Wednesday, May 26, 2010

European Union is NOT increasing its emissions cut targets!

A number of newspapers and other sources, including The Times, are claiming this week that the European Union plans to increase the target for greenhouse gas emission cuts.

They report that a new target of cutting emissions by 30 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020, would be set and that this "would cost the EU an extra £33 billion a year by 2020".

Unfortunately, there is no truth in the story.

It is true that the European Commission has released a discussion document on the subject. But it is not, as The Times describes, a draft of a communication.

In fact, it explicitly says, "The purpose of this Communication is not to decide now to move to a 30% target: the conditions set are clearly not met."

The conditions remain the same as they were during the Copenhagen discussions in December. At that point the Commission said that it would move from the current target of 20% to 30% if everybody else committed to legally binding targets.

A spokesperson for the European Commission told us unequivocally that there are no plans to increase the target to 30%.

And currently the expectation is that a legally binding global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that would be a successor to the Kyoto Protocol will not happen, if it ever will, until mid-2011 at the earliest.

One might wonder why The Times is publishing so prominently - it was on the front page - a story like this. It contains the following paragraph:

"Business leaders fear that thousands of jobs could be lost and energy bills could soar. Carbon taxes on road fuel, heating and other sources of emissions could be introduced, with proceeds reinvested in renewable energy products."

Those who hold conspiracy theories about sceptics of climate change or the European Union might draw their own conclusions.

Will the "greenest government ever" preside over a 'blackout Britain'?

Before the election, the energy sector and the CBI by and large supported a policy programme that promised to "keep the lights on" and build a low carbon economy.

In five to ten years' time some current coal and nuclear power stations may have to be mothballed and there is now doubt that new nuclear power stations - which anyway would not be producing power for 15 years - will now be built, as Chris Huhne is known not to favour spending public money on them.

Add this to the cuts in both DECC's and Defra's budgets, and there is concern over a possible 'energy gap' looming.

The Energy Gap

“We need to explore alternative ways to combat this shortfall, such as building green oil power plants that  run off of sustainable oil, waste to energy systems that use all municipal solid waste (MSW) to generate electricity, which means there is no need for consumers to sort out their waste," said David Weaver, CEO of clean-tech company Ultra Green.
“These kinds of projects can be completed and producing power within five years. However, we need government support in the form of development grants and guarantees to accelerate the Britain’s renewables growth programme.”

We have already seen the loss of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme (LCBP) grants which will adversely affect the renewable heat sector (see my previous blog post).

An energy efficiency drive will reduce the rate of increase in demand for electricity.

But the sector requires immediately huge input in research, development, infrastructure and plant to quickly evolve a low carbon energy supply mix that meets future demand and bridges the energy gap.

Furthermore, the Queen's Speech contains bills that could have a negative impact on the UK’s energy and environmental sector.

Planning issues

A Devolution and Localism Bill, which will give local councils more control, could affect onshore renewable energy projects, by giving more power to NIMBYs.

Greg Clark, Minister for Decentralisation, said, "This Bill would reverse years of creeping state control and return power to people, communities and councils."

But the vast majority of councils which have rejected wind farm planning applications across the country have historically been Tory held.

One commentator, Howard Thomas, said on a government website that the coalition policy on ensuring 'sustainable development’ in planning is too vague and requires clarity. He called for "a clause in planning policy statements that every new development must not increase global-warming emissions and should save on them".

Loss of support

There's also the Public Bodies (Reform) Bill, which promises to do the opposite to the Localism Bill - centralise power by abolishing, merging or transferring quangos back into Departments.

Cutting quangos like The Carbon Trust, The Technology Strategy Board and its Knowledge Transfer Networks, and WRAP could seriously affect low carbon delivery objectives.

This could result in the loss of support for emerging tender shoots of nascent low carbon technologies.

Renewable energy grant scheme abruptly halted

The new Government's self-professed green credentials have come under question as a key grant scheme to put renewable heating into buildings has been stopped, to save a mere £3 million.

As of 6am on Monday, May 24th, the Government stopped taking fresh applications for grants for renewable heat systems. These were available under phase 2e of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme (LCBP).

