We can't afford to delay action on climate change

One of Theresa May’s final actions as Prime Minister was to commit the UK to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Whilst this certainly marks progress in the UK’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis, we believe that 2050 is much too late to avoid the worst case scenarios of runaway climate change. 

Ever since the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1992, the international community has avoided implementing any serious measures to reduce carbon emissions. In the twenty eight years since that conference, global carbon emissions have ballooned, steadily increasing year on year and magnifying the urgency of the response required today.

Setting an emissions reduction goal for 2050 creates a false impression that there’s plenty of time to solve the problem, and gives an excuse for continued delay and inaction.

Why the world must achieve net zero emissions by 2030

The IPCC is a group comprised of 195 countries whose purpose is “to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to the understanding of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation”.

This illustrious United Nations body issued a special report in 2018 which said that the world must reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 in order to limit global temperature rise to 2oC or under compared to pre-industrial levels.

Limiting temperatures to a 1.5 – 2oC increase is seen as the maximum boundary within which life on Earth can safely continue before tipping points and runaway climate feedback mechanisms spiral out of control.

Some countries like Norway and Uruguay have taken this on board and set a target for 2030, as have several cities in the UK including Brighton and London.

Many leading global brands have also matched this ambition and announced 2030 net zero goals, including Apple, Unilever, Microsoft and the entire UK water sector.

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Brighton & Hove City Council is one of several local authorities throughout the UK to have declared a goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Photo: Markus Leo - UnSplash

How the Coronavirus crisis offers a new opportunity to embed net zero policies

If we’ve learnt anything from the Covid-19 pandemic, its that we are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. 

Exploiting the natural environment as an inexhaustible commodity is causing dangerous and unintended consequences for which we are ill-prepared. Indeed, many experts have noted that the jump of the Coronavirus from animals to humans is likely the result of our encroachment on nature.

That is why the horror of the pandemic must be seized upon as a moment of clarity, when societies re-consider their relationship with nature and re-design the global economy to work in harmony with the mechanisms of the natural environment.

During the height of lockdown it was widely noted how quickly nature returned to replace the void left by cars and trucks. Birdsong in particular flourished throughout our towns and cities. The sea changed colour as unregulated shipping routes dramatically reduced.

Lockdown has also changed our lifestyles, our values and our relationship with each other as well as dealing a drastic blow to the global economy, resulting in high numbers of business failures, unemployment rates, and mounting debt.

That is why now is the time to establish the infrastructure and networks required to deliver the net zero economy of the future.  To retrain those who have lost their jobs to help them participate in developing a new economy that safeguards our lifestyle, social values and economic future.

We were encouraged by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget announcement in July which promised £2 billion of ‘Green Homes Grants’ for energy efficiency improvements across the UK. BHESCo have been saying for years that more support for the retrofit/ energy efficiency sector can deliver multiple benefits to the country, making homes warmer and bills cheaper whilst cutting carbon emissions and creating new jobs.

To have any chance of achieving net zero emissions by 2030 we must address energy waste in the nation’s old building stock, and whilst the Green Homes Grant scheme offers a great start, a more ambitious and far reaching programme of training and retrofitting is needed.

Why there is no place for nuclear power in the road to net zero

To achieve the goal of net zero emissions it is vital that we remove fossil fuels completely from our energy supply as soon as possible. For this reason, the UK has been gradually winding down and closing its aging fleet of coal fired power plants.

These will need to be replaced by new sources of clean, non-polluting power to meet the UK’s growing energy demand. The most obvious examples of this type of energy are wind power, marine power and solar power, which can be deployed at scale rapidly and at a much cheaper cost than traditional fossil fueled power stations.

Some commentators believe that nuclear fission should have a role in the UK’s net zero emissions fuel mix, however, we believe that due to cost, waste management issues and the uranium fuel source, our future is much better off without it.

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New nuclear power stations are phenomenally expensive to build and typically take 10 - 15 years to bring online, meaning they cannot have any role in a realistic strategy for reaching net zero emissions by 2030. Photo: Johannes Plenio - UnSplash

Nuclear power stations are incredibly expensive to build, costing billions of pounds. They are often plagued by construction delays and spiralling costs, and can take anywhere between ten to fifteen years to complete, making new nuclear power a non-starter when trying to achieve a net zero goal by 2030.

Furthermore, nuclear power produces nuclear waste which lasts for thousands of years and combined with the astronomical de-commissioning cost, presents a huge long-term financial obligation for the taxpayer.  For UK taxpayers, this is estimated at £240 billion.

We must not waste more time by debating the viability of nuclear power when we know that renewable energy and energy storage, combined with high levels of energy efficiency, can deliver 100% of our energy requirements.

It is important to remember that whilst some naysayers will complain that this is not a realistic goal, there are already several nations that are powered by 100% renewable energy, such as Costa Rica, Iceland, and Paraguay.

