Vivien Pomfrey
BSc (Hons) (Open)
DipNatSci (Open)
MSc (Science) (Open)

 

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Sustainability Questions and Answers

Below are the questions in the consultation 'Taking it on' by the UK' s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2004, followed by my responses.  The responses were produced in some haste, hence their rather brainstorming nature as opposed to that of a formal document.  I am not sure whether I was able to submit the full text of my answers as there were word limits in the online consultation.

The summary of responses to the consultation can be found at

http://www.sustainable-development.gov.uk/publications/pdf/finalsummary.pdf

Q1: What do you think of our approach to the content and structure of a new strategy?

I wonder whether it wouldn' t be better to focus the money and effort into implementing existing policies rather than into redrafting policy.   For example, many councils have excellent local transport plans but are not implementing them.  Having to deal with a whole new set of policies will be a distraction from taking real action which is urgently needed.  Re your "approach to the content and structure of a new strategy", it seems very vague and it is hard to see how any concrete policies can be created out of it, let alone how the aims will be achieved.  We perhaps need a little less philosophy and a lot more practical strategies.  But many existing ones are fine, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Q2: Is an explanation of what sustainable development means based on the UK Government's four objectives approach of the 1999 strategy useful?
- if 'Yes', what changes would you make to improve it?
- if 'No', how would you explain it instead?

Not really.  'Social progress' is a vague term and it is unclear what it means.  How about 'greater social and economic equity, empowering everyone to realise their potential'?  Another one could be ' putting the natural environment at the heart of all policies at all levels of government, business and society'?  Too often environmental imperatives are downgraded to little Green add-ons which fail to ensure a net environmental benefit.  Environmentalism should be central to everything we do.   The fourth objective is utterly wrong and incompatible with genuine sustainability.  Economic growth is incompatible with sustainability.  Quality of life does not depend on material wealth, as an increasing number of people are realising.

Q3: What should be our vision of sustainable development for the UK?

Real sustainability in everything we do.  It should be in the forefront of all our minds all the time.  It is in mine.

Q4: What should be the guiding principles for UK decision-makers, and how can they be made widely practical and relevant both within and beyond government?

Genuine sustainability.  This means abandoning the aim of economic growth, which is incompatible with sustainability.  Quality of life does not depend on material wealth, as an increasing number of people are realising.   The aims must include using renewable materials in place of non-renewable ones, maximising the re-use of 'waste' including the anaerobic digestion of organic waste to produce biogas, enabling people to use public transport instead of driving, and taxing packaging including supermarket carrier bags.

Q5: Are there any social, economic or environmental limits that must be protected in all circumstances?  If 'Yes' what do you think they are?

YES.   There must be no increase in greenhouse gas emissions.  There must be no more greenfield-site destruction.  There are enough residential properties for all those who need them, when account is taken of vacant properties and those which are owned by people with other residences (excluding those occupied by tenants).  There must be no more roadbuilding: it is causing irreversible environmental damage and having a drastic adverse effect on quality of life.  If national, regional and local transport strategies are followed, the consequent reduction in road traffic will obviate the demand for more road space (see my Figure 1).  Action should be taken to prevent further human population growth, perhaps by rewarding childless people in some way.  The UK human population is way over levels which can provide a healthy, beautiful environment to support a good quality of life.

 

Figure 1 - The 'Virtuous Circle' of sustainable transport policies

 

Q6: Are the four priority areas identified above the right ones for the UK as a whole focus on over the next few years?  If 'No', what would you change?

Climate change and energy is perhaps best dealt with UK-wide, but I would like to see encouragement of local energy self-sufficiency.  There must be large-scale organisation of public transport systems so that they are properly integrated and easy to use.   Sustainable consumption, production and use of natural resources should also have a UK-wide element, perhaps of a fiscal and legal nature and also involve subsidies for sustainable production.  But actual consumption should be focused as much as possible on locally-produced goods.   Environment and social justice should be founded on a UK-centred basis of laws, regulations, education programmes and monetary ' carrots and sticks' but there should be maximal use of local expertise to achieve the goals.  Helping communities to help themselves must mean enabling them to become more self-sufficient in all possible ways, e.g. consumption of goods, energy production, house-building/renovation to meet local needs only, and planning.

Q7: What issues do you think are important, or better dealt with, only within the separate UK Government, Scottish Executive, Welsh Assembly Government or Northern Ireland strategies, or at a regional or local level?