The previous government’s intent was for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to take over from the LCBP. However there is now a gap of ten months before this goes live on April 1st 2011.

The LCPB's website says that "demand for grants has been unprecedented" and "we had very little unallocated funding remaining". It has therefore "been decided that by closing the programme now, these unallocated funds will contribute towards DECC’s overall savings".

The Solar Trade Association (STA) called it a "a retrogressive step" given "the relatively small budget required to support the LCBP".

DECC's cuts

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said it had to make the cut to as its part of the £6bn cuts announced by George Osbourne and the Treasury. DECC is contributing £85m to this total.

About half this figure will come from efficiencies and other savings across our central spending and that of DECC's quangos. The other half comes from cutting or slowing down planned expenditure.

Effect on the industry

The declared "unprecedented demand" indicates a healthy sector and the public's desire to install microgeneration. Many social housing providers had significant plans to install renewable technologies such as heat pumps this year under the scheme.

These and other projects will now most likely be put on hold until the RHI comes in, although its exact form has yet to be confirmed.

Therefore the STA believes the ten month gap will cause a loss of jobs in the industry just at the moment the country wants to build capacity to install hundreds of thousands of renewable heating systems each year.

They called on the Government to find a small extra element in its budget to support the LCBP until the launch of the new incentive.

Howard Johns, Chairman of the STA said “This is very bad news for the solar industry, and a very disappointing move from the new coalition who are aiming to be the greenest Government ever. Once again been undermined for short term gain. At this point we have no idea what the RHI will look like and whether we will get it at all - effectively leaving our sector in limbo, and jobs at risk.”

Scott McLean, marketing director of Ownergy, commented: "The same happened to LCBP grants for renewable electricity installations ahead of the Feed-In Tariffs going live. We don't see it as any indication that the Renewable Heat Incentive is under threat."

The Low Carbon Buildings Programme

The LCBP grant programme has provided approximately 20,000 grants for the capital and installation costs of Microgeneration equipment of which, to date 11,000 have been for thermal technology (33% by value, 58% by number of installations). These have produced lifetime carbon savings of 300,000 tonnes of CO2.

Feed-In-Tariff for renewable electricity, introduced on 1 April 2010, mean that LCBP is no longer required for electrical microgeneration.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Green Belt campaigner and serial expenses abuser is new Defra chief

Caroline Spelman has joined the Cabinet as one of the few women members and is the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Defra.

She is MP for Meriden in the West Midlands and was once the Conservative party chairman (Jul 2007 - Jan 2009) but was removed during the expenses scandal.

During that time she was forced to apologise and pay back £9,600 of Commons allowances she 'inadvertently' misused to pay her children's nanny.

She also faced questions over her Commons expenses after pocketing £40,000 to run her Georgian mansion, claiming it was her 'second' home - allowing her to claim a small fortune of taxpayers' cash for cleaning and bills - while her husband Mark claimed it was his main home during his unsuccessful bid to become a Conservative MEP in this month's European elections.

And she overclaimed £200 for council tax which she has paid back. She said it was a 'one-off administrative oversight'.

More recently she has kept well within her expenses limit.

Previous attitudes

According to They Work For You, she has voted "very strongly" for laws to stop climate change and for replacing Trident - opposing her new Liberal Democrat colleagues.

She also appears to have been confused about what to do with the House of Lords having voted both "strongly" against removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords and "strongly" for a wholly elected House of Lords.

Previous posts she has held are:

• Shadow communities and local government secretary since Jan 2009

• Shadow secretary of state for communities and local government (Dec 2005 - Jul 2007)

• Shadow secretary of state for local and devolved government (Mar 2004 - Dec 2005)

• Opposition spokesperson, environment and shadow minister for women (Nov 2003 - Mar 2004)

• Opposition spokesperson, international development (Sep 2001 - Nov 2003).

Why has she been chosen for Defra?

Defra says that before then Mrs Spelman had an extensive career in the agriculture sector, with fifteen years in the agriculture industry and in-depth experience of the international arena, including as deputy director of the International Confederation of European Beet Growers and a research fellow for the Centre for European Agricultural Studies.

