Government holding back climate action, warn MPs

The House of Commons Environment Committee has slammed the government for failing to help people “play their part” in tackling climate change. It calls for new taxes on energy-inefficient goods with the revenue raised spent on emissions reductions.

The government must do more to help individuals shrink their carbon footprints said the House of Commons Environment Committee in a report published in September.1The Committee wants the government to make it more attractive for consumers to buy green alternatives by taxing energy-inefficient electronic goods and lighting. The ultimate aim, it said, should be to make it easy for environmentally conscious individuals to take action and to restrict the damaging choices open to other consumers.

If Britain wants to maintain its place at the ‘top table’ on climate change “it must do more to fully engage its citizens in the fight to reduce carbon emissions,” said Committee chairman Michael Jack (Con, Fylde). “Ministers need to make less speeches on climate change and do more to enable individuals, local authorities, house builders and power suppliers to maximise their contributions to emissions reductions as quickly as possible.”

The Committee supports more green taxes, but insists they “must absolutely not be simply a means of revenue raising in a green wrapper”. They should be accompanied by “better information on the availability, environmental and cost benefits of energy efficient alternatives”.

And to improve the credibility of green taxes, the revenue raised should be ring-fenced and spent on cutting emissions. One option would be a fund for emissions reductions projects that local community groups or individuals could bid for.

The government also comes in for criticism over lack of support for local authorities. “It appears to us that community and local government initiatives are often taking place in spite of, rather than because of, government activity,” complain the MPs.

They highlight fragmented funding and advice as key barriers and call on the government to publish a plan by the end of the year to remove obstacles and encourage local authorities to take action.

Last year, the Energy Saving Trust (EST) was forced to scale back its work with authorities when it faced a surprise £5 million VAT bill (ENDS Report 379, p 11 ). The Committee wants the government to ensure the EST does not suffer similar budget cuts in the future. In fact it suggests the EST is given extra funding to tackle emissions from personal transport.

The MPs welcome the government’s plans to ensure all new homes are zero-carbon, but call for a tougher timetable requiring builders to meet the target “well before” the current 2016 deadline.

The Committee also calls for interim targets setting the proportion of new developments to be zero-carbon required each year. These requirements, it says, must be married to better enforcement of regulations.

In parallel, the government should act to improve the efficiency of existing housing. The Committee asks the government to consider a programme to refurbish all housing stock built before a set date, similar to that in Germany.

It also suggests planners should refuse permission for extensions or home improvements that increase the carbon footprint of a property. Home owners would still be able to make improvements, but only if they offset the extra energy demand by increasing energy efficiency elsewhere in the building.

The MPs are also concerned that the suspension earlier this year of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme (ENDS Report 387, p 13 ), could discourage householders from installing microrenewables.

In September, environmental groups and renewables companies were concerned by suggestions the government would scrap the “Merton rule” which requires developers to source a specified amount of energy from on-site microgeneration (see p 10 ). The MPs want the government to make clear their long-term plans for the LCBP’s future. And, while they welcome inclusion of microrenewables in the carbon emissions reduction target, which will replace the energy efficiency commitment from next year, they warn this measure alone will not support the technologies.

They also want the Renewables Obligation, which they say is not suited to small-scale applications, replaced by a feed-in tariff guaranteeing householders a fixed price for the energy supplied to the grid, depending on the technology used.

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