I attended a workshop on 23rd March as the representative of Hull Friends of the Earth at the Aura Innovation centre on the Humber Energy Cluster plans. This workshop was one of multiple streams, with this one focussing on the socio-cultural perspective and how the community could be effectively engaged and consulted. Various groups attended across public, private and 3rd sector- including from Hull City Council, Equinor, SSE Thermal, University of Leeds, Hull and Sheffield Hallam, Arup, Humber Nature partnership and Ground work amongst others. There were around 35 attendees in total. There was an atmosphere of positivity, perhaps helped by being one of the first in-person workshops since COVID lockdown, on a beautiful spring day with plenty of tea, coffee and refreshments.
As a representative of HFoE, I am conflicted. On the one hand, there is a positive intention of creating a NET 0 Humber region with great potential for renewables and new jobs to support a just transition. However, some of the technologies that underpin the strategy: mainly Carbon Capture and Storage, Blue Hydrogen and biomass production are not conducive to an truly sustainable transition. That being said, I approached the workshop with an open mind, and below are my reflections of some of the challenges and opportunities presented
Opportunities and strengths.
- Lots of positive focus on renewables such as offshore wind farms,
- The opportunities presented by job creation and just transition in the region.
- The socio-cultural perspective is often overlooked with technology transition, and it was heartening to see the intention from the HICP team to engage with the population and communities.
- Some discussions on nature and the environment and how biodiversity must be brought into the plan. More work needs to be done here, and this was recognised.
- How the HICP and Zero carbon team should bring together a coherent strategy, which can be disseminated effectively to the local authorities and wider community members.
- I raised the idea of a citizen style jury or people’s panel were a selection of people are chosen as representatives of the region, trained in depth and asked to contribute to the plan coming from a place of knowledge and understanding. Whilst I am not sure this particular option was embraced, there was widespread recognition that information should be shared without bias and communication needed to be accurate.
Challenges and threats
- The plan is underpinned by Carbon Capture and Storage technology, which is currently unproven at scale, and running at low efficiencies. I raised this as a concern and there seemed to be very little willingness to engage on this topic, and how companies such as DRAX or INEOS will be held accountable to delivery on their commitments.
- High focus on green growth, which was mentioned multiple times. It does feel that technology is acting as a crutch to continue as business as usual, yet this is not sustainable. We need to bring our lifestyles to within the planetary boundaries. The very fact that the Aura innovation centre is located out of town shows the car dominance culture- it took me over an hour to travel from Cottingham on the bus, and I think I was in the minority travelling sustainably.
- The message and strategy is complicated and difficult to visualise in context with the rest of the regional goals. How does it fit in with other plans, such as Hull or E.Riding action plans?
There was a lot of excitement and positivity in the room, but I did feel somewhat of an outsider. I felt unsure about how to reconcile my conflicting feelings. I do believe it continues to be the role of the environmental and social justice groups such as Friends of the Earth to hold businesses, governments and councils to account but we cannot be lone voices. Next steps need to be really challenging some of the narratives around technologies that prop up business as usual and bringing these discussions into the mainstream. More about societal and ecological balance rather than economic growth and business as usual please!