Professionals have said claims that the UK is “ahead of the pack” in regards to climate change and clean energy are not true. A report published by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) suggests the UK is behind some other EU member states in the fight against climate change. The ECIU report focuses on a number of measures needed for building a clean, energy secure, low carbon economy.
Richard Black, Director of ECIU, said: “This report reveals that the UK’s record is about average compared with other EU member states – we’re ahead of the pack on some measures, and behind in others.
“For example, we’re the fourth most advanced country in Europe in terms of how much renewable energy capacity we’ve installed per person in recent years, but only 21st of 28 countries if you look at the total amount we have on a per capita basis.
“The meme of UK exceptionalism is raising its head in the context of the Fifth Carbon Budget, with suggestions that we should reduce the pace of decarbonisation as we’re somehow ahead of our neighbours; but when you look across the piece, we’re not ahead, so the argument should logically go away.”
ECIU compared EU countries on a ‘basket’ of seven measures of progress towards a clean energy economy. Reliance on any single measure – for example, per-capita emissions – does not provide an accurate indication of progress, as it can be hugely skewed by either historical or current factors.
The report finds that:
– The UK is broadly average across four of the chosen metrics, namely per capita carbon emissions, recent annual percentage per capita decrease in emissions in recent years (2009-2014), carbon intensity, and percentage of low-carbon energy in total energy use
– The UK performs badly on renewable energy per-capita compared with comparable large economies (UK, Germany, Italy, France and Spain) and with the entire 28 European Union countries (EU28), coming last out of that ‘Big Five’ and 21st overall
– The UK performs well on recent increases in per capita renewable energy capacity (2009-2014), coming second out of the ‘Big Five’ and fourth out of the EU28. It is also first of the Big Five in emission reductions since 1990, but only 8th overall.
The UK is also distinctly average on energy efficiency, although this was not included in the ‘basket’ of seven measures as it is difficult to derive a single value to represent efficiency across various sectors.
The entire EU28 shares the same long-term goal – a reduction of emissions by 80-95%, from a 1990 baseline, by 2050. Because this goal applies to all EU nations, it was not included in the analysis.
Dr Jonathan Marshall, ECIU’s Energy Analyst and an author on the report, said: “Each EU country has a different history – for example, France with its big nuclear sector, the UK with its ‘dash for gas’, the Baltic States emerging from the Soviet Union – so comparing their progress on a single measure can be really misleading.
“All are aiming in the same direction however, namely an efficient, clean, secure energy economy; and to get there by 2050 requires progress on a range of different measures.
“We think this ‘basket’ approach that we’re using here is the basis for a much more realistic comparison. On this basis, the UK is ahead on some measures and behind on others – overall, it’s about average.”
Twenty Conservative MPs recently called on David Cameron to adopt the CCC’s recommendation on the fifth carbon budget with no caveats, arguing that acceptance will cut the costs of decarbonisation and encourage businesses to invest in low-carbon infrastructure. However, 15 other MPs including 12 Conservatives have argued against its adoption ahead of agreement by European member states on ‘burden sharing’ of an EU-wide 2030 emissions reductions target.
Richard Benyon, Conservative MP for Newbury who sits on ECIU’s Advisory Board, said: “EU member states are all working towards the same long term goal, of cutting carbon emissions and building a low-carbon economy. This report shows that when you look at overall progress towards this ambition, the UK is far from being ‘ahead of the pack’ as some people claim that we are.
“In Britain, however, we benefit from carbon budgets, set by the Committee on Climate Change, which help successive governments work towards that goal in the most cost effective way possible.
“Early and full acceptance of the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation on the fifth carbon budget, with no caveats, will give investors the confidence to invest in the low-carbon infrastructure we need, and so maintain this government’s excellent record of lower emissions combined with sustained economic growth.”
7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption
Most of our focus on technological development to lessen our environmental impact has been focused on cleaner, more efficient methods of generating electricity. The cost of solar energy production, for example, is slated to fall more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.
This is a massive step forward, and it’s good that engineers and researchers are working for even more advancements in this area. But what about technologies that reduce the amount of energy we demand in the first place?
Though it doesn’t get as much attention in the press, we’re making tremendous progress in this area, too.
New Technologies to Watch
These are some of the top emerging technologies that have the power to reduce our energy demands:
- Self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are still in development, but they’re already being hailed as potential ways to eliminate a number of problems on the road, including the epidemic of distracted driving ironically driven by other new technologies. However, even autonomous vehicle proponents often miss the tremendous energy savings that self-driving cars could have on the world. With a fleet of autonomous vehicles at our beck and call, consumers will spend less time driving themselves and more time carpooling, dramatically reducing overall fuel consumption once it’s fully adopted.
- Magnetocaloric tech. The magnetocaloric effect isn’t exactly new—it was actually discovered in 1881—but it’s only recently being studied and applied to commercial appliances. Essentially, this technology relies on changing magnetic fields to produce a cooling effect, which could be used in refrigerators and air conditioners to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required.
- New types of insulation. Insulation is the best asset we have to keep our homes thermoregulated; they keep cold or warm air in (depending on the season) and keep warm or cold air out (again, depending on the season). New insulation technology has the power to improve this efficiency many times over, decreasing our need for heating and cooling entirely. For example, some new automated sealing technologies can seal gaps between 0.5 inches wide and the width of a human hair.
- Better lights. Fluorescent bulbs were a dramatic improvement over incandescent bulbs, and LEDs were a dramatic improvement over fluorescent bulbs—but the improvements may not end there. Scientists are currently researching even better types of light bulbs, and more efficient applications of LEDs while they’re at it.
- Better heat pumps. Heat pumps are built to transfer heat from one location to another, and can be used to efficiently manage temperatures—keeping homes warm while requiring less energy expenditure. For example, some heat pumps are built for residential heating and cooling, while others are being used to make more efficient appliances, like dryers.
- The internet of things. The internet of things and “smart” devices is another development that can significantly reduce our energy demands. For example, “smart” windows may be able to respond dynamically to changing light conditions to heat or cool the house more efficiently, and “smart” refrigerators may be able to respond dynamically to new conditions. There are several reasons for this improvement. First, smart devices automate things, so it’s easier to control your energy consumption. Second, they track your consumption patterns, so it’s easier to conceptualize your impact. Third, they’re often designed with efficiency in mind from the beginning, reducing energy demands, even without the high-tech interfaces.
- Machine learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the power to improve almost every other item on this list. By studying consumer patterns and recommending new strategies, or automatically controlling certain features, machine learning algorithms have the power to fundamentally change how we use energy in our homes and businesses.
Making the Investment
All technologies need time, money, and consumer acceptance to be developed. Fortunately, a growing number of consumers are becoming enthusiastic about finding new ways to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact. As long as we keep making the investment, our tools to create cleaner energy and demand less energy in the first place should have a massive positive effect on our environment—and even our daily lives.
Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living
Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.
However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.
They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.
What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??
Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded.
Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.
In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.
Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.
Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.
How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?
Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.
For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.
Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.
Their influence in the UK
The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.
Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.
In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.
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