Tuesday, March 10, 2009

'Carbon-lite' workshop

I attended a workshop this morning laid on by the City Council's Vision Board officer team to help board members examine the wide ranging issues that need to be tackled as part of strategic planning because of climate change. I don't like the 'Carbon-Lite' title, because it's American, trendy and makes me think of mass market drinks that rot your teeth, gut or brain, while pretending to be less damaging for you than the eponymous full strength product. I'd rather we talked about carbon dependency reduction. Even though its more verbose, it doesn't evade the demanding nature of the task.

We were briefed with an imaginary scenario on how Cardiff might be by 2025 if no policy was devised and implemented to curb fossil fuel use. Fifty percent of the City's carbon dioxide output is due to industry. The rest is domestic and public sector consumption.

On top of anticipated population growth, we were asked to consider catering for an extra 10,000 inhabitants - climate change refugees from other parts of the world, afflicted either by desertification or rising sea levels. The paper was prepared before today's news, that by 2100 the anticipated average sea level rise will not be 60cm, as previously thought, but 90-120cm, a figure that could have greater impact on population, and local geography. The matter of Cardiff's sea defences was hardly touched upon. The scenario envisaged prolonged recovery from recession, energy and food security problems, and public disorder arising from scarcities of both kinds, as being more than possible. The challenge for heading off the worst case scenario is a net 9% reduction per annum in carbon emissions from now on. Implementation of a reduction policy must become a major driver of local economy, not just for potential cost savings, as fossil fuel prices skyrocket, but for developing renewable energy sources and technologies to match need to minimise carbon demand.

Discussion of the scenario touched upon a wide range of issues -

Improving transport infrastructure to enable mobility when fewer can afford cars.
Re-use of existing sites for housing and re-visiting the design of high-density living.
Improvement of energy efficiency of existing housing stock.
Improvement of all public buildings for greater energy efficiency.

Encouragement of local food production and use at all levels.
Targeting investment in research and innovation which will be eco-beneficial. Educating all citizens, promoting change towards more eco-friendly lifestyles.
Recognising how health concerns interlock with action on climate change.

On of the most interesting points raised was about the breakdown of a sense of neighbourhood and local community. The need for urban mobility arises from journeys made for work, domestic and recreation needs (not forgetting worship) each in different places from where people live. What would it mean to renew and redevelop a sense of local community within the City? What can the Church do to re-create a sense of Parish as local neighbourhood when so many people travel across town to pray? A working group will produce an action plan for meeting the 9% per annum carbon reduction, for adoption across the City, by every organisation that contributes to its carbon footprint.

This will have implications for energy use in places of worship in the city - currently around 220 of them, great and small - and for the 40,000+ people who move around week in week out to attend their place of prayer. The Church in Wales has made a good start with its Parish Green Guide, but there's so much more to be done across all faith groups, to ensure this matter is tackled with practical seriousness and urgency.

The notes from the workshop can be found here

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