frack free lancashireThe success of two recent events, the decision to reject plans to frack in Lancashire and the recent landmark ruling in the Dutch courts to accelerate action on climate change, symbolise a significant shift towards people being able to have a real impact on decisions being made by policy makers on the environment.

They suggest a move towards a true democracy where the people can mobilise to make a difference in their communities.

Fracking in Lancashire

Local councillors rejected Cuadrilla’s application to frack at Preston New Road, near Blackpool. This decision was made across party lines due to the local councillors’ belief that these plans would have an ‘unacceptable’ impact on the local landscape and residents.

Although this decision could still be overruled at the appeal stage, this is an important event. This represents local councillors taking action which supports local residents in their fight against big companies who are unconcerned with the environmental impact on local people and landscapes.

Case against the Dutch government

Following a recent court case, the Dutch government has been ordered to cut its carbon emissions by at least 25% within the next five years.

Previous to this ruling the only legal requirements for states to take action on climate change were international treaties. This ruling suggests that the state has an obligation to its citizens, not just other states, to have a positive impact on the environment. By framing the case as a human rights issue, the focus is on the impact of climate change on Dutch residents. There is hope that this case could spark similar legal action on climate change in other countries.

Taking action on climate change

There two examples represent ways in which people are taking action on climate change locally. It is becoming increasing clear that people want to have a say in decisions impacting on the future of the environment.

According to a recent study by BHESCo partner Climates, a social network for people taking practical action on climate change, 90% of people want the policy makers  to take ambitious action to tackle climate changeat when they meet in Paris for the UNFCCC conference in Paris in December.

Community energy groups, such as BHESCo, are one way to take action with minimal risk involved. Being part of an energy cooperative means being able to have a say in the future of energy generation in your local community.  Since half of us believe that it is our individual responsibility to take action, you can become a member of BHESCo to reduce your carbon footprint and tackle climate change.

dueeast summer festival 2015When? Saturday 18 July, 12.00-16.00

Where? St Cuthman’s Church, Whitehawk Way and the green spaces down to the Crew Club

What? Games, activities and stalls including a water slide, live music and dance, BBQ food and drink, horse and cart rides, crafts and local history, DueEast Brighton walking football cup, Secret Theatre.

dueeastlogoWhen? Wednesday 8th July, 6pm – 8pm

Where? Whitehawk Library and Community Hub, Whitehawk Rd, Brighton, The City of Brighton and Hove BN2 5FL, UK

What? DueEast operates in the estates of Whitehawk, Manor Farm, and the Bristol Estate in Brighton and Hove continuing the work of the Neighbourhood Governance pilot promoting local decision making by local people.

The agenda for this meeting includes representatives from Brighton and Hove Buses providing an update on services and responding to community requests for route changes,  planning for real and community priorities, updates on local projects, activities and funding from your representative Neighbourhood Council.

nuclear-waste-1In the last hours of parliament before the general election, a new law was rushed through which means that local communities may have nuclear waste dumps imposed on them without the need for public support.

By classing nuclear waste sites as “nationally significant infrastructure projects”, the decisions for their locations can be made by the Secretary of State for Energy without the support of the local council or communities of residents. Additionally, they will not be bound to recommendations made by the planning inspectorate.

Nuclear legacy

The use of nuclear energy in power stations, weaponry and medicine over the past 50 years has left a legacy of radioactive waste which needs to store somewhere on a long term basis. Radioactive waste can remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years. The UK also has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world, one of the most toxic, radioactive substances ever created.

There is no long term solution in place for storing nuclear energy as current plans only last for up to two hundred years. Whilst there is a need for a long term strategy for radioactive waste, these decisions cannot be made without the support of local people who will have to co-exist in a potentially dangerous environment.

Local decisions by local residents

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) stated that they would prefer to work with public support and were willing to take action even if they failed to achieve the needed support from local people.

Following a proposal to develop a deep storage site at Sellafield, local groups have growing concerns.  Cumbria County Council rejected the construction of a nuclear waste storage facility in January 2013.  There is currently no evidence to support the long term safety of this type of storage, and no evidence to suggest that the geology of this area is suitable. Germany recently put on hold similar plans, and the only existing site in this style, based in New Mexico, has been closed following two accidents.

Whilst a local community can now reject the construction of onshore wind farms, they cannot deny fracking or the storage of nuclear waste. This shows that the government is willing to bypass the decisions of local communities to support unsustainable and potentially dangerous projects, limiting our ability to aid in the generation of sustainable energy.

Local communities should be able to have a decisive say in all matters concerning our energy landscape whether this is dangerous nuclear waste shortage, shale gas or coal bed methane drilling where they live as the quality of their living environment is at stake.

deccOn the 4th June 2015, the Chancellor, George Osborne announced £4 ½ billion of cuts including £70 million to be cut from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) budget.

The Carbon Brief released a report previous to this on the 3rd June 2015 highlighting the limited scope for cuts within the DECC and the potential impact if cuts did take place.

With the Conservative government promising to decrease public spending, whilst protecting health, pensions and education, unprotected departments such as the DECC are likely to be the focus for cuts.

Impact of cuts

Carbon Brief analysed the 2013/14 budget of the DECC which was £3.4 billion. The money spent on managing the UK’s military nuclear waste and decommissioning legacy accounts for 65% of this budget. The core departmental priorities accounts for the remaining 34%.

The Carbon brief concluded that 87% of the overall budget was essential and would not be eligible for cuts. This 87% is made up of costs relating to the nuclear legacy, international agreements and legal liabilities from formerly nationalised energy industries. Therefore, 13% of the budget could potentially be cut from the DECC’s budget. Currently, 2% (£70 million) of their budget has already been cut.

The impact of these cuts will mean there is less money to dedicate to research on energy and climate change as well as schemes to help people out of fuel poverty.

One example of a scheme which the Carbon Brief suggests is likely to be cut is Green Deal. This a government scheme lead by the DECC which helps people find the best way to pay for energy saving improvements they want to make to their homes including energy grants, like the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund. These improvements can include insulation, heating, double glazing and renewable energy sources which can help reduce long-term energy costs. Without the support of the government, less people will have access to the funding needed to make important improvements to their homes.

Importance of community energy

When the government is demonstrating that they are willing to make cuts to energy and climate change services, the need for community energy projects becomes clear.

Community energy projects which favour renewable energy sources can help to create a more secure energy future for the community in addition to helping reduce the impact of climate change.

Access to cost-efficient local energy benefits all members of the community but is especially essential to people who are living in fuel poverty.


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