First the good news. As described elsewhere in this Newsletter, the one-Ipswich partnership has held a consultation on its Sustainable Community Strategy, ‘Everybody Matters’, defining a vision for Ipswich for the next ten years based on delivering six broad outcomes.

As my two previous articles have attempted to show, Ipswich faces change at an unprecedented rate from planned developments, environmental influences, and now from the very structure and resourcing of local government. While all six outcomes may be of interest for the Society, Outcome 4 on the environment is of particular relevance in addressing the impacts of growth, transport and service infrastructure and climate change.

Why is this good news? Why, indeed, do we need a strategy at all when we have perfectly good planning processes? While this question might properly be answered by the one-Ipswich partnership, I suggest the answer lies in the different time perspectives of past, present and future. From the past, Ipswich has a wealth of material investment and cultural heritage, both of which warrant appropriate preservation. But few would wish to live in a museum or a historical theme park, even if it were a practical option, so the value of the past has to be balanced against the demands and opportunities of the present, which is generally delivered by means of the planning processes with which the Society is already engaged. But the present is short lived; the planning horizon is a mere two or three years compared, for example, with the past thirty years’ experience of the development of out-of-town superstores as discussed in my previous article, which amply illustrates Burns’s assertion from two centuries earlier that ‘The best laid plans o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley’.

The point is not to criticise planners or the planning process for any lack of foresight, but rather to recognise that plans are appropriate for the defined circumstances of the present (where perhaps the most significant challenge is to take all relevant circumstances into account, which provides the proper basis for debate and criticism). But a different perspective is needed to accommodate the unplannable changes in circumstances which may become prevalent beyond the planning horizon. This perspective is provided by a strategic vision, seeking to encapsulate the community’s current aspirations, tempered with realism about what will be both achievable and relevant to the changed environmental circumstances of the future, yet recognising that those very changes will prevent the path to the longer-term vision from being mapped out in detail. The business strategy is instead to define the longer term objective and to anticipate the wherewithal needed to reach it, thus to enable the more detailed planning process to take each new step according to the circumstances of the day. Indeed the vision itself can and probably will change with time! As a counterpoint to Burns, WW2 strategist Dwight D Eisenhower said, ‘In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.’ This is emphatically not to say that plans are useless per se but rather the plans and strategy are complementary aspects of planning for the longer term.

So the good news is that the one-Ipswich partnership has defined a strategic framework with the potential to address concerns I have raised in the past two Newsletters about the need for a ‘big picture’ vision for the growth of Ipswich amid the likely impact of actions to mitigate climate change.

On the latter, however, the recent news has been less encouraging. In the three months to June, DEFRA held a public consultation on the Climate Change Bill. The associated documentation presented the scientific case for action and a strategic framework aligned with the European Commission’s assertation that the average global temperature rise must be contained within 2°C. This would correspond to a carbon dioxide equivalent level of 550 parts per million and require industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 60-80% by 2050. But the only instruments for action contained in the Climate Change Bill relate to carbon trading rather than reducing emissions.

Moreover, in his book ‘Carbon Calculator’, Mark Lynas points out the inconsistences in even the basic figures behind the strategy and the Bill. To keep within the 2°C target would require CO2 levels to be capped at 400 ppm by 2015, and we are already at 380 ppm, hence the popular exhortation to act decisively within the next eight years. Capping the level at 550 ppm by 2020 commits us to a rise of 4°C which, according to ‘Six Degrees’ also by Mark Lynas may well be beyond the ‘tipping point’ which triggers emissions of CO2 stored naturally in the earth and the oceans, which then fuel runaway global warming. This is corroborated in the preface to George Monbiot’s book ‘Heat’ in which he identifies the origin of this inconsistency with the Stern Report. I strongly recommend all three books, which are each based on the mass of peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject.

But perhaps the gloomiest such news comes in a report in the Guardian (‘Revealed cover-up plan on energy target’, 13 August 2007) citing an internal briefing paper from the former DTI admitting that renewable sources will provide only 5% of the UK’s energy requirements in 2020 under present policies, compared with an EU target of 20%. To reach 9% would be ‘challenging’ and would cost £4 billion per year, though this is only one-third of the 1% GDP that the Stern Report suggested should be spent immediately. Instead the paper urges ‘statistical interpretations of the target that would make it easier to achieve’ arguing the renewables are more expensive than the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme – which is itself a source of controversy.

It is not my purpose to assert the rights and wrongs of this debate, but rather to ask how can any of us be confident of what is right or wrong? Personally and professionally, I have some insight into the scientific case for action, but when that case is passed through economists, politicians and journalists before it reaches us, with new dilutions, obfuscations and re-interpretations imposed at every stage, how can any of us make any reasonable sense of it or know who to trust? In ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, Al Gore points out that ‘An astonishing number of people go straight from denial to despair, without pausing at the intermediate step of saying, ‘We can do something about this’ ‘. Individually we can, and all four books I have cited contain much information on what we can – indeed must – do if we accept that climate change is man-made and should be arrested. After yet another year of ‘freak’ weather conditions both here and across the world, this surely becomes increasingly difficult to doubt. But it is clear to me that there are also potential pitfalls, and individual actions alone will not meet the newly-proposed and very plausible need for 90% reduction in carbon emissions across the developed world. Hence there is much that national and local government must contribute.

I am reminded, however, of another WW2 metaphor from ‘Dad’s Army’ in which Corporal Jones runs around shouting ‘Don’t panic!’ while Private Frazer mutters ominously, ‘We’re all doomed!’ The latter is not yet the consensus view, and the former is rarely advisable anyway. Instead we have the opportunity to try to define the kind of community we want in ten years’ time, given all that is planned and all that may befall us as a consequence of climate change. It is still early days in all the relevant consultation. Indeed, the latest sets of findings and recommendations from the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were concluded in April this year and have yet to be published, and they will doubtless require some time to digest into firm policy, so it is perhaps premature to expect too much clarity. But neither is there any time to waste.

My own inclination is to do what I can as an individual, to urge my elected representatives to take serious and urgent action, to offer the benefit of my own insights into what action is needed and to support consultations both national and local, from DEFRA to ‘Everybody Matters’. With regard to the latter, I believe there may be a role for the Ipswich Society.

If you agree, please contact me. One last thought. I may well be preaching to the converted. Whether you are or not, and without prejudice or obligation, please let me know.

Mike Brain