What needs to change?
The short pithy answer is of course lots and quickly. The IPCC Report told us that we have only 12 years to get a grip on carbon emissions as if there wasn’t enough evidence already. What frustrates me is the lack of urgency from policymakers on reducing emissions. It is like we have all the time in the world and sadly we simply don’t. We are not treating this as the climate emergency that it clearly is.
The final statement at COP24 in Katowice last December, which the UK Government signed up to, called for a much stronger relationship between national governments and Local Government on achieving the Paris Climate goals. There now needs to be a genuine and much deeper partnership between Local and National Government to work together to reduce emissions. That simply isn’t there at the moment and we need it. Used imaginatively Councils can be a swift and effective tool to deliver programmes to reduce emissions and engage citizens. We have Nationally Determined Contributions towards achieving the Paris Climate goals why not Locally Determined Contributions or Regionally Determined Contributions.
Housing and specifically new build housing is within most councils’ remit as planning authorities. We can make a difference. In July Government told us that Councils could set our own energy efficiency standards in our Local Plans for new housing. That’s good and I am pushing for the Passivhaus Standard in Supplementary Planning Guidance to the Kirklees Local Plan. If Kirklees agrees it and government allows it and I succeed, then that will be one Local Authority out of hundreds. Why doesn’t government just improve building regulations and actually properly enforce them with an independent publicly managed Building Control system to ensure their quality of build and energy performance?
It’s not just hew homes but the ones that already exist that pose one of our biggest challenges. We need to rapidly improve the energy efficiency of the existing homes to reduce energy demand, with all the health and income benefits that would come with that. So we desperately need a mass retrofit programme. The easy stuff has largely been done in terms of loft and cavity wall insulation. It is the solid wall properties with attic rooms that we need to address with internal drylining, room in roof insulation and external cladding where appropriate and we need to aim for the Enerphit standard for retrofit. Yes it needs paying for and a combination of ramping up the Energy Company Obligation and use of general taxation is what is required. We can spend countless billions on HS2 and the expensive dangerous folly that is Hinckley C but wouldn’t it be better to invest those funds in a programme like this that would directly help millions of people, with substantial additional benefits.
So how can we find the necessary funding to help achieve our low carbon ambitions? Financing ambitious carbon reduction projects is always a challenge and because government policy is constantly shifting it means that innovative projects have to react to whatever works in the current policy context. Before the Feed In Tariff Kirklees helped fund solar PV schemes for householders by placing a second charge on the property to pay for installations. Back in 2009 this was the Winner of the British Renewable Energy Awards. The Feed in tariff made this approach unnecessary but now it’s going it could be revived as a way of supporting household installations. Many carbon reduction schemes make financial sense and have short payback periods such as low energy lighting schemes that often have payback periods of less than 2 years. When considering projects such as a switch in Council vehicle fleets to electric the business case has been made in Kirklees on the basis of lower revenue costs in terms of fuel and servicing. We also need to challenge assertions that higher environmental standards mean higher costs. With the price of modular construction homes built to the passivhaus standard, for instance, are rapidly dropping in comparison with homes built to current building regulation standards, we should ensure that information on costs for the lower carbon option are made on the basis of complete information not a partial case designed to rule it out.
We need to reboot and re-energise the mass solar PV sector and give it a sustainable future with no chopping and changing of Government policy every 6 months. This would enable it to be a mass market product again but this time with a strong focus on community owned renewables and energy storage.
The effective ban on onshore wind projects needs to be lifted. It is ludicrous that our cheapest form of renewable energy is basically a non-starter and if we do re-energise it we need to encourage more publicly owned and community owned renewables.
Renewable heat and Combined Heat and Power need to have a much stronger focus from government. I’m not a big fan of the incineration of waste but it’s not just the waste that goes into these that I object to but the waste heat going up the chimneys. Some great work is going on in Leeds and other authorities, but it is not the norm. It is not mainstream.
We need to stop subsidising fossil fuels. We hear all this talk from some politicians about the renewable sector having to stand on its own two feet in the energy market, yet we subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of £12 billion/year and renewables £8.3 billion/year. The balance is wrong and doesn’t reflect where Government support is needed. Local Government and wider public bodies need to divest from fossil fuels which if we are serious about addressing emissions will become worthless stranded assets (according to the Governor of the Bank of England). Some have already done so, others need to like the West Yorkshire Pension Fund for instance.
I’d love to see a mass tree-planting project with large scale civic engagement, and I hope the Northern Forest proposal becomes that. Every school child in the UK should be given the chance to plant a tree.
The revolution in electric vehicles needs to be accelerated and Councils and large fleet operators incentivised to act more swiftly with infrastructure and in their own procurement. Leeds is doing well with 200 electric vehicles, but there are others who are lagging behind.
Fracking. We need to keep it in the ground. Ban it like so many other civilised countries in the world have and Scotland.
We need to ensure we do these things but focus on those on the lowest incomes first. We don’t just save the world, we must create a better world.
Do all this and it will be a good start.