by Natalie Bennett
An interesting and concerning meeting this evening organised by Friends of the Earth, chaired by Angela Mason, Camden Cabinet member for sustainability, and attended (briefly) by MP Frank Dobson.
The speakers were Louise Hutchins, Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace, who is also working with Stop Climate Chaos; Kirsty Wright, Senior Climate Justice Campaigner, World Development Movement; and Mervyn Kohler, Special Adviser, Age UK.
Louise explained that Stop Climate Chaos is a coalition more than 100 organisations, representing more than 11m people. She said that the energy bill, expected to come before the Commons in late April or early May is the first legislative opportunity since the government came to office for a cleaner energy future. It came at a time when the government was at the point of making critical decision about carbon budget, which is set annually by an independent climate change committee. “The fourth budget recommendation is being considered by the government now. We hear that in the Treasury there are strong voices trying to block the budget, as they blocked the green bank investment in renewables recently.”
On the Energy Bill, she said the flagship proposal was a plan to tackle energy efficiency, particularly through insulation, what is commonly known as the green deal, but this didn’t go nearly far enough. “We need a warm home amendment. We want to see the condition of homes in the private rental sector significantly improved, and to make it an offense to let the worst-insulated homes after 2016.”
Additionally, there should be targets set for local councils. Wiithout those, only the best councils would take real action on reducing carbon emissions.
She added: “On the other elements you could consider it to be a dirty energy bill. There are proposals to make easier to get last drops of oil out of the North Sea, and it fails to include provisions, which were in the manifesto pledges of both coalition partners, to regulate emissions from coal powered stations.”
An important issue is who gets first access to the seabed. “We want an amendment to end the provision that allows oil companies first access, ahead of offshore wind. “That is an area in which we are excelling – but the fact that a wind farm can be displaced is oil drillers want to go into an area is putting real brakes on development.”
She added that campaigners had been astonished when they budget documentation indicating a decision to shift away from the commitment to zerocarbon new homes. “This was driving forward standards of architecture and building. No one can understand the reason for the decision; it wasnt being lobbied for by industry.”
Kirsty Wright from the World Development Movement said there was an urgent imperative for the global North to stop increasing greenhouse gas emissions and ensure finance flowed from north to south to help the latter deal with climate change, and to develop sustainably. Instead, the government was working through the discredited World Bank (which in the past five years has increased loans for coalifred power stations 400 times) to offer loans for climate adaption. “This is like smashing your car into someone’s house and giving them a credit card to pay for damage.”
yusing discredited world bank to channel funds
Frank Dobson said the Energy Bill’s focus on more energy-efficient homes was almost entirely directed towards owner occupiers, ignoring the private rental sector, where many of the worst houses were.
Building on that point, Mervyn Kohler said that more than 5 million UK households are in fuel poverty (having to spend more than 10% disposable income to keep themselves warm). Of these, half are headed by older person, or another way to put that is that one in three older people are living in fuel poverty. For a pensioner living on pension credit, their income is about £7,000 year, but heating the average house costs about £1,200, about 17% of that income.
“If you are not adequately warm you’ll have a lowered body temperature, which puts people more at risk from fall. And if you have got an uncomfortable cold home you don’t want to invite people around, and people dont wan’t to visit, so lose contact with society, and risk loneliness. All of this has an impact on mental health.”
“And respiratory illnesses intensify. Two days after the onset of cold weather, the number of heart deaths up goes up 5%, strokes are up after 5 days, respiratory illness after 12 days.”
Camden Green Party member Prashant Vaze spoke about the recent two-third reduction in the Warm Front grant, which had been tackling these issues. “It is a national disgrace that Britain has more preature deaths in winter than Sweden, Denmark and Norway. This is not a question of cold, but poor insulation.”
Prashant added that the government was giving electricity and gas companies primary responsibility for reducing consumption. “This is unnatural.”
Green Cllr Maya de Souza stressed that it was a lack of knowledge of what to do for energy efficiency and concern about cowboy builders held people back from improving their homes’ energy efficient. “Council needs to work street by street to help ensure concerted action, not wait for green deal. Louise agreed saying: “People trust councils more than giant energy companies.”