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Environmental and Energy Policy under the New Government

event report

On Wednesday 8th July, Manchester Friends of the Earth’s lead climate & energy campaigner, Ali Abbas, spoke at a pro-manchester Green Economy group event on Environmental and Energy Policy under the New Government.  This is what he said:

Before I start, I just wanted to say thank you to pro-manchester for inviting me to speak here this morning, and to DWF for kindly hosting this event.

As Steve said in his kind introduction, I’m here as the lead climate & energy campaigner with Manchester Friends of the Earth, where I’ve been involved on a voluntary basis in a number of campaigns over the past 12 years from The Big Ask, which resulted in the Climate Change Act, to the recent campaign against fracking in Lancashire.

When Steve invited me to share my views on Environmental and Energy Policy under the New Government, I thought a good place to start would be to take a quick look at the Conservatives’ election manifesto.

It’s not pretty reading.

To be honest, it reads a bit like the wishlist of the CEO of a fossil fuel company:

  • Go all out for shale
  • Maximise oil & gas extraction from the North Sea
  • Eye-watering subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry
  • Massive new road-building programme
  • Major expansion in new gas plants
  • Halt the spread of those pesky onshore wind farms

I could go on.

But despite all this, we have seen some good progress in the power sector, with rapid growth in offshore wind and solar in particular.

In fact, last year we saw more electricity generated from wind than from nuclear for the first time, and just last week we saw 16% of our power come from solar.

So what progress are we making towards the legally binding target to reduce emissions by at least 80% by 2050 that’s enshrined in the Climate Change Act?

As luck would have it, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) released its annual progress report just over a week ago.

It tells us that emissions have fallen by 35% since 1990 but that there is a long way to go to meet the 2050 target, and “significant action is required in the new parliament…to stay on track”.

They say that there is short-term momentum in the power sector, but action is needed now to maintain this beyond 2020, and that policy on homes, transport and industry needs to improve.

The Committee sets out four main recommendations:

On energy, decarbonising the power sector is a very high priority, not just because it produces a quarter of current emissions, but because other sectors such as transport and buildings need to go heavily electric in the 2020s to cut their emissions.

Existing policies mean this progress is likely to continue to 2020, but many of these policies run out soon and momentum will be lost and investment will dry up if this policy uncertainty is not dealt with quickly.

On transport, we need to maintain support for electric vehicles, and push for stretching 2030 EU CO2 targets for new cars and vans. The report also highlights the lack of progress on travel demand – help making it easier for people to walk and cycle more, and use their cars less.

This is not just about tackling climate change – around 2,000 people in Greater Manchester die each year from air pollution, and cleaning up our air and encouraging active travel would have major public health benefits, in addition to cutting carbon emissions.

On homes, the CCC notes that the Government needs a huge upgrade in its policies to tackle energy efficiency, so people can afford to keep warm. It’s a national scandal that thousands of people die every winter because of cold, draughty homes.

The Committee also notes the number of people having their homes insulated has plummeted since 2012 due to policy changes, and calls for a wide range of policy improvements to tackle fuel poverty.

And on industry, the Committee says “Government must ensure there is a clear future market for low-carbon products through credible policy commitments that ’price-in’ a rising cost of carbon”. They also warn that “decisions taken now need to avoid ‘lock-in’ to high carbon pathways”.

So what does this mean for us, and for the wider business community in Manchester? Well, if we’re serious about tackling climate change – and I’m sure we all are or we wouldn’t be here today – there are two key messages I want to leave you with.

Firstly, we need to make our voices heard.

We’ve seen that public pressure works – from the introduction of the Climate Change Act in 2008 to the decision in Preston last week to reject fracking after a local campaign supported by thousands of people and over 300 businesses across Lancashire.

As forward-thinking businesses, we need to speak out with a proactive and positive voice in support of action on the environment, and drown out the lobbying groups like Business Europe that still paint regulation as a drag.

So let’s call on the Government to adopt recommendations of the CCC, and in particular:

  • to urgently provide the greater policy clarity post 2020 that investors need to invest in and reduce the cost of the UK’s low carbon infrastructure;
  • to make energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority, with the right level of support and funding for households and businesses;
  • and to make the upcoming international negotiations on climate change in Paris a diplomatic priority.

And secondly, to echo the advice that Craig Bennett, the new CEO of Friends of the Earth, gave at the Manchester: A Certain Future AGM last night – don’t wait.

Don’t wait for David Cameron to unleash his inner husky.

Don’t wait, as Craig so eloquently put it, for George Osborne to smear more lipstick on the weary face of localism.

If the Government isn’t showing the leadership that’s needed, let’s take the lead ourselves. We know what needs to be done.

Let’s invest in those energy efficiency measures that we know will pay for themselves in a couple of years.

Let’s invest in renewable energy to protect our businesses from spiralling energy prices, either directly or by supporting a community scheme such as Bury Hydro, Moss Community Energy and Greater Manchester Community Renewables.

Let’s invest in our colleagues, building a Carbon Literate workforce that understands climate change and is empowered to act.

Businesses in Greater Manchester led the Industrial Revolution.

Now it’s time for us to lead the Low-Carbon Revolution.

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