Building a low carbon Britain: never waste a good crisitunity
Zoe Le Grand, Senior Sustainability Advisor at Forum for the Future, considers the opportunities of the financial crisis for a lower carbon Britain.
I’ve never been one for corporate jargon – I don’t “push the envelope”. My thought processes are never “blue sky” or “out of the box”. So when I came across the latest bit of business-speak I had to laugh – apparently, if you turn a crisis into an opportunity it’s a “crisitunity”.
Despite the cringey new word, the sentiment behind it makes a lot of sense – when you are faced with a crisis, look for the opportunity. And you don’t have far to look for a crisis now. Public spending is being slashed, but people still demand better services and legislation requires huge cuts in carbon emissions.
But what if we started to view the financial crisis as an opportunity to approach service delivery in a totally new way? One which resulted in better services with lower carbon emissions?
A study by Forum for the Future and ADEPT (the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport) aims to help the public sector to seize these opportunities. Building a Low-Carbon Britain presents four scenarios of a low-carbon UK in 2030 and explores how the public sector might respond to each.
The study makes five recommendations for actions that councils can take now to seize the opportunities presented by a low-carbon economy. They should:
- Redefine the role of local government in a low-carbon economy
As the local economy changes, so will the role of local government. The current financial crisis makes it imperative to seek out new revenue streams and re-orientate business models to encourage low-carbon behaviour.
- Invest in low-carbon infrastructure and set favourable planning conditions
Opportunities range from intelligent energy saving solutions in council buildings to using planning policy and community engagement to facilitate development of large renewable infrastructure.
- Build resilience at the local level
Investing now in climate change adaptation and emergency planning to cope with extreme weather events is essential. Water management and the maintenance of biodiversity are also vital to future-proof food, transport or biological systems.
- Prevent low-carbon social exclusion
The drive for a low-carbon society may make some groups more vulnerable, such as rural communities isolated by higher carbon and oil prices. E-government offers a means to support these people but councils may need to make sure they have the necessary skills and access to the relevant technology.
- Foster low-carbon innovation
Councils need to make radical changes in their own internal operations and service delivery. They also need to invest in low-carbon industries to encourage businesses and communities to reduce their carbon footprint, and they need to build links with universities to ensure the local workforce has the skills these industries need.
To help bring councils together, exchange ideas and find where the real opportunities for low-cost, low-carbon projects lies a series of local events are also being planned.
Some local authorities are already forging ahead and finding ways to reduce carbon emissions and deliver better services cost effectively. Cornwall County Council, for example, is investing in a huge solar park, which will bring in a new revenue stream, improve energy security and provide carbon-free energy for residents.
The Birmingham Energy Savers scheme is creating jobs and supporting the growth of green businesses by providing insulation and solar panels to residents and companies. It will help the council meet its carbon targets and lower fuel bills for the community.
Examples like these should inspire all local authorities to seek out projects that have multiple benefits – for the community, the public purse and the environment. Otherwise this “crisitunity” could go to waste.
Forum for the Future is one of the UK’s leading sustainable development NGOs. It works internationally with government, business and public service providers, helping them to develop strategies to achieve success through sustainability, to deliver products and services which enhance people’s lives and are better for the environment, and to lead the way to a better world.
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