What’s the Government’s Game?
Recent graduate Hayley Moy explains how she sees the world she and her peers are inheriting from us.
The UK Government seems to be wavering over its plans to meet its carbon emissions targets despite committing to a 34 percent reduction by 2020, and at least 80 percent by 2050 (against 1990 levels). The targets are encouraging, but meeting them is a challenge that will involve drastic changes in our lives. Decisions on how to achieve these targets need to be made now; otherwise future generations will have to deal with the consequences.
Helped by the recession, the UK is on target to surpass its Kyoto targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 percent of 1990 levels by 2012.
DECC’s 2050 Pathways analysis presents a framework of the choices and trade-offs we will have to make in the years up to 2050, showing that it is possible to meet the targets. The report encompasses all parts of the economy and all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, examining possibilities in each sector based on scientific and engineering realities.
The UK Government has been relatively slow to consider the choices and make the necessary decisions. Young people in 2011 are questioning why. Perhaps it’s because the general population hasn’t prioritised green issues until recently.
However, there are signs of change. The Green Deal, due in 2012, will provide a method for every household to benefit from energy efficiency measures. The Renewable Heat Incentive is also being introduced, Phase 1 later in 2011 and Phase 2 with the Green Deal. Similar to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT), this will provide a rate for every unit of energy produced for sources of energy not covered by the FiT, i.e. solar thermal and biomass.
Recycling is another area where progress is being made. A wider range of recycle bins for homes should mean less waste going to landfill. And moves towards using less packaging and more biodegradable packaging should reduce landfill. Landfill waste contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, since both methane and carbon dioxide are emitted.
Despite all these positive steps forward, young people wonder why these measures weren’t introduced sooner and, more importantly, whether they are enough.
A major concern is that the UK Government seems to be reversing some of its previous decisions. This has created uncertainty in young people’s minds about how sustainable the Government really wants the UK to be.
It was late implementing a FiT scheme for micro-renewables compared with other countries, such as Germany (1990) and the USA (1978).
In February 2011, only 10 months since its implementation in the UK, the Government began reviewing the tariff rate of solar photovoltaic (PV) projects larger than 50kW in the FiT scheme. The proposed tariffs have now been announced, and the DECC is seeking comment until 6 May 2011. These tariffs pose a threat to community solar projects and industrial units that could’ve benefited from the scheme, but now won’t find it as financially viable. Surely, a possible solution is to link the FiT to site consumption. Such an approach could prevent the growth of solar farms relying on government largesse for their profits. In last October’s Spending Review, the Government also changed its stance on the Carbon Reduction Commitment scheme. It announced it wouldn’t return the capital large energy-gobbling companies put into the scheme to the leading achievers, thus removing some of their incentive to become carbon neutral.
From a young person’s perspective, financial incentives appear the best way to encourage companies and people to change behaviour. Although they can be costly, drastic measures need to be taken if only 40 years from now, in 2050, we want to demonstrate our commitment to sustainable living and our determination to better the lives of future generations.
A catalyst incentive may be required to help bring about changes in environmental behaviour. Once the capital cost reduces sufficiently or the savings become self-sustaining, it can be withdrawn. Another approach could be to increase taxes on inappropriate behaviour or products that harm the environment. However, it would take a brave government to introduce such measures owing to the potential loss of votes. A change in people’s consciousness with respect to sustainability is certainly needed, but it is clearly no easy task.
The young person’s view is that the Government is sending out mixed messages. It claims to be committed to reducing carbon emissions, but its actions raise questions about its real intentions. Resources need to be invested in now, so that 2050’s 80 percent reduction can be achieved. On current form it does appear that time is slipping by and that the UK is too slow in changing its habits to meet the targets enshrined in law.
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