I was almost cheered when the new position of Secretary of State for Energy was created and then Ed Miliband was appointed, but it doesnt seem to have done much to stem the Government’s ongoing muddled approach to the problems climate change and environmental degradation, typified by the unstoppable rush to approve the third runway at Heathrow and bizarre policy decisions on renewable energy investment. It’s baffling to say the least, although the problem of muddled thinking not confined to the UK – worldwide governments are ignoring the pressing question of climate change in favour of stop gap short term fixes for the ailing global economy. In the UK this haphazard approach to climate change is now being evidenced in a number of areas and let’s look at the (mis) management of renewable energy first. Whilst it seems that the government should be applauded for sanctioning ’feed in’ tariffs for electricty from sustainable sources – this won’t be in place until 2010. In the meantime the Government is scrapping the low carbon buildings programme (LCBP) grants scheme for schools and public buildings – the scheme will be ending early with millions unspent – only half of the £48 million has been used with the opportunity of thousands more projects missed. Maybe we should cheer – the LCBP has been dogged by acusations of bureaucratic inefficiency -but at least it was there, and in a recession at least there was some funding to keep sustainability on the agenda and now there will be a one year gap. Andrew Simms from the New Economics Foundation, speaking to the Guardian said “the government couldn’t organise a windmill in a gale” adding “on one hand we have recession, rising unemployment and the urgent need for an environmental makeover of the economy. On the other, we have the opportunity for massive growth and investment from renewable energy and conservation”. Mr Timms then accuses the government of timidity, confusion intermittent and hopeless inadequate investment, adding “instead of a green new deal, it looks like more of a broken contract with the future”. The New Economic Foundation is also one of the organisations behind the new ‘Tackling Cliamte Change, Reducing Poverty’ report which advocates investment in home insulation to reduce CO2 and reduce fuel poverty and investment in public transport to provide affordable travel and again reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Other coalition members include Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and the Royal College of Nursing.
Secondly, there is the third runway at Heathrow. Despite previous promises that no new runway would be needed once Terminal 5 was built, BAA are now pressing for approval. Ranged against them are a host of environmental groups and even the cabinet is split on the issue with transport secretary Geoff Hoon and business secretary Peter Mandelson championing the runway and environment secretary Hilary Benn and skills secretary John Denham amongst others against. Whilst BAA claims the runway would only go ahead with strict environmental limits, campaigners are not convinced, citing noise and air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as major concerns. Now campaigners, including comic Alistair McGowan and actress Emma Thompson, have brought a small one acre plot of land smack bang in the middle of where the new runway would be, in a bid to outfox BAA. Thompson made a telling comment “I don’t undeerstand how any government remotely serious about committing to reversing climate change can even consider these ridiculous plans. Its laughably hypocritical” adding “that’s why we’ve brought a plot in the runway. We’ll stop this from happening even if we have to move in and plant vegetables”. Campaigners plan to sell tiny plots of land off to campaigners around the world. A fully expanded Heathrow would produce 27 million tonnes of CO2 each year. Spain has taken a different approach, investing in high speed rail links accross the country. New routes such as the now 2 hour 35 minute link between Madrid to Barcelona have meant that thousands of passengers have swapped from air trravel to the far green 220mph trains. In a country where big cities are often 300 miles apart aviation’s share of the 4.2 million long-distance domestic journey’s dropped from 72% to 60% whilst rail passenger numbers grew 28% over the same period with 400,000 more opting to let the train take the strain. Spain is investing £96 billion (E108bn) on the high speed network over the next twelve years to 2020 as part of its anti recession surge in public spending.
Government “destroys jobs” by delaying green revolution http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/12/renewable-energy-initiative
See BAA Loss its plot: how celebrities and activists hope to halt Heathrow plans: The Guardian 13th January 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/13/travelandtransport-activists
And see “How a middle-aged mum became an eco-warrior” by Rebecca Frayn and “the aviation industry will keep on bluffing” both in the Guardian (p27) on Monday 12th January 2009.