Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: October 2015

COP Alert – only a month to go now

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Watch out.  COP21 is coming.

Reuters has reported comments by Laurence Tubiana, the French envoy to COP21, quoting her as saying that delegates remain divided over fundamental issues, one of which is the framework for measuring carbon emissions – with oil-producing nations arguing that the focus should not only be on fossil fuels but also on emissions from agriculture and other sectors.  Tubiana also said current negotiations pointed to a deal that would put the planet on a path to exceeding the 2 degree C threshold – but we knew that.  There have been some advances, she said, "although they are difficult to spot".  It seems that some 154 out of the 195 participating countries have submitted their national programmes to reduce emissions.  That already counts as "a success", Tubiana says, even if it's not enough to put the planet on the path to limit warming.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph's AEP, under the heading: "Paris climate deal to ignite a $90 trillion energy revolution", is reporting that submissions to COP21 from governments amount to the death knell for the fossil fuel companies (and trouble for those economies utterly dependent on the business).  Here's a taste:

"Taken together, they commit the world to a reduction in fossil fuel demand by 30 – 40% over the next 20 years, and this is just the start of a revolutionary shift to net zero emissions by 2080 or thereabouts.  “It is unstoppable.  No amount of lobbying at this point is going to change the direction,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official. 

Yet the energy industry is still banking on ever-rising demand for its products as if nothing has changed.  BP is projecting a 43% increase in fossil fuel use by 2035, Exxon expects 35% by 2040, Shell 43% and Opec is clinging valiantly to 55%. These are pure fiction. "

Of course, submissions are one thing – promises is all they are – following through is quite another.  And these are promises from outfits that are not good at doing what they say.  However, Climate Action features a report by FTI Consulting which predicts that 59GW of wind energy capacity will have been installed by the end of 2015, and that between 2015 and 2019, installations are expected to reach 264GW, with total wind installations for the 2015-2024 period now expected to reach 592GW globally.  All this adds substance to AEP's confidence, and chimes well with another bright spot that I noted last week: PWC suggestion that there's evidence that GDP has become decoupled from carbon emissions.


Will you be at Paris?  I shall not, though I know those who will be joining the carnival of NGOs clustering round the COP fringes, talking to each other, dining well, and generally getting in the way.  Personally, I think I might go down to the coast for a sobering walk in the wind.



Giving the UN a helping hand

📥  Comment, News and Updates

You may think you have already come across the Global Goals for SD, but are you confusing this with the UN's SD Goals?

Of course, they are the same goals, but when you compare the websites, you'll see the difference.  Global Goals is an initiative of Global Citizen which has better images and more partners than the UN.  It looks like a force of nature.

It certainly has a catchy strap line:


"If the goals are going to work, everyone needs to know about them.  You can’t fight for your rights if you don’t know what they are.  You can’t convince world leaders to do what needs to be done if you don’t know what you’re convincing them to do.  It’s the same wherever you are in the world.  Find out what’s going on around the world, decide how you are going to help us reach 7 billion people in 7 days and tell us what’s happening where you are.  These goals are for everyone, everywhere."

It remains to be seen whether the last sentence gets taken seriously.  After all, the MDGs were not seen like this.  Far from it; of course, neither was there such a campaign behind them.

Of course, it's all grist to the global learning mill ...


Aid and the Sustainable Development Goals

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The 17 SDGs were launched by the UN on September 25th, to the usual fanfare.  They are wordy, as I've noted before, and as the Economist has argued, some are so convoluted as to defy evaluation – which, perhaps, was the point.

"Most of the SDGs’ predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), have been met, largely because of progress in China and India. But there were just eight of them, focused on cutting extreme poverty and improving health care and education, all clearly defined.  By contrast there are 17 SDGs and a whopping 169 “associated targets”, covering world peace, the environment, gender equality and much, much more. Many are impossible to measure. ... A tighter focus and more precise definitions might have been wise."

In a more recent posting, Beyond handouts, The Economist has said that although targets are bloated, they do show how aid is changing for the better, and "are part of an important shift in thinking about development that is making it both more ambitious and more realistic."

The Economist's comments concluded:

"As the SDGs proliferate, donors are putting greater emphasis on measuring results and collecting data.  They need data to be more disaggregated and to know where the poor are concentrated, as well as their ages, how they live and what sort of work they do.  Advances in technology make this easier.  Satellites can more precisely determine where forests are thinning, for example, or where crops are thriving or wilting.  Among the SDG targets is one that calls for all births to be registered so that all children have legal identities, and their progress can be tracked.  What matters most is “measuring need and measuring impact,” says Michael Anderson, who runs CIFF [Children’s Investment Fund Foundation] and was previously Mr Cameron’s special envoy for the UN’s development goals.  Yet, he adds, of the 193 countries which have signed up to the SDGs’ nutrition targets only 74 have enough data to assess whether they’re on track to meet them.