Planning should be dealt with as locally as possible and focus on local need, not accommodating the desire of some people to move into an area.  Also see answer to previous question.

Q8: How can we encourage more public involvement in action to reduce emissions?

By fiscal means.  Provide generous subsidies for renewables and impose heavy taxes on non-renewables and nuclear.  Also make public transport free or extremely cheap.  The reduction in road-building and repair costs, and the cost to the NHS of illness caused by vehicle emissions, road accidents and lack of exercise due to the dangers of walking and cycling, will go a long way towards paying for free transport.

Q9: How can more people and organisations be encouraged to consider the impacts of climate change on their activities, and to respond to them?  What are the opportunities for, and barriers to, progress?

A major barrier is the lack of public transport provision. Another is the giving by councils of grants to install fossil-fuel-based heating systems. Perhaps the government (guided by Jonathon Porritt?) could produce a free booklet (printed on recycled paper, of course) detailing how various activities impact on climate change, so that people can see how to change their behaviour to reduce emissions.  For example, it should include figures on the amount of land, water, chemical inputs and energy used in farming crops as opposed to livestock.

Q10: What opportunities are there for making sure that considering the impacts of climate change are an essential part of policy and decision-making as part of the drive for sustainable development?

Government should require all organisations, including its own departments, councils, agencies and businesses to factor sustainability criteria into all their policies.  It should encourage them to run competitions for staff to suggest the best Green actions which their employers could take, which would be judged by a panel of environmentalists.  Panel members might include Jonathon Porritt, David Attenborough, Michael Meacher, Barbara Young, Satish Kumar, Vandana Shiva, George Monbiot (and not the bizarre David Bellamy).

Q11: What steps do you think government, business, and others should be taking to promote a more innovative, competitive, resource-efficient, low-waste, economy whilst also improving our environmental performance?

Instigate national competitions for environmentally-friendly design of buildings, vehicles, etc. Councils should reward households for recycling and penalise those who do not.  A ratio of recyclable and non-recyclable waste can be calculated for each household and the household rewarded or penalised accordingly.  Penalise companies and other bodies who use large quantities of non-renewable resources.  The world cannot sustain an ever-increasing range and quantity of ' new products'.  A major problem with newer products, from electrical goods to homes, is their short lifetimes.

Q12: What steps do you think need be taken by government, business, and others over the short and long-term to help businesses make more sustainable products (ones that have reduced environmental and social impacts)?

Develop a sustainability index for goods and introduce a sliding-scale tax system which favours sustainable production.  Ban the production of disposable items where there are viable alternatives which are sustainably produced, durable and/or able to be repaired or easily upgraded.

Q13: What steps do you think need to be taken by government, business and others over the short and long-term to help business and household consumers choose more sustainable goods and services?

A comprehensive labelling system for goods; perhaps of a 'traffic light' type, with green labels only for truly sustainably produced goods and red for the most damaging.  I would anticipate very few current lines qualifying for the green label, but this would increase.  Banning the use of celebrities to promote un-Green products, and ideally using them to promote green ones.  Banning the advertising of the most damaging products.

Q14: What areas of consumption do you think need to be tackled first?  Why?  What actions need to be taken by whom?

Fuel.  It is the main source of greenhouse emissions.  Replace the vehicle tax with increased fuel duty.  Make speeding fines reflect the increased greenhouse gas emission due to the additional speed.  Oblige councils (and provide assistance if necessary) to only give grants for renewables-sourced heating or electric heating (for which the sources will become proportionately more renewable due to incentives from government which may include subsidies, whilst non-renewable and nuclear generators should be heavily taxed).

Q15: How should we bring together 'environment' and 'social' concerns at national, regional or local level?

Impossible to answer in the time I have available.  Too big a question.

Q16: What more could be done to tackle environmental inequalities?

Not sure what is meant here.

Q17: What are the main barriers to community action on local, social or environmental issues?

People are too busy.  Social cohesion is low due e.g. to long-distance commuting, empty second homes representing a large proportion of the housing stock in places, the closure of schools, shops, post offices and pubs, the centralisation of services.  Social problems are the result of inequality and the destruction of the community spirit with an excessive focus on competition rather than cooperation, largely due to the Thatcher years.  Community cohesion is also destroyed by traffic, which makes it too dangerous for people to gather out of doors, and the deserted streets become even more intimidating, creating a vicious cycle.