She has also authored a book on the non-food use of agricultural products.

She has a particular interest in preserving the "green belt" and housing.

On her website she writes "Striking an appropriate balance between the sustainance of rural character and the allowance of urban growth is a particularly sensitive issue in the Meriden Constituency.

"I was elected with a pledge to try and defend the Green belt and find myself in a pitched battle with the Government's planning rules."

She has campaigned against ‘garden developments’ or ‘garden grabbing’, arguing that “Currently, gardens are not protected as ‘green space’, but are treated as ‘Brownfield land’. What is needed is clarification of the definition of ‘Brownfield Land’”.

This is something that I blogged about last week, as an area that the coalition will need to look at.

She introduced a Private Members’ Bill in Parliament at the end of 2006 which would protect these green spaces and adjust planning rules so as to take this need into consideration.

Hopefully this is something she is in a better position to see through now.

With her obvious lack of experience and questionable judgment she will need to sharpen up quickly, before she gets eaten by farmers and waste disposal engineers.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New DECC man Huhne faces tough challenges

Chris Huhne is the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary. The Liberal Democrat, 55, MP for Eastleigh in Hampshire, was latterly the party's Home Affairs shadow, and previously its environment spokesman.

Simon Hughes, who was the LibDem's Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, might be surprised at the appointment.

But according to the website They Work For You, Mr Huhne does have a better record than Mr Hughes on voting to stop climate change.

Mr Huhne is particularly interested in tax reform, which might explain his appointment.

He has in the past advocated a switch from taxing employment and labour on to resource use, pollution and carbon emissions.

Together with Vince Cable, it's possible that they may influence George Osbourne's position in the Treasury on these crucial issues.

As we enter a period of public spending cuts the new coalition Government will have little room to bankroll environmental action, but instead has an opportunity to shift the burden of taxation to both protect jobs and the environment.

But there will be other tough decisions on policy.

During the election campaign, the Conservatives said they wanted to replace the Renewable Obligation and system of Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) with an extended feed-in tariff scheme.

This could mean considerable uncertainty for large-scale renewable energy projects investors, such as wind farms, which are currently being planned based on the returns they could realise through the ROC system.

Huhne will have to spell out very soon what he plans to do about this.

In addition, the Tories are for nuclear and the LibDems against.

Apparently the Tories are giving their coalition partners the option of abstaining on any Parliamentary vote on nuclear power, leaving them have to get Labour on board to secure a majority, as well as promising not to spend any public money on the technology.

This could mean that new nuclear build faces an uncertain future.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Will a hung Parliament be good for the environment?

Now that we know there is to be a hung Parliament, the stage is set for much horse trading on environmental issues between the three main parties.

And, now that Caroline Lucas has become the first Green Party MP since Cynog Dafis won his seat in the '90s on a joint Green-Plaid Cymru ticket, it will be fascinating to see if she succeeds in raising the profile of environmental issues.

She deserves huge congratulations, as she has won this on the back of many years of dedication and hard work as a Green MEP.

On the whole, the Liberal Democrats hold the greenest of policies amongst the main three, but if, as seems likely, they attempt to forge an alliance with the Conservatives, then it will be very interesting to see how a party that is against nuclear power and for onshore wind can get on with one that opposes these policies.

Let's take one topic and see what could happen: planning and housing.

Where both Tories and LibDems agree, and differ from Labour, is in a promise to abolish regional planning, including regional spatial strategies.

Although the Liberal Democrat Policies for the Environment election document had little to say about spatial planning it did pledge to abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and return planning, including housing targets to "local people", something the Tories might agree with.

A Conservative government would pay councils to release land for housing by matching pound-for-pound the council tax receipts they receive from new housing, and the LibDems could support that.

But the Tories have no target for housing on brownfield land to protect greenspace, unlike the Labour Government, which set one at 75%.

Labour promised to maintain the 60% brownfield and minimum density targets for housing in its election document A Green Future for All, and was the only main party to say it would enforce greenfield land releases, according to its Plan for Housing.