“We know so much better now what works and what doesn’t work,” says Mr Anderson.  “Aid is an ever-declining part of the story.”  That, perhaps, is the SDGs’ real message.  Unwieldy as they are, they are not just a call for more handouts.  The MDGs were meant to create a social safety net; the SDGs to be fit for an age in which the standard of living in a big chunk of the developing world is creeping towards the levels of rich countries.  The SDGs’ boosters, though admitting they will be harder to measure than the MDGs, let alone meet, hail them for going “beyond aid.”

I wonder if the Aid industry in the UK, and its educational fellow travellers, agree.


PostScript: Here's an Economist exploration of how implementation of the SDGs will likely intersect with religious thinking and activity – something we shall likely hear more of, no doubt, and at some length.


Carbon emissions and human development in India

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I was being gloomy in a meeting the other day about the dismal prospects for COP21 when someone said the outcome will depend on what David Cameron does.

That cannot be right in any tangible sense as our carbon emissions are so puny.  There is moral leadership to be provided or squandered, of course, but that's another issue.  I said I was keeping an eye on the Indian middle class.  How apt, then, to find a recent Economist piece on that very subject: India and the Environment: catching up with China.

Here's the issue:

"Given India’s size and population (1.3 billion), its emissions of carbon dioxide are in relative terms still tiny.  At 1.6 tonnes of carbon per person each year, they are roughly the same as China’s per-head emissions in 1980, when that country dived into economic reforms.  Now India’s prime minister ... has set India a target of expanding GDP by 8% a year.  If it comes close to meeting that target, emissions will soar, just as China’s have done. Today, Chinese emissions per head are four times those in India."

The development problems India faces are huge.  As the Economist summarises it:

"The country has more poor people than anywhere else in the world: 230m living on $1.90 a day or less – the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty.  Almost half of rural households, or 250m-300m people, have no electricity."

India has refused (in advance of COP21) to promise to cap its emissions.  This understandable because, as the Economist notes, "to cap emissions would be to deny many Indians the chance to better their hard lives", adding that, for the poor "growth is essential", even though carbon comes with it.  After all, bettering hard lives is what development is all about; that is, as Amartya Sen said, giving people the chance to live lives they have reason to value.

So, how will all this play out?  How carbon intense will this development be?  India itself has promised (for the COP) that its carbon intensity (carbon emissions per $ of GDP) will fall by a third before 2030.  The Economist says that this depends on the policies that India adopts, and how well these are carried through, adding ...

"If there is reason to be optimistic, it is that the environment matters to Indians themselves.  Thirteen of the world’s 20 most-polluted cities are in the subcontinent.  Smoke from cooking with wood or dung in Indian homes may be responsible for 500,000 early deaths a year, mostly of women and children.  Climate change could do grave harm to India.  Some two-thirds of its agriculture depends on the monsoon, which may become less reliable as a result of global warming.  Some Himalayan glaciers are retreating, sending less water to rivers that feed hundreds of millions of people downstream.  A quarter of Indians live near coasts that are vulnerable to sea-level rises.  Many countries suffer one or more of these problems. Few have all of them. So while Indians need growth, they cannot ignore the consequences of it."

The article is worth reading for its clear setting out of the utter complexity of this carbon v development issue – something being played out in a lot of countries – including economically developed ones such as the UK.  Anyone who thinks any of this is amenable to simple solutions is clearly simple-minded and/or ill-informed, and I hope that articles such as this are being read and used by those involved in the global learning business to help their students see more clearly into the fog of issues.



Falling Carbon Intensity – the UK leads

📥  Comment, New Publications

It seems that the UK is leading the world in addressing one aspect of climate change.  This is that the fall in our greenhouse gas emissions per $ of GDP, at 10.9%, is not only the highest in the world in 2014, but also the highest on record.  This arcane figure is termed ‘carbon intensity’, and the data come from PriceWaterhouseCooper’s annual Low Carbon Economy Index *.

By contrast, the figure for the US is a miserable 1.9%, and Germany, that €uro powerhouse, managed only 7.1%. The average fall across the world was 2.7%.  PWC reckons, using IPCC data, that it would have to be 6.3% to keep the world temperature rise below 2 degrees C.  More evidence, then, that this will not be happening.

The 2.7% fall comes about because the global GDP rose by 3.3% in 2014, while carbon emissions rose by (only) 0.5%. As a result of this, PWC suggests that GDP and emissions have at last become “uncoupled” which, if true, will be some rare good news.