The implementation of existing transport policies would make a huge difference (Home Zones, pedestrianisation, investment in public transport, foot- and cycle paths, pedestrian crossings, traffic calming, etc.), instead of the business-as-usual obsession with proving more road space for private motor transport.

Q18: What can be done at a national or local level to improve support for community action and participation in all areas?

A Citizens' or Basic Income would help, freeing people up from working for wages all the time so that they have time to meet their neighbours and work with them to improve the environment.  See

http://www3.sympatico.ca/francislerner/

and

http://www.etes.ucl.ac.be/BIEN/BI/Definition.htm

Stop the loss of local post offices, shops, schools, pubs, playing fields, etc.  These are essential for a sense of community.


Q19: How can we empower communities to take greater control over the quality of their local environment and to tackle their other priorities?

Social cohesion will be improved by reducing traffic, so that people can start to use the outdoor space more without being intimidated and/or choked by fumes.  The more people start to do this, the more will follow, especially women and children.  People will then start to get to know their neighbours and acquire a community spirit.  The Citizens' Income will free people up to do voluntary work, such as conservation and community work, which will contribute to improving social cohesion.   It would not require a huge proportion of people to do this, and it would start a self-perpetuating virtuous cycle which would build on itself.

Q20: How is the UK likely to be most successful in achieving the behaviour changes that will be needed if we are to move toward long-term sustainability, and what would be the right balance of measures by government and others?

Stop accommodating perceived demand for road space, and make serious, forceful and sustained (sic) efforts to REDUCE traffic.

Q21: How can communication and raising awareness support government and others' efforts most effectively?

Sorry - I can' t think what this means or how to answer it. Like some other questions, it probably requires a book-length answer!

Q22: What are the top international and EU priorities for sustainable development that should be dealt with in the new sustainable development strategy?

Renewable energy, population, removal of subsidies for livestock farming, collaboration on implementing the best traffic reduction/public transport systems, recycling, Green architecture.

Q23: How can we in the UK, at all levels, do more to help other countries achieve sustainable development and to promote and deliver sustainable development internationally or in the EU?

I don' t think we have much to teach most other countries as our environmental record is pretty poor compared to some other EU countries.  Our renewable energy achievement is dismal, our recycling levels are improving but too slowly, and we are continuing to concrete and tarmac over our overcrowded country due to our inability to acknowledge that building affordable homes does not require us to build 9 times as many expensive ones and our inability to organise an integrated public transport system.  Perhaps we should offer ourselves as an example of what not to do! And when I say ' we' , I mean you.

Q24: What distinctive contributions can government, business, charities and nongovernmental organisations, and the public make and how might the strategy help kick-start those contributions?

Charities, NGOs and the public are already leading the way and lobbying government and businesses to follow suit.  What is needed is for government and businesses to take notice of what they say and take appropriate action.

Q25: What lessons can we learn from other countries to shape our sustainable development strategies and how we put them into practice?

Some countries actually have integrated transport systems, whereas the UK seems to simply talk about it.  Please see Transport 2000's 2003 document 'Rural Transport Futures' for examples.  A summary is available online at

http://www.transport2000.org.uk/library/RuralTransportFutures_summary.pdf

Q26: (re file 12) What more do we in Government need to do to improve our own leadership in sustainable development? How would you like to see reporting improved?

Councils should be given hypothecated funds for local public transport schemes.   But otherwise, transport is a national issue and the only way it can be properly integrated is for it to be organised and funded at a national level.  The government must commit to using recycled products such as paper.  It should procure second-hand goods (e.g. furniture) instead of always new.  Ministers and MPs should set examples by using public transport, and should not have second homes or unnecessarily large homes.  Ministers' cars should be carbon-efficient.  Ministers' homes should have the highest-possible standards of energy and water conservation.  They should be required to sign publicly-available pledges to live sustainably.  The government should also take a lead in promoting and conducting video-conferences.

Q27: What do you see holding back effective action by Government?

The perception that we are in COMPETITION with other countries in terms of economic growth, attracting tourists, etc.  The clinging to the illusion that growth is sustainable in an over-consuming society.  It is not.  We can and should be much more self-sufficient.  Government also has an excessively cosy relationship with large, rich businesses such as multinational corporations, and the influence (including via donations) of such organisations is incompatible with the government taking the necessary action to promote sustainable development.  The oil, motoring, agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries are particularly malign influences, which is starkly apparent from government collusion in their wrongdoings.

