The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) is an educational charity dedicated to researching and communicating positive solutions for environmental change. Here we speak with Paul Allen, who heads CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project, about his reasons for joining the Alliance and how we can initiate rapid transition.
I have been coordinating the Zero Carbon Britain project at the Centre for Alternative Technology since 2007. I have worked closely with Andrew Simms from the Rapid Transition Alliance since then and have been keen to support the development of the Alliance as I know the scale and the speed which we must transform to avoid really serious climate breakdown.
Our work is based around helping people see we have all the tools and technologies we need to get to net zero carbon in the UK, and the world we could create has many multi-solving co-benefits. The barrier is marshalling the collective social and political will.
Throughout the last decades of the 20th century, evidence around climate change had been building. By the start of the 21st century, the importance of taking action had grown ever more urgent. However, efforts were still focused on communicating the problem. Research at that time showed that 60% of articles about climate change in UK national newspapers were negative and failed to mention possible solutions; only a quarter mentioned what could be done or was already being done. At that time, the UK official target (60% reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050) fell far short of what science was demanding. Furthermore, no other published work put forward decarbonisation scenarios that explored a fast-enough transition from fossil fuel use to meet the challenge. Although a number of groups had developed scenarios around a decarbonised electricity grid for the UK, they did not cover GHG emissions from non-electrical energy demand – which was by far the largest part of UK energy demand. The challenges of climate change, fossil fuel depletion and global inequality had become increasingly familiar individually, but experts worked in isolation and their solutions were rarely considered in unison.
Through a series of reports launched in 2007, 2010 and 2013, CAT sought to develop technical scenarios that could integrate solutions to all of these challenges in ever increasing detail. It became clear that to be truly net-zero carbon, all UK GHG emissions must be addressed – including those unrelated to energy. This proved a much harder challenge, with some emissions being impossible to reduce to zero. The 2010 and 2013 reports integrated emerging research exploring changes in the role of land in the UK. Land in the scenario became of crucial importance, providing food, energy, fuel and, in particular, carbon capture – integral to making the scenario reach net-zero carbon emissions. What developed was a more robust framework that integrated detailed knowledge and cutting edge research in transport, food, energy, buildings and land use. Using 10 years of hourly data we address concerns around ‘keeping the lights on’ under a 100% renewable energy supply, and ‘feeding ourselves properly’ on a low carbon diet. This work shows we can meet the scale and speed of decarbonisation required with positive effects on society, the environment and the economy.
CAT also offers the skills needed from short courses to a range of postgraduate courses – available from www.cat.org.uk.
I have always admired those who worked on universal suffrage, civil rights and abolition of slavery, but as I was part of the Boycott Barclays movement which helped motivate them to stop supporting apartheid – I feel a deep sense of connection to it. I also enjoyed being part of the 2-tone and rock against racism movements which transitioned social norms.
A BBC TV, mainstream 8pm slot or major film that is really well written and really well acted takes the viewer into a zero carbon future, so we experience the lives of characters who live there, see the urban and rural landscapes and see it is not very different physically, but offers a powerful new sense of collective purpose and achievement!
Paul Allen heads CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project at the Centre for Alternative Technology.