The UK Government leaks about its planned Climate Change Bill are nothing to celebrate.
Setting new, tougher targets, whether or not they are legally binding, represents little advance in containing carbon emissions in the UK, which has just emerged as the most wasteful energy consumer in Europe. It is only if those targets are strongly enforced each year that the Climate Change movement will be able to claim a victory.
The plan to create a new committee dedicated to following the science on global warming and setting targets on carbon emissions decade by decade is a move by government to wash its hands of responsibility in the short term and shift blame for policy failure – an important benefit in the runup to an election. Various members of the Green movement will sit on the committee, thus stifling them from debate. “The Bill will be in the next Queen’s Speech on November 15, reported the Guardian.
In a speech today Environment Secretary David Miliband (pictured above with Tony Blair) will also propose that Britain’s eight biggest cities should create energy service companies that make profits from reducing carbon use rather than selling more energy. This is the same David Miliband who floated the idea of Personal Carbon Allowances in a July speech but then did absolutely nothing to follow it up. Enquiries to his Department revealed that it hopes to set up a study group at some point, but has not been able to find any civil servants to sit on it.
Meanwhile there are many low-cost initiatives begging to be taken. Off-Grid proposed to DEFRA that a top quality Carbon Calculator be made available on their web site. The calculators currently available in the UK are like toys compared to a well designed tool enabling households and businesses to make their own, detailed energy spending decisions. The Department has said it is studying the idea.
Once launched, this tool could be widely advertised and would be a concrete action the government could point to, an awareness-raising measure, and a genuinely useful way of helping UK households and businesses reduce their emissions. It is an urgent and cost-effective measure, of national importance that would do much to prepare the ground for Personal Carbon Allowances.
Clearly people living or working off-grid use perhaps 10% of the energy of an average household, and therefore they are an important leading indicator of how we could all be behaving in the future.
Off-Grid believes that DEFRA should subsidise a number of experimental off-grid communities, of a few hundred inhabitants, with very limited budgets for energy and water. This is the way of settling the debate between nuclear power versus renewables.
There would be a strong response from the public for a call for volunteers for such communities. There is nothing to lose by investing in them either in time or money. Even if they turned out to be failures in achieving energy reduction and water conservation, they would still be useful, affordable residential developments.
If they all failed that would be evidence that the nuclear lobby has got the right answer, but if some or all of them succeeded then that would be evidence that renewable energy consumed in a sustainable way can achieve the reductions in carbon emissions that the government has targeted.
Next Monday, Sir Nicholas Stern will deliver the Government’s report on the economics of climate change, and The Guardian says his message will be stark. He believes that climate change represents the biggest market failure ever, bigger than the two world wars and the Depression put together. To combat it will cost a huge amount. But Stern will say that it is affordable, if only because a refusal to act will end up costing a whole lot more.
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