Green agenda in need of sector offer
There has been a plethora of different announcements recently on the so-called ‘green agenda’. These include further funding for carbon capture and storage, support for shale gas fracking and the potential for raising the EU targets still further, so that a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 would be a legal requirement.
On 25 April, the government announced £35m of support for ‘eco innovators’, described as SME’s that can act at innovators and entrepreneurs to develop and demonstrate low carbon technologies.
Two thoughts occurred to me on reading this. The first is that the government would be better served to do the basic things right, rather than speculating in so called new ideas. Secondly, it has to live up to its heavily publicised green ambitions as well, and often fails to do so.
So what do I mean by getting the basics right? Almost half of the emissions in the UK come from buildings. Local authorities own many assets with a value in the region of £250bn. The costs of running this estate are 20% of local government’s entire expenditure. Studies have shown that savings of around £7bn could be result from improvements in the estate. The extent of emissions reductions possible from work on this entire local government asset base is also enormous.
However, local authorities are suffering under huge financial pressures and finding the money to undertake such work is not easy. Further encouragement from the government would certainly help in this regard and would be likely to have a far bigger impact on emissions that trawling for new ideas that may or may not work at all. Of course, there is the Green Deal already proposed but that is a larger, more complex arrangement that is moving very slowly. A fund with tens of millions included, even if it were on the basis of short-term loans, would move things along far more quickly.
The other area is ‘walking the walk’. Jonathan Porritt wrote a paper for Friends of the Earth on the government’s boast to be the ‘greenest ever’ and was blunt in identifying some major failings. Added to those, we now have the debacle over the so called ‘conservatory tax’.
Essentially, the DCLG ‘s consultation on changes to Building Regs had suggested that if a householder wants to build an extension, a percentage of the value of the extension would have to be expended on energy efficiency measures for the property. The prime minister has now intervened, saying that this would be “unfair” on householders and will not form government policy, despite being formally proposed by a government department.
This could easily be characterised as naked populism and may be damaging to the government’s work to comply with the various climate change targets. After all, a larger house means more emissions and so it was, at the very least, sensible to ensure that the emissions problem does not get even worse, by requiring a modest boost to energy efficiency. As things now stand, achievement of the government’s targets may be moving further away rather than coming closer. And progress is lamentably slow anyway.
If the government really is going to be the ‘greenest ever’ it needs to ensure that policy is consistent and predictable; and it needs to value the role the public sector can play in the journey far more highly.
Stephen Cirell is an independent consultant specialising in the low carbon economy and renewable energy. email@example.com