Carbon Reduction - Delivering a Low Carbon Future

Published on Friday, 28 August 2009 01:00
Written by Cllr Paul Bettison

There can have been very few budgets that were more heavily expected, or more difficult, than that delivered recently delivered by Chancellor Alistair Darling

On the one hand, the Chancellor had to try to claw back the huge losses that the country had incurred in propping up the banking system over the last 12 months and yet, at the same time, this came at a time when you would normally expect the Government to be sugar coating all the pills.

(Although quite frankly, we all expected that the flavour of these pills was going to be so dire that it would come through whatever veneer of sugar he was able to afford. And we all knew that he wouldn’t be able to afford very much!)

The Chancellor was in effect, almost sending messages with this budget, rather than actually hoping to make any great steps forward. Indeed, there are a number of areas, the green stimulus package being one, where it is good to see that they were included in the Budget, although actually it required ten times the money allocated to really make any effect.

Local government, nevertheless, has to use the difficult economic situation that we are in, in order to drive forward the desire to effect efficiencies. In the past, we have always said to councils that they should develop green policies firstly, to assist in saving the planet and the environment in which we live and secondly, simultaneously, if you do that, you will also save money.

The emphasis has now changed, although the actions do not need to change. We need to say to people do you want to save money, and if you do want to save money, you can also assist in saving the planet.

It is a question of presentation, but most certainly we should not stop doing what we have been doing over the last year or so, that is, introducing green technologies in order to both save carbon and, more importantly and more attractively perhaps in today’s financial situation, to save money.
Renewable energy is an area in which many local authorities are now becoming particularly active.

We have our Renewables Obligation, but the driver is not so much the Obligation as simply a desire to take advantage of renewable technologies in order to give ourselves lower priced power and simultaneously, to press the green button and become more sustainable.

I do not see any councils turning their backs on this. However, councils need to be encouraged and reassured that this is the right thing to do, but it is also important to emphasise the potential for cost saving here.

The first real barrier to change is the psychological one: “shall we do it”; is the technology at a stage where we can afford to say “let’s commit to this technology”.

There comes a time when you have to say, if you wait for everything to be right, you will just miss the boat; clearly that is not demonstrating community leadership.

There are certainly technologies available now that we should be getting involved with. For example, anaerobic digestion is a proven technology and one used extensively in Europe, there is no real reason why it cannot work here.

Local authorities can demonstrate their community leadership by raising awareness and understanding about these technologies. And understanding invariably takes the fear away. Most of us are fearful of the unknown and once explained, we are much more willing to accept change.

This is where councils can become more involved. Councils are uniquely placed in that we are in contact with every household and it is important that we use those ways of contacting our residents to keep them informed and in the loop - trusting them with the information and in return, we trust them to act responsibility.

The important aspect in the future for local authorities and indeed communities generally is that it is not a question of saying “we do not want that” - be it a combined heat and power unit, an anaerobic digester, composting or a wind turbine - councils have to say to their communities, we do not want that particular technology because we are opting for something different.

Moreover, if we do not accept that every community is going to have to have some means of generating power sustainably, then we will have to come to terms with using less power. I believe that communities should be empowered to make those decisions collectively.

Nevertheless, for example, if we were to insulate properly every single household, it has been calculated that we could save 25 per cent of the carbon that this country produces. That is a bigger return than doing just about anything and this is where local authorities can again come to the fore with their unique relationship with every resident in their area.

We have to encourage people, assist, demonstrate the way forward to them, and certainly give financial assistance where necessary - because it is not everybody that can afford, or indeed understands how, to properly insulate their house.

Our power companies are already charging us extra at the Government’s insistence, which they then feed back into national schemes to assist with energy saving - typically, home insulation measures.

This is a good thing.

However, the Local Government Association has lobbied very hard - so far without success - that the power companies should be forced to pound match the contribution made by members of the public through their bills. That would double the amount in the fund for delivering these improvements, in terms of thermal efficiency, to our homes. It would also immediately mean properly insulating homes at twice the present rate. That is a way forward, we just want central government to listen to the advice of local government on this.

Moreover, the fact that local authorities are happy to work in partnership with other organisations and indeed with each other, in particular regarding procurement, means that we can secure a better deal for our towns and communities, rather than arranging separate contracts.

The new Comprehensive Area Assessment and Multi-Area Agreement complement this process and are undoubtedly a way of getting a better feel for how an area is dealt with and indeed, how the residents in that area respond.

The fact remains that we need to try to reduce the amount of carbon that we produce and under the Carbon Reduction Commitment, councils must reduce the carbon that they produce. In order to do that, they have to understand firstly how they produce carbon and then the best way to go about reducing it. 

There is a role for Carbon Offsetting here, when you have to do something that unwittingly increases carbon emissions. However, Carbon Offsetting is quite a complex subject and may require specialist advice; the very nature of this business means that it is very hard to know quite with whom you are dealing, and whether or not paying the money will really make a difference in carbon terms - are you really just appeasing your conscience?

Consequently, with regard to the carbon reduction agenda and in the light of the fact that there is so much new and emerging technology out there, it is very important for local authorities to remain current with their knowledge flow and that means being proactive and finding out what is going on.

We are talking about developing technology, dealing with emerging challenges in new and innovative ways, and if you want that information, you must make something of an effort and an investment. It is important to go out and talk to others, join networking groups and get involved; you will learn so much more and far earlier than if you  just sit back and wait until something comes through the letterbox.

This means attending events, such as Carbon Reduction ’09 to listen to speakers from the industry and the sector, to disseminate learning and best practice and, most importantly, to discover just what current thinking is on delivering our low carbon future.

GovToday invites you to join the debate and post your comment on any of the important issues raised in this article 


Cllr Paul Bettison will Chair the morning session of Carbon Reduction '09 - Delivering our Low Carbon Future on the 14th May Church House, Westminster - call Ron Pusey on 0161 602 3779 for more information

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