Q28: In what areas is a clearer lead from us needed to promote sustainable development? What form might this take?

Air travel must decrease.  There is no need for such a high level of travel by air or for so many goods to be imported.  Yet the government supports the building of new airport terminals.  It is ludicrous and completely unsustainable.  The awarding of air miles must be stopped.  Now you are also reneging on undertakings not to build new roads.  This is not giving a clear lead on sustainable development.  If you do not give such a lead but instead continue with this business-as-usual behaviour, it is less likely that individuals and businesses will be persuaded to take it seriously.  If the UK is signed up to agreements that make it impossible for us to encourage localised consumption by fiscal means, we must either force a change in the agreements or leave them.

Q29: What are the main challenges for delivering sustainable development in your region?

Councils ignoring their own guidelines on transport and planning. Dependence on commercial developers: when an area needs affordable housing, developers only have to make a small proportion of their homes affordable; the rest are expensive homes for incomers.  Planners must only allow the building of modest homes.  Developers must be forced to build to high environmental standards: new homes are still inefficient in use of energy and water.  Villages are dying due to second-home ownership.  Second-home ownership should be extremely heavily taxed: after all, an increasing number of people cannot even afford to buy one home, so those more fortunate should have to pay for the environmental and social damage their lifestyles cause.  Every second home effectively means that another home must be built for someone else to live in.  If the council tax or something similar continues, it should be modest for small homes and rise very sharply for houses over a certain size.

Q30: How can Regional Chambers, Regional Development Agencies and other regional organisations better deliver sustainable development? What contributions from a national and local level would help the regions to improve delivery of sustainable development?

Instructions to only allow the building of modest homes in response to local need, and those which are water- and energy-efficient.

Q31: How can regional sustainable development frameworks better contribute to the delivery of sustainable development?

Q32: What are the main challenges for delivering sustainable development in your local area?

Councils' failure to act on their own local plans, especially re transport.  Also, bodies such as the Environment Agency and English Nature have too little power; councils often take little notice of their advice.  There seems to be no real protection from development.  In the past few years a multi-storey car park was built in a conservation area in Launceston (following the felling of a protected tree, which 'coincidentally' was adjacent to the site) and permission was given for construction on a floodplain near my home.

Q33: How can we re-energise local delivery and strengthen local leadership for sustainable development?

Q34: How could local stakeholders make the most of existing partnership arrangements, strategy requirements, freedoms and flexibilities to improve delivery of sustainable development?

I don' t know. In the end, developers nearly always seem to get their way, whatever objections are raised.  Yet I believe the government is actually planning to reduce the influence which local people can have on development.  How can anyone take seriously their claims to value local people' s right to exercise choice and to be stakeholders in their communities?

Q35: What can be done to build the capacity of local professionals and local communities to deliver sustainable development?

Change the system for development.  Decisions to build new homes should arise from needs identified locally.  Ask the locals how many people are seeking homes and in what price range.  Ask where they would like them to be built.  Leave the big development companies out of the equation and let local architects design the homes in collaboration with those who live in the area. Strengthen requirements to act on advice from local environmental organisations and knowledgeable and expert local individuals

Q36: (re file 13) What more needs to be done to improve the business contribution to delivering sustainable development?

"Business investment, enterprise and trading are not essential in creating the wealth to tackle poverty and other social challenges at home and abroad."  Poverty can be eliminated by the Citizens' Income. See

http://www.etes.ucl.ac.be/BIEN/BI/Definition.htm

and

http://www3.sympatico.ca/francislerner/

I agree wholeheartedly that: "to achieve step-change benefits will need organisational, social and political innovation just as much as new science, technology and know-how."

Encourage businesses by fiscal means to produce durable, sustainable goods.  Tax non-renewable raw materials and put heavy import duties on unsustainable goods produced elsewhere.  Press for changes to international free trade agreements in favour of localisation of distribution and heavy taxation of unsustainably-produced goods.

Ban the awarding of air miles.  Ban the advertising of unsustainable goods.  Tax packaging.

Q37: What actions should we take to support, enable or require a higher level of business contribution?

