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UCL Environment Institute

The UCL Environment Institute provides the forum for environmental research in UCL, focusing in particular on stimulating cross-disciplinary research to tackle complex environmental problems.  

Its research themes are:

The Environment Institute has published a number of reports relevant to particular areas of environmental policy.

Audit of UK greenhouse gas emissions to 2020

This report assesses the likelihood of achieving current targets to reduce carbon emissions and policy aims and concludes current aims are over-optimistic whilst they are based on voluntary measures.

The report provides an audit of  the UK Government’s current policies to reduce carbon emissions and the likelihood of achieving their stated targets and policy aims (to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by at least 12.5% by 2012 and 60% by 2050 compared with the baseline emissions of 1990, and to achieve a total cut in GHG emissions of ~30% by 2020).

It focuses on the carbon reduction targets of the UK Government for 2012 and 2020 and reviews the four major sectors of Energy Supply, Business, Domestic and Transport.

The major findings of the report are as follows:

  • UK GHG emission target of a 12.5% cut on the baseline levels required by the Kyoto Protocol by 2012 (~183 MtCe) could be achievable.
  • The major problem faced by Government policies is trying to reduce overall carbon emissions against a background of sustained and significant economic growth.
  • The report has assessed the likely success of each of the government policies and produced a possible range of GHG reductions for 2020 of between 29 to 17 MtCe for the four main sectors. This is significantly lower than predicted by the DEFRA Climate Change Report (2006) and DTI Climate Change Report (2006).
  • It suggests that the Government’s implied policy aim of cutting 2020 GHG emission by up to 30% compared with 1990 levels is very optimistic. The audit suggests current policies would achieve a GHG emission reduction of between ~12 and ~17% by 2020.
  • The over-riding reason for the possible failure of the current government policies to achieve their stated targets is that nearly all of them are voluntary. (The DTI Climate Change Report (2006) implied policy aim of up to ~30% GHG reduction could be achieved if current policies were mandatory and new more prescriptive future policies were developed.)

Travel-related Carbon Footprint

This report applies a methodology for measuring travel-related carbon footprint, which can be applied to other organisations, and also discusses low-carbon travel alternatives to help reduce the footprint.

The transport sector is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Most people are engaged in some form of travel to work on a daily basis. Using methodology based on the guidelines outlined in the Guidelines to Defra’s GHG Conversion Factors: Methodology Paper for Transport Emission Factors report (2008), the Environment Institute calculated its own staff’s work-related carbon footprint.

It is hoped that this methodology can be applied to other external organisations as an effective means of assessing the carbon footprint created through work related travel.

The report also suggests some lower-carbon alternatives, such as voluntary offsets where assessment and accreditation has only recently been introduced, that are worthy of further investigation

Global Zero Carbon Capacity Index

The index assesses which countries are making progress towards achieving a zero-carbon built environment.

The purpose of the index is to highlight which countries are developing the capacity to make progress towards the aspirational goal of a zero-carbon built environment

The Index is based on three measures of energy consumption (in the residential, tertiary and transport sectors, together with an assessment of the decarbonisation of energy supply through the share of renewables in total production and a count of the extent of the policy portfolio aimed at zero-carbon built environments.

  • The 2009 run of the ZC2 Index confirmed the leadership of Norway in meeting this challenge. The UK is ranked third after Brazil, moving up from fourth place last year. The fourth and fifth places this year go to China and Australia.

  • The countries that have made the greatest improvements in their ranking are the Slovak Republic, France, Germany and USA. Analysis of the data for these ‘improvers’ indicates the importance of concerted action across all elements of the index (that is, significant reductions in energy consumption in the residential, tertiary and transport sectors together with substantial investment in renewable energy infrastructure and continued additions to the policy portfolio of zero-carbon built environment measures.

The Index can also be cross-referenced to performance on reducing the carbon intensity of the economy as a whole. This reveals a group of countries that perform relatively well on the ZC2 Index and on carbon intensity: Austria, Brazil, Denmark,
Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK..

Megalopolises and Sustainability

This report is based on an Environment Institute seminar series that considered the key issues arising from the pursuit of sustainability for megalopolises - the mega-cities that are a feature of our urban landscape.

The report considered the increasing urbanisation of the world - by 2030 60% of the global population will live in cities.  By 2015 there will be 23 cities with a population of more than 10 million, some of which will take the complex form of megalopolises.   Examining the sustainability of these megalopolises – particularly in terms of the climate change agenda – is therefore highly pertinent.