* Two degrees of separation: ambition and reality.  The report begins:

"The 2014 Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) shows an unmistakeable trend. For the sixth year running, the global economy has missed the decarbonisation target needed to limit global warming to 2 ̊C.  Confronted with the challenge in 2013 of decarbonising at 6% a year, we managed only 1.2%.  To avoid two degrees of warming, the global economy now needs to decarbonise at 6.2% a year, more than five times faster than the current rate, every year from now till 2100.  On our current burn rate we blow our carbon budget by 2034, sixty six years ahead of schedule.  This trajectory, based on IPCC data, takes us to four degrees of warming by the end of the century.

This stark message comes in the run up to a critical series of climate negotiations, kicking off in New York and Lima in late 2014, then moving to Paris by December 2015 for the COP21 Summit, widely thought of as the last chance to secure a global agreement on action on climate change.


Go on, just read that bit again:

"To avoid two degrees of warming, the global economy now needs to decarbonise at 6.2% a year ... every year from now till 2100."

Why 'on Earth' isn't everybody talking about this?  Why isn't it at the heart of policy-making?



Ashden Sustainable School Awards

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Ashden's Sustainable School Awards ceremony was held his wednesday in London.  Sadly, I was unable to attend.  There were four winners:

Thornhill Primary School, Cardiff – young eco warriors make big energy savings

Thornhill Primary School’s crack squad of student eco-warriors keep energy wastage to a minimum with their spot checks on whether lights and appliances have been left on in the classroom. The school’s willingness to trial new ideas and share the results with others, along with its determination to reduce carbon emissions to the absolute minimum, is what makes it the first Welsh school to be a finalist in the Ashden Sustainable School Awards.  Solar PV, LED lighting, a building management system and more efficient IT facilities mean that electricity consumption has reduced by over a third since 2011/12. Little wonder that Cardiff City Council use Thornhill as a case study of best practice in carbon reduction.

North Warwickshire & Hinckley College, Nuneaton – joined up approach to carbon management equals win-win 

North Warwickshire & Hinckley College in Nuneaton is the first further education college to be a finalist for an Ashden Award and its holistic approach to sustainability has seen it reduce carbon emissions by more than a third in the past five years. Improved insulation, better boilers, and the introduction of LED lighting and sensor controls are just some of the energy efficiency measures the college has put in place. IT team leader Maj, himself a former student, has actually redesigned the IT facilities to reduce electricity use by 35%.  A team attitude to reducing consumption and building energy efficiency awareness, involving senior facilities managers and maintenance staff, is resulting in major savings to both the college budget and the environment. Now that’s what we call a win-win, especially in an establishment that covers several different locations and has more than 14,000 students.

Home Farm Primary School, Colchester – Essex Primary School on its very best behaviour

The first primary school in Essex to be awarded a Grade B rating in its Energy Performance Certificate, Home Farm is a model of good behaviour. Between the dream team of Head Teacher Richard Potter and school Business Manager Ceri Stammers, they have managed to turn around a poorly managed heating system and a heat-leaking building to make Home Farm virtually self-sufficient in energy.  The school has an active student Eco Committee, solar panels on the roof and a new building management system has been installed, all contributing to the impressive turnaround in energy efficiency. One of the simplest yet most productive moves was to enclose a central courtyard which has reduced gas consumption to 60% of what you would expect from a building of this type. The school has also seen a 61% reduction in its electricity use.

Marton Primary School, Lincolnshirepupils’ efforts to reduce carbon footprint of school brings big rewards

Being a very small school, all staff and the 97 pupils are aware of the carbon saving efforts at Marton Primary School. There are just four classes and Head Teacher Ben Stephenson and Senior Teacher Naomi Maguire go the extra mile to ensure that the children have a strong voice in determining the energy saving processes. It was the youngsters who insisted on changing their lunch break time so as not to prolong meals being warmed by an electric food warmer – pupil power in action!  The school has made some impressive savings, reducing energy consumption by 30% between 2011 and 2014 and the fact that they have 100% LED lighting throughout is estimated to save 12 tonnes of C02 per year.


Ashden's prime focus is on sustainable energy and energy reduction, and so it's no surprise to see issues of curriculum played down in these very positive vignettes.   So, if you want to see how these examples of institutional energy innovation are feeding into what children are learning about sustainability and the world around them, you need to dive into the Ashden website and look at the case studies of practice.  These are available via the above links, and it's certainly worth a look to see how well the institutions meet the standards set by the Ashden criteria:

"We are looking for schools in the UK that can demonstrate real achievements in making your buildings and grounds more sustainable, and integrating sustainability into your culture and curriculum.  Energy must play a key role."




Global EE – just don't mention economics

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Here's a new MOOC from Cornell University: Environmental Education: A transdisciplinary approach to addressing wicked problems.

