Every year I rashly agree to forecast/guess what will be the key sustainability trends for the year ahead. This time last year I did predict that under investment in flood defences would force government onto the back foot reducing them to sticky plaster solutions - so I got at least one right! What then might happen in 2016?
1) Infrastructure vs Austerity
The appalling flooding in December highlights a fundamental flaw in the across the board austerity drive. There is little point saving money now if it is going to cost more to fix the problem in future. The government is going to have to square this circle otherwise it is going to be constantly defending itself in the face of outrage from flooded households and businesses. A new and bold flood protection strategy is required but is unlikely to appear.
2) Prevarication is no longer a policy option
Government has sought to kick difficult decisions into the long-grass or drive through policies based more on dogma than rationality. 2016 will be a year to face the music. A decision will have to be reached on proposed airport expansion. Will Cameron stand-up to internal political dissent and go for Heathrow? Will Gatwick get the nod as the compromise candidate or will he shock us all and say existing capacity is sufficient? It will be a surprise if it is not Heathrow.
The government's desire to drive fracking through at all costs could well hit the buffers with local planners and community opposition. There is also certain to be greater scrutiny behind the economics of nuclear. These two trends will lead to our energy strategy looking increasingly threadbare with implications for costs, security and carbon emissions. Transport infrastructure will also be in the headlines with debate intensifying on the rationality of HS2 as it cuts through prime Tory voting constituencies.
3) Isolationist UK will start to lag behind
A bitter European debate and a further drive of Scottish nationalism could lead to England becoming increasingly isolated from the international community. This will be acutely felt in sustainability where post Paris countries such as the US and China will be driving major low carbon innovation. The UK will slip from a leadership position with detrimental impacts to our economy.
4) Air Pollution will be the key policy driver
Shocking air quality in global cities will be the main policy driver for 2016. Government's will have to shift from make do and mend strategies such as the recent car rationing scheme in Delhi to longer-term solutions that cut car emissions. Expect this to see a boom in electrification, more car free days and a commitment to active travel such as cycling and walking.
5) Companies will continue to drive change
Many companies will need to demonstrate that the commitments they made at Paris are substantial and I expect to see an increased number of bold sustainability initiatives. These will be driven by a realisation that extreme weather is starting to have a real impact and by the confidence generated by the Paris outcomes.
6) Consumers will become more sustainable
There will be a growing band of more sustainable consumers driven by a range of different motivations. The desire to cut food waste will grow partly through greater media coverage, the impact of the floods will make people review lifestyle choices, the desire to learn new skills will increase upcycling and more people will question excessive consumption resulting in increasing disquiet with events such as Black Friday.