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Ingredients of Transition: Peak oil resolutions

As the book deadline looms, I am finishing off the remaining ingredients… here is the one about peak oil resolutions….

The Challenge

Local and regional authorities aren’t planning strategically for peak oil, and it is not a concern reflected in their policy making. They may not even understand it. Without a clear statement of concern about the issue, any further steps or actions on the issue will not have a foundation.

Core Text

Getting your local Council to officially recognise peak oil as a challenge can be a key step in its moving towards resilience, and to its engagement with the Transition process. This is an approach much more established in the US, where the first peak oil resolutions began to emerge in 2006[1]. US towns and cities that have passed peak oil resolutions include Berkeley, Chapel Hill, Cleveland, Bloomington and Nevada City. For some, this has been followed by the setting up of a Peak Oil Task Force, and the creation of some kind of Peak Oil Plan. Of these, my favourites are those for San Buenaventura in California[2], and Portland, Oregon[3]. From the US experience, one can observe that peak oil resolutions provide a very dynamic first step in the active engagement of a local authority.

Post Carbon Institute’s Daniel Lerch identifies two goals that a peak oil resolution can achieve. Firstly raising awareness, both among the Council staff and the wider public, and secondly ‘getting the ball rolling’, in that it gives legitimacy to the issue, sends an important signal of support to those already working with it, enabling them to work on it more confidently[4].

The first (and to the best of my knowledge, the only so far) UK Council to pass a peak oil resolution was Nottingham City Council. Cllr. Katrina Bull, Portfolio Holder for Environment and Climate Change, had met with people from the emergent Transition Nottingham and had discussed peak oil with Graham Chapman, the Council’s Deputy Leader, who then asked for a paper on its implications for the Council. Cllr. Bull asked Transition Nottingham what might help with their work, and the idea of a peak oil resolution was born. Peak oil was something that no-one else in the Council was familiar with at that stage, so she had do quite a lot of explaining to her fellow Councillors!

The text of the resolution was written by Cllr. Bull and was seconded by Cllr Chapman. It was put forward at a full Council meeting in December 2008, and preceded by a screening of a part of the film ‘A Crude Awakening’. This led to a good discussion about the implications of peak oil for the city, and its current levels of oil dependency. The resolution, which went on to be passed unanimously, read as follows:

“This Council acknowledges the forthcoming impact of peak oil. The Council therefore needs to respond, and help the citizens it serves respond, to the likelihood of shrinking oil supply but in a way which will nevertheless maintains the City’s prosperity. It acknowledges that actions taken to adapt to and mitigate against climate change also help us adapt issues around peak oil. It will do this by:

  • developing an understanding of the impact of peak oil on the local economy and the local community
  • encouraging a move across the city towards sustainable transport, cycling and walking throughout the city
  • pursuing a rigorous energy efficiency and conservation programme through its carbon management plan, the work towards EMAS accreditation and on leading on raising energy awareness across all sectors to reduce dependency on oil based energy in the city
  • supporting research and production within the city which helps develop local effective alternative energy supplies and energy saving products in order to encourage a move away from oil based fuels and also in order to create local ‘green collar jobs’
  • co-ordinating policy and action on reducing our city’s carbon dependency and in response to the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change and peak oil.

In this way Nottingham City Council will not only be helping the city to rise to the challenge of peak oil but also encourage the city to grasp the opportunities which peak oil offers”.

I talked to Cllr Bull about the impact the resolution has had since it was unanimously passed. She described it has having been ‘crucial’ in the Council’s work around energy efficiency and in boosting awareness of energy issues in general. She said that she had talked about climate change in the Council for ages, but had struggled to really engage her fellow Councillors. However, peak oil, and the issues around increasing price volatility helped hugely. “Everyone is convinced”, she told me.

One of the key outcomes of this has been the Council’s Energy Strategy, which is built around the challenge of energy security as well as climate change. The Council’s waste strategy now has anaerobic digestion at its heart, and its Transport strategy focuses on a big increase in public transport and a new fleet of electric buses. “None of this would have been possible”, she told me, “had it not been for the peak oil resolution”.

Bristol City Council doesn’t have a peak oil resolution, however in February 2010 the Council adopted the Bristol Climate Change and Energy Security Framework, which resolves that:

That the Cabinet resolve that:

• improving the energy efficiency of the city and securing affordable low carbon energy supplies are key priorities for the city council

• the Peak Oil Report be welcomed, endorsed and used to inform the development of council services, strategies and plans.

That the Cabinet adopt for consultation the draft Climate Change and Energy Security Framework for Bristol set out in this paper, including:

• A commitment to partnership working to achieve the opportunities presented by a transition to a low carbon, resilient city.