The organisers say:

"The goal of this course is to create an environmental education “trading zone”— an online space where scholars and students gather to learn about multiple disciplines that shed light on how to improve environmental quality and change environmental behaviors.  Each of the lectures, readings, discussions, and case studies will focus on the implications of a particular discipline for environmental education, as well as what environmental education has to contribute to related disciplines and sectors.  Learn about how environmental education, environmental governance, environmental psychology, environmental sociology and other disciplines can work together to address ‘wicked problems,’ not readily addressed by working in disciplinary silos."

Did you notice that phrase trading zone?  No wonder it had scare quotes round it, as this sounds rather like a market place, which will be enough to get anti-neo-liberal activistas in a lather.  And did you notice the discipline most notably absent from the list?  Economics.  Why does no one understand that this discipline is at the heart of most of the wickedness that this programme sets out to address?  A baffling blind spot.

This mysterious absence of economics from environmental education is, of course, mirrored by the lack of much consideration of environment in economics education, as I have noted before with reference to Manchester's the post-crash economics society.  Steve Gough is one of the few people who writes about environmental education and economic thinking, and his latest book: Education, Nature, and Society raises many issues. The Steady State folk at the Daly News write about economics and the environment all the time.  I hope all these ideas manage to infiltrate the Cornell course.

Anyway, to register, just go here.




ESD is no help in THE table of tables

📥  Comment, News and Updates

It is no surprise to see that Cambridge has (again) topped the Times Higher Education table of tables, based on the combined results of the UK’s three main domestic university rankings.  Oxford lies second (again), and St Andrews third (again).  The 3 tables are the Complete University Guide, the rankings published by The Guardian, and the combined Times and Sunday Times’ Good University Guide.

Most notable in all the trivia about who's up and who's down is the entry of Coventry University, the first post-92 institution to appear in the table.  Less notable to THE readers, because they've not really heard of ESD, is that only one institution that takes it seriously appears in the top 30, and that's Bristol in 22nd place – 22nd!

It does make you wonder how it is still the case that these tables can continue to ignore ESD after all the work of HEA / QAA.  Answers on a postcard please ...




Postcard from NAAEE's Research Symposium

📥  Comment, News and Updates

It is some while since I have been at NAAEE's research symposium, but coming back is like visiting old family friends, with so many familiar faces – and ideas.  I was touched by the warm 'welcome-back' reception that I received.

What strikes you immediately is how few men there are here, and, at the same time, how non-diverse the group seems to be – a euphemism for 'not many people of color'.  There are men, of course, ~10% by my reckoning, but many are now greybeards.  Indeed, I am one such, literally and metaphorically.  It's rather like the UK, whose graduate students in the EE/ESD field are mostly women.  There are, no doubt, sound sociological explanations for all this.  One positive is the number of women in the group now in senior positions in universities here – with surely more to come.

The programme was a familiar mix of keynote, posters, roundtables, workshops, and facilitated discussions, with so-called skill-building workshops thrown in.  What follows is a personal comment on my partial and small sampling of it all.

Interaction and participation were in, and presentations were frowned on.  So, even in a 30 minute facilitated discussion there had to be time to draw a poster; indeed, there was something of a poster fetish about the whole thing, as if the organisation had been sponsored by flip-chart makers [*].  Maybe it's those smelly marker pens they over use over here – are they addictive, I thought?  Anyway, I wondered whether all this participation was inhibiting discussion, especially the asking of probing questions.  Mind you, I have never thought that NAAEE encouraged this.

There were lots (~40) of posters presentations, and, my, how slick and glossy these now are.  But they were mostly crammed with words in small print.  They were remarkably similar methodologically, and covered much familiar territory.  A new phenomenon, for me, was people photographing the posters.  Good luck with that, I thought.  I had a few conversations with poster owners, but many seemed to abandon their posts – maybe to read other posters.  I'm inclined to think traditional posters have had their day, particularly as they are all so information heavy.  New thinking needed, I'd say.  Maybe the idea of a mini-seminar gathered round a focused poster where ideas are tried out or feedback gained – treating the audience as if it had something to offer.

The symposium concluded with Alan Reid's getting a much-deserved award for his outstanding contribution to research.  This was followed by deliberations he had organised on 2020 vision scenarios (more group work but no posers) looking at how the research symposium might re-focus itself to engage (or not) with existential issues.  One scenario was to focus on climate change (education).  Chance would be a fine thing, I thought.  I thought the scenarios were well-conceived, through it all ended with rather an inconclusive whimper.  The convenors of the research symposium say they will take up this thinking.

The final act was a panel reflecting on (that is, self-indulgently rambling endlessly on about) the symposium highlights.  Inevitably, this was rather tedious.  Still, it was an inclusive panel, so that was a box ticked.


[*] New Verb AlertTo flipchart – To use multi-coloured pens to scribble and/or doodle inconsequentially on a large piece of paper prior to sticking it on a wall for other people to ignore.