The report discusses a number of key issues for megalopolises:

  • Energy use: In high consumption countries, there is an urgent need to change infrastructure so as to reduce the environmental burden of that consumption. There is scope, particularly at the urban scale, for innovation in infrastructure to deliver low carbon living.
  • Transport within megalopolises: Governmental involvement and subsidy is essential for delivering transport systems that are sustainable (although this need not always extend to public ownership and delivery).
  • Flooding and storm damage: Flooding – from inundation and sea-level rise – will increase and the largest cities are particularly vulnerable, often because of their coastal locations. The economic as well as social costs of flooding will be immense; it is the already vulnerable communities within cities that are most at risk of total loss.
  • Heat waves: By 2040 average summer temperatures in Europe are expected to be those experienced in the heat-wave of 2003 in which between 30,000 and 35,000 people died in Northern Europe, while heat-waves in 2040 will be twice as hot as those we experience now. Planning new urban development must be with this enhanced risk in mind.
  • Water security: Increased water scarcity is a common impact of climate change across many urban areas.  Arguments can be made for the value of citizen involvement in policy development and even in co-production schemes.
  • Disease and public health: The most significant public health issue is the availability of clean water and sanitation facilities to poorer urban communities.  The importance of community involvement and local innovation should not be under-estimated.
  • Modelling change. There is great potential in building models using the latest techniques to understand change in urban systems and then develop policy recommendations.  There remain questions over how far resources should be devoted to very fine-grained data collection and model-building in context where there is an urgent need to take policy steps to deliver sustainability.
  • Governance for sustainability. Considering the governance of major urban areas such as megalopolises throws up many dilemmas. The key issue ind elivering action for sustainability is the way that this goal intersects with different political interests and priorities and how these conflicts may inhibit collective action.
  • Urban culture and sustainability. If sustainability is to become part and parcel of the megalopolis then it has to have meaning within that urban culture and in terms of how people live within the urban area.  The prospect remains of a more progressive cultural engagement with sustainability.

Climate change: the risk for property in the UK

This report provides recommendations to the property sector on how to tackle the impact of climate change.

The UCL Environment Institute has analysed the physical impact of anticipated climate change on UK property during the 21st century. These include:

  • Occupiers of buildings will be more prone to heat stress during the more frequent heat waves. This could potentially disrupt activities in high street shops, offices, warehousing and industry, as well as affecting the well-being of households.
  • There will be an increased risk of flooding in locations vulnerable to rivers bursting their banks. But in urban locations there will also be increased exposure to the risk of flash flooding, as the run-off from hard surfaces overwhelms the capacity of urban drainage systems.
  • Water shortages will affect areas with less rainfall, affecting occupiers through water constraints and increased costs.
  • Ground movement will threaten the stability of buildings in areas where properties are located on clay soils and the standards of construction, particularly with regard to foundations, prove inadequate.
  • The infrastructure systems that underpin all urban activities will also be affected. Transport, energy supply, water supply, sewerage and urban drainage systems will all struggle to cope with heat waves, higher wind  the UCL Environment Institute analysis shows that the southern parts of the UK will be most affected by climate change.

The main conclusions of the report are:

  • There is an urgent need for the property sector to set in place means for being regularly updated on the impacts of future climate change. The scientific evidence in this area is continually evolving.
  • The UCL Environment Institute analysis has shown that different parts of the UK will feel the impacts of climate change very differently. The UK property sector needs to understand this in more depth.
  • The UK property sector needs research at a more finely-grained level that will highlight the impacts of climate change in specific localities, taking all local features into account.

The Development of Waste Management Infrastructure in England

This report analyses the Waste Strategy for England 2007, other UK energy policies relevant for waste, the English waste management institutional arrangement, and the ongoing local authorities’ waste planning with regard to the construction of infrastructure for the treatment of residual waste and energy recovery.

It concludes that the current planning landscape is still characterised by a serious lack in the infrastructure needed to treat residual waste and efficiently recover energy from waste.  A strong impediment to the evolution of a well integrated waste management system exists because the policy framework is split in two between recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion (mainly managed by the public sector), and the infrastructure for residual waste treatment and energy recovery from waste mainly by the private sector.

Page last modified on 25 oct 12 13:27