Why are we still using plastic bags?

For many years plastic supermarket bags have caused terrible environmental problems. They are taken to landfill sites because they cannot be easily recycled, where they either do not rot in the ground or get blown over the countryside ensnaring birds and animals. They are made from finite resources like oil which itself has a significant climate change effect. It seems odd to use fuel to make bags, creating long term emissions instead of using recyclable and easily biodegradable materials like cotton, hemp or paper to carry the shopping. Continue reading

Personal Carbon Allowances or carbon taxation?

Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee think that personal carbon allowances would be a useful way of reducing emissions. The system that they have in mind is complicated and like most of the systems that really clever people invent it seeks to change people’s behaviour by a system of incentives and penalties and shies away from introducing any real measures, rather expecting that carbon emission reduction behaviour will follow as a result of the scheme.

Personal carbon allowances are supposed to work like this. Everyone would have a personal carbon cap and be given an allowance to emit. If they exceed their personal emissions they can buy allowances from people who have some spare and thus it would reward people who made positive efforts to reduce their emissions, just like your supermarket reward card. Continue reading

We will all spend more on insulation, low energy light bulbs and other measures

Mr Benn, the Environment Secretary is going to require energy companies to spend more money on energy saving measures, such as insulation and low energy light bulbs with some scope for renewables.

Under the Carbon Emissions Reductions Target “CERT” (formerly known as the Energy Efficiency Commitment “EEC”), energy companies are obliged to spend an amount of money – it used to be £500 million a year but Mr Benn is proposing to double that amount – on energy efficiency measures. Continue reading

Green Taxes, reports gathering dust, and polluters that should pay

I decided in October last year to “blog” about the environment and have posted articles almost every day since then. I called this “Ideas for the Environment” because ideas about improving life sometimes turn into real improvements and without the ideas there will be no improvements.  Continue reading

Carlisle loses the plot with green homes advice

I have previously written about the excellent work that Suzanne Burgess’s team of energy advisors do at Carlisle’s Energy Efficiency Advice Centre. Their efforts, expertise and commitment over the years have saved tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. They were one of the first energy efficiency teams to support solar thermal and provide an economic high quality local program, which provided for people in Carlisle, and then Cumbria to undertake high quality energy efficiency measures, including renewables, at low cost.

When Hilary Benn announced that there would be a new Green Homes Service to replace the work that Energy Efficiency Advice Centres were doing, my reaction (20th November 2007) was that it “ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.” I have always thought reinventing the wheel never improves locomotion, but simply Continue reading

Gas and electricity prices rise – what this means and what will happen next

If you buy your gas and electricity from Npower you will find yourself paying a lot more for your energy. They are raising gas prices by up to 27% and electricity prices by up to 20%. Average price increase will be around 17% for gas and 15% for electricity. However, you should not be in a rush to change energy supplier to one of the other providers because they will, I am sure, follow suit over the next few weeks.

An average home will find itself paying over £154 a year more this year for its energy, than it did last year.These high increases spell hardship, discomfort and sometimes death for the fuel poor. If you already spend more than 10% of your income on fuel (and thus you are officially categorised as being in fuel poverty) you will find it hard to make ends meet and stay warm; your best chance to survive will be for a warm winter.

Some newspapers have accused the energy companies of profiteering. I am no fan of the fossil fuel energy producers but I am sure that they have little scope for profiteering. Energy prices have been going upwards, on a trend basis, for the past five years and although they sharply fell last year upward pressure this year has been very significant and it is only a matter of time and marketing before all these price increases are passed on to the consumer.

What is new about the present price increases is that there are large regional variations, so that the further away from the source of energy you live the more you will pay. Prices are now being adjusted to take delivery into account. That might not be too fair.

Those people who have invested in some form of microgeneration will reap some dividends on their investment, because they will be immune form energy price increases, to the extent that their microgeneration provides them with free energy. Solar thermal users will benefit the most, as gas (mostly used by households for heat) will generally rise more than electricity.

