And lo! It came to pass that the UK did publish a huge raft of low carbon strategies on one day in July. And as promised, here is my quick guide.
1. Carbon Transition Plan
This is the over-arching document of the set. The overall emissions savings will come from:
- 54% – power and heavy industry – through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme
- 19% – transport
- 13% – homes and communities
- 9% – “workplaces and jobs”
- 4% – farming, land and waste
Much of what is in the plan is already known – the four Carbon Capture & Storage demos, more energy efficient housing, smart meters in all homes, but it is supplemented with help for “the vulnerable” – particularly elderly people so they don’t bear the costs. One surprise, given the amount of debate on the topic, is that the Government is predicting the amount of nuclear energy in the mix will fall to 8% from its current 13%. Given that the overall pie is set to reduce, this is a significant drop indeed. The inclusion of farming is one aspect which is often ignored.
What is missing? The grid is apparently going to get bigger and smarter, but not regionalised. There is nothing about Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) or Combined Heat & Power (CHP). Offshored emissions from our consumption don’t get a look in either – as usual there is a tight line drawn around the UK labelled “our responsibility: their responsibility”. This issue will cause debate with developing nations in Copenhagen later this year as they bear much of the carbon burden of our lifestyles.
2. Renewable Energy Strategy
The Government is proposing that by 2020, renewables will represent:
- 30% of electricity generation
- 12% of heat
- 10% of transport
In terms of electricity, there will be a big investment in offshore wind, wave and tidal and sustainable bioenergy.
Feed-In Tariffs were the first thing I looked for and, hurrah, they’re there. Except they’ve been re-named “renewable energy cash backs”. While I can see that this might create a bit more public interest than the rather technocratic accepted term, especially the word ‘cash’, I don’t like the term “cash-back”. If you are selling renewable energy to the grid, then you’re selling renewable energy to the grid, not receiving some sort of rebate. The name might discourage, say community interest companies or social enterprises who want to make some money. But whatever the name FITs will appear by next April and should stimulate the kind of boom in small scale regeneration seen in Germany.
There is a lot of discussion in the document of the Renewable Heat Initiative, but this appears to be a work in progress.
3. Low Carbon Transport Strategy
This one is rather woolly – the two main aspects are:
- low carbon technologies – more efficient vehicles, cleaner fuels, electric vehicle infrastructure and sustainable biofuels.
- better choices – low carbon public transport, more transport nodes, cycle racks at railway stations and 18 more cycle demonstration towns.
Aviation is one topic the green groups have been keeping a beady eye on and the strategy is rather vague here. The Government has said they don’t want to see foreign holidays go back to the preserve of the middle classes, but they’re being somewhat disingenuous as the big increase in air traffic has been the middle classes peppering their year with a series of city breaks. I always liked the idea floated by the Tories a few years ago that everyone would get one tax-free flight a year (the average Brit takes less than one flight in a year) and then there would be hefty taxes on further flights. This seemed a fair way forward, but it was hastily withdrawn under a barrage from the right-wing press (I suspect the measure would have hit journalists more than most).
Only a small part of the strategy involves ‘no travel’ options with a weasely statement that home working doesn’t always have carbon benefits – it does according to the DfT’s own research I read! Home working cuts out aircon, commuting and it encourages the use of local services.
In addition, I would like to have seen more statutory requirements to provide road space or alternatives to cyclists. What about making all footpaths in non 20/30mph zones dual use?
4. Low Carbon Industrial Strategy
This is probably the most dense of the four documents with a whole raft of bodies, quangos and existing schemes being utilised to encourage the low carbon supply chain. I’ve never been convinced the Government’s approach has been correct on this one as it, as usual, revolves around competition for funding (previous R&D;/Innovation funds have a 1/8 success rate which means the other 7/8 putting a huge amount of work into the application for no joy) and business advice which tends to follow a one-size fits all approach. I found it difficult to trace through all the finance options in this strategy and I guess most entrepreneurs would as well.
IMHO public sector business advice is almost an oxymoron. Yes, you can get the right people in to deliver it (and I do some), but they usually get caught up in red tape, rigid structures, byzantine rules and target chasing.
Basically green markets will follow demand. Governments can stimulate demand by public procurement, tax breaks for low carbon technologies and penalties for high carbon technologies. This will allow good ideas to penetrate the market (as opposed to those who some committee of quangocrats decides are most viable). Private sector investment will follow the market opportunities and the ideas to exploit them. There is some of all of this in the strategy, but again I found the options dense and difficult to evaluate for effectiveness, which tells its own story.
So, while there’s nothing wrong with the intentions of this strategy, it should be sleeker, leaner and clearer and less dependent on public sector intervention.
I could be cynical and say there is very little new in these proposals – and I’d be right – most simply soup up current Government schemes to be bolder and faster in their delivery, or introduce well tried elements that the Government has been foot-dragging on for a very long time, like feed-in tariffs. But what is remarkable is the boldness, scope, ambition and coherence of the plan. Someone has been working very hard to bring all this together and they don’t seem to have the caveats and wriggle room which have characterised such strategies for the last 10 years. So why the sudden boldness? Is this a Government on its way out saying “Well we’re trailing so far behind in the polls we might as well go for it?” Or is climate change secretary Ed Miliband really a bold visionary, striding out across the low carbon landscape? Who knows?
The plans have generally gone down well with stakeholders, with the only dissent being the difference between the CBI (“more nuclear!”) and the green groups (“no nuclear!”). The more reactionary press is trying to spin a “energy bill hike/green stealth tax” line on the fact that domestic energy bills may start rising in 2015 (before that, extra costs should be offset by energy efficiency savings), indulging in some cherry-picking/worse case scenario tactics, but after the shock-horror headlines, the strategies get fairly even-handed coverage.
So, overall, I would give these proposals an ‘B+’, not perfect, but a big leap forward from the ‘C-‘ I would have given the Government before. To get an ‘A’ we would need to see more distributed energy, consideration of the UK’s indirect carbon footprint overseas, clearer financial incentives and, just to make me happy, compulsory standards for cycle
provision on highways.