Taking stock of climate change

As long as the Government favours navel-gazing over hard action on climate change, the UK risks becoming a global laughing stock as international targets are missed, says Duncan Everett.

With deadlines looming, it’s time to set down measures which reward performance – and stick to them. For maximum results, that means appealing to individual budgets and proactively reducing consumption, even if that upsets the all-mighty energy suppliers.

To date the Government has done little but create apathy towards looming energy targets through chaos and misdirection, with consumers feeling the only safe action is to take no action at all.

With each government imitative to date either watered down or just downright reversed, is it any wonder that early movers and shakers are frustrated, innovators are struggling to realise their potential, and what should be a booming Great British export is failing to even enter the stadium, let alone start the race.

If we are to make real headway in Britain and capitalise on what is one of our remaining great exports ‘innovation’, we need businesses and landlords to get fully on board, for this a number of things need to change.

We need to stop creating legislation which panders to the energy companies, (setting the CRC rules such that data must come through the supplier for example, didn’t help the innovators), and places too much emphasis on collecting data and publishing league tables, (embracement doesn’t seem to have motivated those at the bottom of the list into action).

Misplaced loyalty

What current legislation does not do is help and motivate users reduce consumption – for example to cope with increasing energy costs. If it did, it would achieve the double impact of helping the UK to meet carbon reduction targets while giving businesses and individuals more money in their pockets.

While the energy companies won’t be exactly thrilled if people start cutting back on energy usage, this would also give the UK’s struggling supply chain some breathing space, reducing our dependency on raw fuel imports, and boost the competitiveness of British industry by reducing operational costs.

Another sticking point is the desire to stimulate new growth in the economy. The Government has responded to this by watering down environmental targets – for example to make property construction more affordable.

Earlier this year it introduced new plans to limit carbon reduction targets on new homes to 8% on 2010 levels and 20% for non-domestic buildings, compared with the original target of 25%.

Given that the UK’s carbon reduction targets have already been set and agreed to, this is hardly moving things in the right direction. Soon we will be in a position where the UK is unable to make up the lost ground.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has now claimed that the pace of emissions reduction in the UK will need to increase fourfold to meet Chris Huhne’s pledge to the global community (the most ambitious targets on greenhouse gases of any developed country). These involve halving carbon dioxide emissions by 2025.

From as soon as 2016, all new homes in Britain will be expected to meet ‘zero carbon’ standards, with all non-domestic buildings following from 2019. The dates given are for meeting targets, not for beginning implementation, yet there seems to be an astonishing lack of urgency about the situation.

Rewarding the innovators

So what is to be done? The first priority should be for the Government to make some firm decisions – and stick to them, long enough for people to believe they are serious and will see through any initiatives.

Secondly, expecting utility providers to provide all the answers is not enough. More needs to be done then to promote the role of emerging, specialist businesses that are focused on actually driving down consumption and carbon in real terms, and which are actually getting results: businesses which should be a great British export in a worldwide market, bringing much needed money into the great British coffers.

Currently, infighting and indecision within the Government are making it difficult to convince customers and investors that developing such solutions would be a worthwhile venture.

Performance-based tax relief could be offered to businesses whose products and/or services have helped others make measurable reductions to their carbon emissions, for example.

Meanwhile, for consistency, it is imperative that high consumers of energy are not able to avoid punitive taxes by flexing their buying power. For lasting results, it is vital that businesses are made accountable, through a legal responsibility to stop waste. Banning the letting of poorly-rated buildings, too, would force landlords to take action.

An even bolder move might be to offer employees an income-tax ‘incentive’ if their employer is energy efficient. After all, it is the everyday actions of staff that affect its energy consumption, so bringing the message home to individuals must be an important part of any strategy to really make a difference.

Evidence shows that even very simple changes in individuals’ behaviour can bring the average building’s energy bill down by 10-20% in a very short space of time. Clear information is the most important tool here. Once people have a means of monitoring their energy consumption and can see what they’re wasting needlessly, that’s often the only wake-up call they need.

Finally, it should be realised that delivering carbon efficiency and stimulating economic growth are not conflicting goals. Energy efficiency, through closer monitoring and reporting of existing consumption, enables direct savings – releasing cash that can be invested elsewhere. In the current climate, that’s got to be a win-win.

Duncan Everett is the managing director of carbon monitoring software provider Optimal Monitoring

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