26 March: What should the next UK parliament do on climate?

This week, the Green Alliance published a report on what the next UK parliament should do on climate change. They’ve called it The Last Parliament (see The Green Alliance: The Last Parliament: priorities for urgent action on climate change) to emphasise that the next five years are our last chance to control climate change.

A good group of experts were involved in the report, including:

  • Jonathon Porritt of think tank Forum for the Future.
  • Steve Holliday of National Grid.
  • James Cameron of investment bank Climate Change Capital.
  • Robert May of the UK Climate Change Committee.
  • Rebecca Willis of the UK Sustainable Development Commission (a publicly-funded think tank).
  • Barbara Stocking of Oxfam.
  • Stephen Hale, the head of Green Alliance.

One of the recommendations is that there should be a sustainable infrastructure bank. The report was published on Monday, and on Wednesday, the UK chancellor announced in his budget the creation of such a bank Quite an impressive demonstration of Green Alliance influence! In fact, the Green Alliance have been working on this issue for many months, as has the E3G think tank, both with the Labour government and the Conservative opposition. The Conservatives had already said that they would create such a bank so, whatever the general election result, it looks likely that the UK will get a green bank.

As The Last Parliament says, this will lower the cost of capital for investment and leverage in private finance. The Green Alliance also recommends that:

… this should be accompanied by a phased withdrawal of government subsidy for high carbon investments.

Sadly, neither Labour nor the Conservatives have yet committed to this.

There are also four recommendations, which they call “resilient communities”:

  1. The new parliament should introduce an energy efficiency retrofit master plan to overhaul all homes by 2025, following the German model. Households would be incentivised to invest in energy generation and saving, through feed-in tariffs, soft loans (‘pay as you save’) and planning policy measures (such as a requirement for consequential improvements, whereby planning for significant extensions or alterations is conditional on an energy efficiency upgrade of the whole structure).
  2. This master plan would be achieved, in part, through restructuring the delivery of energy saving. Expenditure should no longer be channelled through energy supply companies (as in the current CERT scheme). Instead, local companies, not-for-profit organisations and local authorities should all be eligible to bid for funding to invest in energy services, with a focus on fuel-poor households. transport initiatives. They should be given the powers and funding to act, working alongside local authorities. 
  3. Local Authorities should be given the responsibility and powers to co-ordinate local action on climate change. The performance frameworks on climate change should reflect this. Local carbon budgets should be set, in line with national carbon budgets, and Local Authorities should be provided with the resources to manage these carbon budgets.
  4. Voluntary and community groups should be central to carbon saving initiatives within communities, including energy saving and transport initiatives. They should be given the powers and funding to act, working alongside local authorities.

I attended a launch event for the report on Thursday. Jonathon Porritt said that the most important piece of legislation the new parliament could pass is a bill to give local authorities a much greater role in energy. He is right. Municipal energy companies in Scandinavia and the US are doing impressive work on energy efficiency and clean energy generation, and many councils in the UK would like to do much more, but are not allowed to. At least the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all say that they are committed to giving local councils more powers. Power over power would be an excellent place to start.


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