To encourage existing businesses to be Greener there should be subsidies and/or other incentives, such as tax reductions for businesses which reduce their carbon emissions, use renewable energy and recycle waste and water.  The tax on fossil fuels should be raised, while at the same time making renewables cheaper via the removal of tax and/or some form of subsidy.  Some kind of fuel and electricity-generating methods must always be kept affordable for those on the lowest incomes.

Q38: (re file 14)What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current sustainable development indicators, and how they are used?
* In general

If GDP still treats the rectification of environmental damage as a good, it should not be used as a measure of sustainability as it leads to environmentally-friendly activities being downgraded.  Also, economic output is not an indicator of sustainability.  The most sustainable activities are those which involve local consumption of locally-produced goods and services, often on a non-commercial basis.  They are to a large extent self-sufficient on a small scale, even on a single-household scale, and involve minimal external input.

* More specifically indicators used:
* in the UK Government's headline set;

1. Economic output is not an indicator of sustainability.

2. Investment per se is not an indicator of sustainability either.

3. Employment is not an indicator of sustainability. Much work is unnecessary (e.g. over-complex tax systems) and/or environmentally-unfriendly and unethical.  A Citizens' Income would give people the freedom to carry out UNPAID and socially-useful work such as conservation and caring.  See

http://www.etes.ucl.ac.be/BIEN/BI/Definition.htm

and

http://www3.sympatico.ca/francislerner/

4. Poverty will be eradicated by the Citizens' Income, which will also facilitate access to education and thus qualifications.

5. The education system should no longer be ghettoising people by age.  A Citizens' Income would give people the freedom to move in and out of education.

6. Decent housing should not mean hermetically-sealed boxes at a constant 700F.  Specifications should focus on sustainability, not on luxury.

* in the wider UK core set in Quality of life counts;

Couldn' t find these

* in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;

Scottish indicator No. 1 is good.  2 and 3 are covered by my comments re Citizens' Income.  Terms and concepts like 'working age' should be abandoned.  No.18 is also covered by my Citizens' Income references.  No.20: fuel poverty:  need to clarify.  Does this mean heating, lighting, etc? 'Fuel' is often used to mean liquid, solid or gaseous fuels and not include electricity.  No.22: again I am not sure what crime has to do with sustainability.  Too many issues are being linked to sustainability which may lead to action taken being diluted and discussions so wide-ranging as to be too vague to be useful.

Welsh indicators: 1-3 again not really relevant to sustainability; re 4, see my comments on UK Government indicator 7; re 10, how is language related to sustainability?  Re deprivation and economic activity (at end of list), the former would be addressed by the Citizens' Income and the latter is covered by my comments on UK Government indicator 1.  Otherwise quite good.

* in the English regions;

Not seen.

* in local authorities;

Not seen.

and
* elsewhere (for example, sectoral indicators).

Don' t know what this refers to.

Q39: What needs to be monitored and measured UK-wide?

Loss of wildlife habitat through housing and road construction.  Pollution by persistent and bioaccumulating artificial chemicals such as those used in laundry products, toiletries, furniture, electrical goods and decorating materials, with a view to banning their production and use.

Q40: Who are the audiences for indicators and how could we better meet their needs?

I do not understand what this question means.

Q41: Should any set of indicators supporting the new strategy
* concentrate on just the main priorities in the strategic framework; or
* be wider and more comprehensive?

It should not be wider - it already covers areas which are nothing to do with sustainability.   The inappropriate indicators need to be replaced with those that genuinely relate to sustainability, such as minimisation of the use of non-renewable resources and maximisation of renewables usage, the localisation of distribution of goods and services and the enabling of more sustainable lifestyles, which are currently actually hindered by legislation.  An example of this is that it is easier to obtain permission to build an estate of conventional, energy- and water-wasting luxury homes from non-renewable materials transported halfway across the country than it is to obtain permission to build a hut from renewable materials in one' s own woodland, or to build innovative homes such as earth-sheltered ones which require no heating at all.

Q42: Should important high-level sustainable development indicators focus on monitoring
* general progress towards final outcomes;
* specific delivery actions and targets; or
* both?

Both, I think.  Although perhaps the more specific information could/should be gathered at a more local level and then supplied to a central point for collation.

Vivien Pomfrey BSc (Hons) (Open), Dip. Nat. Sci. (Open)

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