• Carbon dioxide emission, energy and resilience targets for Bristol’s road transport, business/public sector and homes with clear accountabilities and monitoring.

• 20 strategic activities to progress towards those targets

• 40 specific actions for 2010/11

• Integration of climate change and energy issues into the work and processes of the council to enable delivery of the targets, including the creation of a high level group integrating economic development, digital infrastructure and services and green capital activity.

That the Cabinet agree to consult on the draft Framework and to further develop and refine the Framework with partners in the city and with the Department of Communities and Local Government.

Bristol City Council has also made great strides in this area. In 2008 Daniel Lerch gave a presentation to Bristol City Council about peak oil and local authorities, following an invitation by the Green Capital Momentum Group (GCMG) group, a cross-sector body set up to try and steer the city towards being a ‘green’ city. Transition Bristol had already done significant work in raising the profile of peak oil at the GCMG, the Council and across the City. Following Daniel’s talk, a Peak Oil Task Force was set up, with representatives from the Council, GCMG, Transition Bristol and others, and it was decided that the best first step would be to commission a peak oil report, which they did. The report, ‘Building a positive future for Bristol after peak oil’ was written by Simone Osborn of Transition Bristol, and was accepted by the Council, the Bristol Partnership and the GCMG group. Its main recommendations can be seen in the box below.

Six Options for Action: from the Bristol City Council Peak Oil Report

Acknowledgement

Publicly acknowledge peak oil as a threat. Pass a resolution to take actions now to lessen the impacts which peak oil would cause

Leadership

Set up a cross sector team, with a budget, to take the work forward. This could be owned by the Bristol Partnership with oversight on team selection and monitoring of progress by the Green Capital Momentum Group

Engaged Communities

Emphasise the role which communities have to play in Bristol’s future. Support community engagement activities and provide education and assistance on building resilience and reducing reliance on public services

Focus on Accessibility

Drive actions and policies which reduce the need to travel for essential services and needs. Support cycling and walking and development of a sustainable and effective public transport system

Food Security

Drive actions and policies which improve food security by supporting local food growing and production. Develop sustainable agricultural practices.

A Robust Economy

Support and develop a local business environment which can thrive in a low carbon, low waste economy. Ensure that jobs and opportunities are available across the city to avoid creating conditions for social breakdown.

I asked Simone what impact the report has had since its publication. The Council’s climate change and energy security policy was greatly helped by the inclusion of peak oil in the policy. The GCMG will shortly be releasing a report called ‘Who feeds Bristol?’, which has its roots in the recommendations of the peak oil report, the issues it raised about the implications for food security being one of its findings that created the most ripples. Both the GCMG and Bristol City Council are also actively involved in New Economics Foundation/Transition Network’s Bristol currency project and it is also adding weight to the Council’s transport and health policy-making.

One interesting observation she made revolved around the tension between national and local policymaking. In creating its Local Plan, Bristol City Council declined to include reference to peak oil, despite the existence of the Bristol peak oil report and despite direct requests from key partners to include peak oil issues within the Core Strategy of the Bristol Development Framework. The justification for omitting peak oil was because there was no national policy that required or justified its inclusion. The UK government’s official position is still, at the time of going to press, that

“…with sufficient investment, the Government does not believe that global oil production will peak between now and 2020 and consequently we do not have any contingency plans specific to a peak in oil production”[5]

It is clear however that peak oil resolutions and the creation of peak oil taskforces can have a galvanising effect on a local authority and lobbying for one can be a very useful initiative for a Transition initiative to undertake.

The Solution

Lobby your local council to pass a peak oil resolution. Numerous examples now exist, and they can be a great boost to those within the Council working to build awareness. Explore with them the possibility of a Transition Training for Local Authorities being run for key staff. Once the resolution is passed, heap great praise on the authority, and explore with them ways in which your Transition initiative can help with the next steps, a good example of which is Bristol City Council’s ‘Peak Oil Plan’.


[1] There is an excellent archive of peak oil resolutions and peak oil preparedness plans here.

[2] Chen, Y, Deines, M, Fleischmann, H, Reed, S, Swick. I. (2008) Transforming Urban Environments for a Post-Peak Oil Future: A Vision Plan for the City of San Buenaventura. City of San Buenaventura.

[3] Portland Peak Oil Task Force (2007) Descending the Oil Peak: navigating the transition from oil and natural gas. Report of the City of Portland Peak Oil Task Force. March 2007

[4] Lerch, D. (2007) Post Carbon Cities: planning for energy and climate uncertainty, a guidebook on peak oil and global warming for local governments. Post Carbon Institute.

[5] In response to a question from George Monbiot, as described in Monbiot, G. (2009) Cross your fingers and carry on: why does the government refuse to make contingency plans for peak oil? 14th April 2009.

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