If you live in fuel poverty and spend more than 10% of your income on energy you may be delighted to know that the government passed a law in 2000 under which they were obliged to abolish fuel poverty by 2015, which is only seven years away. Well, I admit that you might not be really delighted with this news because figures of those in fuel poverty will continue to rise with prices unless measures are put in place to enable the poor to have fuel. Fuel poverty reached an all time low of just over two million households in 2003, but virtually doubled to four million households in 2006.

Charities like National Energy Action, Energy Action Scotland and Age Concern all deplore the fuel rise, but they will be powerless to prevent this and the further fuel rises in the offing. They can only alleviate the effects of the fuel rise by measures. As I see it the measures will have to be increased tremendously, because I fear the present fuel rises will be seen to be simply the tip of the iceberg as a more industrialised and more prosperous developing world competes with the developed world for limited supplies of fossil fuel.

This Government has a naive and childlike belief in legislation. The law passed to abolish fuel poverty will do no such thing; it might help from time to time and in specific cases but all that is rather scratching the surface of the problem, because fuel poverty rises and declines according to fuel prices unless comprehensive measures are put in place.

The same childlike belief in the efficacy of a legally binding statement that the country is obliged to abolish or change something by a future date is exhibited in Mr Hilary Benn’s much criticised Climate Change Bill, which suffers from the defect of enacting a pious hope or a statutory target to reduce carbon emissions without the measures needed to see it through. I fear that as a result our carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions will suffer the same fate as the number of households in fuel poverty – they will inexorably increase.

Climate Change Conference -Statements of the obvious at Bali

It seems that the delegates at Bali’s Climate Change Conference have agreed that they will not set firm emission targets at this stage but will negotiate them over a two year period and that the new targets agreed in 2009 will replace those set down in Kyoto.

The developing countries, in particular China, thought that their own economic development would be slowed down if they agreed to reduce emissions, so they did not want to use language that was too indicative of what must be done. When the delegates finally reached their “deal” or “roadmap” it was reported that there were hugs and tears. Before then there were boos for the United States. T

he leadership of our own Hilary Benn, Environment Minister, on climate change with his marvellous Climate Change Bill was simply ignored. In any event the United Nations had already earlier called it a blueprint for the way for developed nations to increase their carbon emissions, so this is not surprising. 

I have not yet been able to read the actual text of what was agreed but reports are that the text indicates that the world will (1) acknowledges the need to have emission cuts, (2) help developing countries with transferring “clean technology”, (3) reward countries that stop deforestation and (4) help the very poor countries that will be worse affected by climate change. I have never been convinced that targets for emission reductions are the best way to reduce emissions; I think that you need policies, not targets – things like mandatory use of renewable energy, taxing heavily polluting things and banning some really heavy pollutants.  

Today these ideas are too radical to be adopted because although we are in reality fighting a war against climate change, it is a war where the enemy is not “in your face” and the effects that we feel are remote and can still be dealt with on a superficial level.  The general agreement on the need for emission cuts is hailed as an achievement. I cannot see why; the need for emission cuts is obvious, even to a blind man in the Blackwall Tunnel in a pea souper fog.   

The need to transfer “clean technology” to developing countries is also obvious; the trouble is that there is not a lot of clean technology around and the existing clean technology is barely used by governments of the developed world. Less than 2% of the United Kingdom’s energy comes from clean technology, and most of that figure is made up from electricity generated by hydro schemes in Scotland, which are not entirely clean in their initial creation. Other countries may do a lot better than us but in relation to their overall dirty energy use but the proportion of clean energy used is still tiny, even in places like Germany. So in this respect the agreement is virtually worthless. 

The most important thing that might come out of Bali is the preservation of forests and the re-establishment of them These carbon sinks are the best way we have of storing carbon and a massive forest protection and planting program will help keep the carbon dioxide levels rising more slowly than otherwise. 

As far as the part of the text that says that we will help the very poorest countries cope with the floods famine, and destruction that climate change will wreak on them by giving them aid – well, I would have thought we would have done that anyway, without having to travel to Bali to say so.