5 simple policies to set us on the path to net zero 2030

It is clear that not only is it imperative to achieve a net zero carbon society as soon as 2030, but that we already have the tools and knowledge to deliver this ambition.

Whilst there are lots of ways to make every sector of society more sustainable (both financially and environmentally), here are five simple policy changes that we can get started on right now to help bring about our zero carbon cities of the future:


Introduce a carbon tax

If we are to transition to a society where people no longer rely on fossil fuels to heat and power their lives then they must be financially incentivised to choose a more sustainable option.

Implementing a ‘polluter pays’ tax on all carbon emitting activities will dissuade people from using carbon intensive goods and services as frequently as they do now. Examples could include steep taxes on aviation and on heating oil, as well as on foods such as beef which have a high carbon footprint.

Money raised by the Treasury from a carbon tax could be channelled towards low-carbon infrastructure projects, or to subsidise a switch to electric vehicles for those who rely on driving for work, or to efficient electric heating for those who rely on oil to heat their homes.


Implement a national energy efficiency programme

The measures set up by Rishi Sunak in July are a start but do not go far enough to deliver the wholesale energy efficiency retrofit programme that the UK needs in order to reach net zero carbon. In fact, the Government’s short term thinking around the plan may be counterproductive, since the supplier base is currently insufficient to handle the anticipated high demand over a short term that the programme will provoke,creating a boom and bust industry, similar to the 2012 Green Deal.

More needs to be done to incentivise landlords to improve the energy performance of their properties, where it will be the tenants who will primarily benefit from any measures installed. This could be achieved by mandating that all properties must have an EPC of at least a C before they can be rented or sold. As interest rates are almost negative, low cost finance options must be available to support property owners to make improvements.


Provide financial support for renewable energy generation

Before it was closed in April 2019, the Government’s successful Feed-In-Tariff mechanism had supported the development of over a million solar PV installatons across the UK.

A programme supporting development of a national renewable energy infrastructure would enable project developers to design business models with some degree of certainty that they could recoup upfront costs over a long-term period.

The Government should also take measures to make it easier for energy suppliers to source renewable energy from local generators, as has been put forward by the Local Electricity Bill.  A decentralised energy infrastructure will bring more affordable energy to the consumer, meeting the nation’s goals of clean, secure energy supply.

Co-op Energy have already demonstrated leadership in this field with the launch of their ‘Community Power‘ tariff, which purchases electricity directly from community generators like BHESCo.


Establish an efficient low-cost public transit system

If we are to radically reduce carbon emissions then we have got to get people out of their petrol powered cars. This can be done by ensuring that public transportation is safe, affordable and reliable, and by building a low carbon personal mobility system with rapid electric car charging points accessible across the nation.

The best way of achieving this is through a combination of a high fuel tax plus funding subsidies and other financial support mechanisms offered to drivers of electric vehicles.


Create preferential conditions to encourage investment in sustainable businesses

There are billions of pounds invested around the world in companies whose ‘modus operandi’ is to extract and sell fossil fuels.

It is vital that shareholders divest their interests in industries that exacerbate climate change and redirect their money into ventures that deliver sustainable cities, preserving the natural environment and our collective quality of life.

Governments can encourage this by introducing a punitive capital gains tax on investments in carbon intensive industries and offering preferential tax conditions to investments in businesses that provide solutions to climate change.

Furthermore, by providing long-term policy commitments around achieving net zero, governments can give investors confidence that their money will be secure when invested into projects that address the climate crisis. As an additional incentive, by reducing carbon emissions, we reduce the impacts of weather related damage to properties and the related economic impact.

Building Britain Better - From the Coronavirus crisis to COP26

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected the whole of our society and almost everyone agrees that there can be no going back to how things were before. A popular phrase that has sprung up to capture this ethos calls on our policymakers to ‘Build Back Better’.

At BHESCo however, we don’t want to look back, we want to look forwards. We want to discard the old way of doing things and to design a new society which values and preserves the natural environment on which we all depend.

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The Coronavirus pandemic has claimed thousands of lives and left the economy in ruins. It is our responsibility to demand that politicians and policy-makers rebuild our country with a renewed focus on social equality and environmental sustainability. Photo: Markus Spiske - UnSplash

We want to Build Britain Better, redefining the tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic as a once in a generation opportunity to reset society so that it does not destroy itself and the natural world.

The UK will soon host the latest round of international climate negotiations at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

In order to justify its position as host of this vital conference and to establish itself as a leader on global climate policy, the UK must accept the challenge presented by aiming for net zero emissions by 2030.

To accept anything less would be admitting defeat and to effectively invite climate catastrophe.

You can take action on climate change today by joining hundreds of other members who have made an investment in BHESCo, supporting our vital work reducing energy costs and carbon emissions and delivering the net zero future we need.