pilot project to prove sustainability before a licence for the full 50,000 ha is issued. Nature Kenya is convinced the project is fundamentally unsustainable and is calling for the project to be scrapped.
Given the developer, Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd, stands accused of starting forest clearance before the licensing process was complete – indeed before the Environmental Impact Assessment had been made available for comment – the future for this Important Bird Area is looking distinctly uncertain.
Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd is owned by an Italian company, Nuove Iniziative Industriali Srl, and aim to export 70% of the biofuel to Europe. The insatiable thirst for biofuels is the reason that Kenya’s natural environment is under immediate threat. We’ve criticised the UK's Renwable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) as one of the polices that is driving demand for biofuels. But the UK is not alone in having biofuel support policies, and the real driving force is the target set in the Renewable Energy Directive. This legislation contains environmental safeguards that are meant to prevent damaging projects such as this being supported by European policies and government support. However, we know that this particular proposal will be selling to the EU market despite these rules. The Dakatcha Woodlands looks certain to test the effectiveness of these safeguards.
Waving the shroud of climate change as a reason for pursuing unsustainable land use in Africa (and the threat goes way beyond Kenya) is an unworthy excuse to threaten the way of life of nearly 60,000 people and an important habitat with its complement of wildlife. For Clarke’s weaver (picture by Steve Garvie) the Dakatcha woodlands are its last chance for survival.