Is the G7 being held in Cornwall or Cloud Cuckoo Land?

MS Silja Europa in the bay at Falmouth. Photo by the author

The government’s claim that the G7 in Cornwall will be “carbon neutral” is unadulterated greenwash.

I just walked to the end of my road in Falmouth to have a look at the MS Silja Europa, the massive cruise ship on which a thousand police personnel will be housed during the G7 summit in Cornwall next week. The 60,000-tonne vessel will be in Falmouth for the next ten days.

The police on board – less than a fifth of the total number being brought into Cornwall for the G7 – will enjoy a variety of luxurious facilities on what Tallink, the ship’s Estonian operators – describe as “the biggest and most beautiful cruise ship on the Baltic”. These normally include several restaurants and bars, pools and a spa where passengers can, in the words of Tallink, “forget stress and the pressures of work and  indulge in the luxuries of sauna, whirlpool bath and massage”.

It’s not clear, however, whether police officers will be relaxing (after a long day of arresting protesters) in the ship’s Moonlight Disco, where passengers are invited to “dance to the latest hits and golden classics until the early morning hours”.

Massive policing costs

Nor is it clear how much the ship has cost to hire for the best part of two weeks, though this is likely to run into several million pounds.

The last G7 summit in the UK, held at Fermanagh in Northern Ireland in 2013, cost £92 million, most of this money spent on policing. It seems likely that the bill for next week’s shindig  will be well above this – probably over £100 million.

Most of the massive policing operation is not just completely unnecessary but also likely to provoke the very sort of violent confrontation that everyone here wishes to avoid. Shopkeepers in Falmouth and St Ives are deeply worried, as well as being annoyed by the disruption to their businesses as we come out of lockdown.

Bringing massive numbers of police into Cornwall, where they have no sense of connection with the people of our communities, looks like a recipe for trouble. And there is every indication that they will be under orders from Home Secretary Priti Patel to stamp down hard on the many peaceful protests that are planned here.

Clearly there needs to be tight security around the venue at which G7 leaders will be staying in Carbis Bay, but it is hard to see any justification for heavy-handed policing elsewhere. The vast majority of protesters will be completely peaceful, but there is a real danger that aggressive policing could cause just the sort of problems that it supposedly designed to prevent.

Carbon neutral or greenwash?

Whatever the financial cost of the G7, there is another kind of cost that looks set to be very heavy indeed. The summit will have a massive carbon footprint, and the government’s recent claim that it will be “carbon neutral” is unadulterated greenwash .

It’s not at all clear what the government means by “carbon neutral”. Is it referring to the entirety of arrangements around the summit, including the massive quantities of fossil fuel that will be burned by attending politicians and their entourages flying in from around the world? Or just to the actual meeting at the hotel in Carbis Bay?

Airforce One. Public domain

Has it factored in the massive policing operation, including the diesel-guzzling cruise ship moored in Falmouth? The MS Silja Europa  generates some 34,955 tonnes of CO₂ a year. And cruise ships continue to pump out large quantities of greenhouse gas emissions and particulates 24/7 even in port, because they have to keep their diesel engines running to power the onboard facilities. A recent report found  that a mid-sized cruise ship can use as much as 150 tonnes of fuel each day, emitting the same volume of particulates as a million cars.

Scientific studies have estimated that poor air quality due to international shipping accounts for around 400,000 premature deaths a year globally, at an annual cost to society of more than €58 billion.

Even if the government’s “carbon neutral” claim is referring only to arrangements at the Carbis Bay Hotel, it sits oddly with the fact that the hotel itself has been cutting down mature trees and laying concrete without planning permission, and damaging Cornwall’s coastal ecosystem ahead of the summit.

This is hardly going to be made up for by the fact that leaders staying at the hotel will in the government’s words, be using “recycled stationary” [sic] and “natural soap”, and sitting at “hand-carved tables”.

The government’s claim that carbon neutrality will be achieved partly by investing in carbon offsetting projects in Uganda, Vietnam and Thailand also looks highly suspect. Worthy as such projects might be, they are unlikely to set off anything like the amount of carbon that is being burned to put on the summit.

And this is the same government that recently announced it is slashing the UK’s foreign aid budget by more than £4 billion, including an 85% cut to life-saving water, sanitation and hygiene projects in some of the poorest countries of the world.

The Arup/Johnson connection

So who will be ensuring that the G7 is carbon neutral? That’s where the story becomes even fishier.

The government has appointed engineering, design and consultancy firm Arup, with Crowberry Consulting, “to help the event achieve ISO 20121 certification and deliver a carbon-neutral event”.

Arup and Boris Johnson have history. The firm bagged no less than £12.7 million in fees for its work on Johnson’s ill-fated and massively wasteful Garden Bridge project when Johnson was mayor of London. As the Architects’ Journal put it, Arup was “one of the largest beneficiaries of the squandered cash – around 80 per cent of which came from the taxpayer”.

Johnson’s ‘transport guru’ when he was mayor, Isabel Dedring, went on to become ‘global transport leader’ at Arup, which has since gone on to win over £100 million of work on the massively destructive HS2 project.

I look forward to seeing how Arup calculates that the G7 is delivered as a carbon neutral event – this will no doubt be a masterclass in creative accounting.

But it is deeply worrying that a government that claims to be providing “climate leadership” to the world seems to have no understanding of the climate emergency whatsoever, or of the kind of action that needs to be taken to address it.