Labour also promised promise to end so-called "garden grabbing" by defining them as greenfield sites in "planning  law" so they cannot be so easily built over.

The Tory document, Modern Conservatism: Our Quality of Life Agenda launched during the campaign represented a very pale green version of John Gummer's 2007 quality of life commission document which promoted a wide range of radical Smart Growth policies.

One thing seems certain: the prospect of a hung Parliament will act as a brake on the deregulatory excesses of the right that historically have not boded well for the environment - which, naturally, does not have a vote.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

How to vote tactically for a greener new government

Thanks to Frannie Armstrong for this!

A Tory government would be a disaster for the environment and climate change.

Their candidates rank climate change as 19th out of 19 most important issues and want to decrease onshore wind and increase North Sea oil drilling. Their party is riddled with climate sceptics (with one even rumoured to be lurking in the shadow cabinet).

There are six seats (Battersea, Brighton Kemptown, Calder Valley, Colne Valley, Hove and Stroud) where the Green vote is large enough to give a Labour seat to the Tories.

There are at least three (including Carshalton and Wallington, Dorset West and Torridge and West Devon) where it would either give a Lib Dem seat to the Tories or prevent the Lib Dems from taking one from them.

So we urge everyone who understands the precipice on which we all stand to be highly tactical with their vote:

  • If you live in a hope-in-hell constituency, vote Green: Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion (now the bookies' favourite), Tony Juniper in Cambridge, Adrian Ramsay in Norwich South and Darren Johnson in Lewisham Deptford.
  • If you're in a Labour-Tory marginal, steel your environmentalist's heart and vote Labour rather than Green
  • If you're in a Lib Dem-Tory marginal, vote Lib Dem rather than Green
  • If you're in a Labour-Lib Dem marginal, vote for Labour, with an eye on helping stop Clegg siding with the Tories if there's a hung parliament. (Clegg said last week that he'd be happy to work with the Tories as long as they concurred on four policies - fairer taxes, a shake-up of the education system and economic and political reform. Nothing else important, Nick?)
  • If you're in a safe seat for any of the three main parties vote Green to add one more to the Greens' total and strengthen the case for proportional representation next time.

Meanwhile, till Friday morning, you can watch The Age of Stupid free for 48 hours - from now till the polls close tomorrow night.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Tories are the most un-green of the parties, LibDem greenest

Of the mainstream 3 parties, the LibDems have the greenest policies and candidates followed by Labour with the Tories trailing badly.

FoE supporters contacted their parliamentary candidates to ask them to support four pledges:
  • a strong and fair international agreement to tackle climate change;
  • a local carbon budget for every local authority;
  • investment in switching to a low-carbon economy;
  • and tackling the major greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation caused by the UK's dependence on imported feeds for livestock.

The results were:
  • Less than 1% of Tory candidates agreed (4),
  • 182 of the 446 Lib Dems agreed;
  • 96 of the 479 Labour candidates agreed

Andrew Smith, former Labour minister and candidate for Oxford East, said: " A Tory government would threaten the low-carbon transition: sceptic MPs, no to onshore wind, on the fringes in Europe."

The Conservatives also plan to increase oil drilling in UK waters.

According to a green paper on energy policy published in March, a future Conservative government would "implement a tax regime that offers sufficient incentive to keep existing fields open as long as possible, and which also makes new exploration on the UK continental shelf attractive".

It added: "In addition, we will improve the incentives for exploring and developing marginal fields ... opening up new areas, including in the seas west of the Shetlands."

When questioned by George Monbiot, Greg Clarke, the Tory energy shadow, could see no contradiction between this stance and having a carbon emissions reduction target.

In this video he comes across as woolly and superficial in his thinking.

In addition, the Tories want to scrap many quangos and let ministers make more decisions.

This could mean a severe shrinking of anti-pollution measures resulting in a more polluted country.

When I asked Central Office to deny categorically that the Tories would not scrap the Waste and Resources Action Programme or the Environment Agency, they could not do so.

Finally, the LibDems are the only party wanting to scrap nuclear power and Trident.

Use your vote wisely.