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One year until the general election: what’s in store for energy and the environment?

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Political rhetoric is being ramped up and photo opportunities are made the most of. A general election must be on the horizon. With exactly a year to go, Tom Revell looks at the energy and environment credentials of the five major parties.

When the nation, or at least those who aren’t doing a Russell Brand and staying at home in protest or apathy, takes to the polls next year there are signs that questions of energy and the environment may be higher up the agenda than ever before. 

True, the leading political parties are not quite clamouring for the green vote with the same passion as 2010, with David Cameron moving from hugging huskies to shooting badgers (though not personally, that we know of).

However, in the years since the last election, the warnings from scientists over climate change have become ever more dire, highlighting the need for inspired environmental stewardship.

The findings of numerous opinion polls suggest that the lasting legacy of the storms that battered many parts of the UK this winter – linked recently to climate change – will be an increasing number of voters demanding action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

While in general voters are far more concerned with issues such as immigration, education, health or house prices, this could be significant. One survey, commissioned by WWF-UK, found that 47% of voters are willing to switch their political allegiance based on which party was offering the best environmental policies.

This comes after campaigners warned that all of the three main parties had so far failed the environment.

The winter bill hikes enforced by leading energy companies also put the government under pressure. This led to the removal of so-called “green levies” – which arguably were not the problem anyway – but questions remains over the competitiveness of the energy market as customer complaints rise.

Few hints have yet been given about tangible policies and how their manifestos might look, but with all this in mind, what approaches can be expected from the key five political parties on issues of energy and the environment?

Conservatives

Though David Cameron promised to lead “the greenest government ever” he has remained rather quiet on the subject since, and environmentalists have grown increasingly critical of the coalition’s climate change credentials.

Some achievements have been made, such as the foundation of the Green Investment Bank, but environmental policy has seemingly been unnecessarily sacrificed in the name of austerity.

The chancellor George Osborne’s most recent budget was criticised for boosting “energy-inefficient makers, climate change deniers and planet wreckers”. 

The Conservatives also seem intent on pursuing the controversial energy quick fix that is fracking, while pledging to cut subsidies for the more sustainable option of onshore wind farms. The growth of the much-needed green economy may hang in the balance.

It also won’t help the party win green hearts and minds if Owen Paterson, an alleged climate sceptic, remains the environment secretary while Conservative peer Lord Lawson continues his campaign against climate science.

However, some greener Tories have urged their colleagues to get with the sustainability programme in recent months. The Conservative 2020 group, an alliance of “modern” Conservatives, is acting as a cheerleader for the economic benefits of sustainability. How influential such voices will prove to be over the upcoming manifesto remains to be seen.

Labour

In recent months, energy and the environment have become popular subjects with Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Following energy companies’ winter price hikes, the party pledged to impose a 20-month price freeze on bills to help tackle the “cost of living crisis”.

Miliband, a former energy secretary, has also urged voters to get behind onshore and offshore wind farms, while promising that Labour “will have manifesto commitments on green energy”.

After the winter floods, Labour were quick to point out the division in the Tory ranks over the reality of climate change. Miliband scaled up the rhetoric, calling global warming “a national security issue” and a “generational struggle”.

“If we’re going to properly protect the British people we cannot have doubt in the government”, he said.

While solid policies are yet to be announced, Miliband does at least have a consistent stance, backed by his party, on climate change.

Liberal Democrats 

As part of the coalition, the Liberal Democrats are subject to the same criticisms as the Conservative party. However, the party has been quick to take credit for any genuine achievements, arguing that the energy secretary Ed Davey is responsible for keeping climate on the government’s agenda.

The Lib Dems are also opposed to Tory plans to curb onshore wind projects, arguing such a move threatens the green economy. They insist that they alone are the only party that can be trusted to deliver green jobs and green growth.

A group of Liberal Democrat MPs also recently launched a Green Manifesto, urging the party to put sustainability at the heart of its approach.

On the subject of energy, the Lib Dems are at least vocal supporters of renewable energy. Davey argues that Labour’s proposed price freeze will only hurt the green energy industry.

Instead, he has lobbied for greater competitiveness in the energy market, pushing through measures aimed at helping customers shop around.

Green party

The Green party insists climate change is “one of the worst environmental hazards facing human society”.

Unsurprisingly, it is more concerned with environmental issues than the three main parties. It calls for decarbonisation targets and international action, urging the UK to remain in the EU so it can lead efforts to curb climate change. Principally, the party recommends that the UN introduce a global Contraction and Convergence (C&C) framework, complete with an emissions trading scheme.

The Greens are also advocates of renewables, critics of fracking, and the only remaining anti-nuclear option.

In February, party leader Natalie Bennett demanded a place in the leaders’ debates in the run up to the 2015 general election, fairly pointing out that the Greens’ one MP is one more than media monopoliser Nigel Farage can claim to have at UKIP.

UKIP

To give UKIP its due, the Euro-sceptic party gives the most succinct explanation of environmental policy available. Flying in the face of scientific consensus, UKIP insist climate change “is so last century”, perversely claiming that there are increasing doubts that mankind is to blame.

Education spokesman Derek Clark MEP even said he would ban teaching climate change in schools if his party somehow won the general election in May 2015. 

Their energy policy is equally simple and anti-science. They want to “scrap all green taxes and wind turbine subsidies”, keep coal-fired power plants open and develop nuclear power stations, while describing fracking as “a get out of jail free card” and opponents to fracking as “eco-freaks”.

Photo: soosalu via Flickr

Further reading:

Why is the ‘greenest government ever’ reportedly curbing onshore wind?

Labour urged to take ‘equal and sustainable society’ vision to next election

Sustainability-minded Lib Dems call for party to adopt ‘green backbone’

Green Party launches European election campaign

Green policies beat Brown’s (reds, blues and yellows)

Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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