More UK Government support required for the sustainability agenda



The UN Climate Change conference in Paris (COP21) offers an ideal backdrop for examining the manner in which sustainable behaviour might perhaps be facilitated. I want to focus specifically on government actions to effect change. There are a number of measures at government’s disposal, including economic incentives, taxes, subsidies, etc.

Yesterday many pledges were made by governments, including the US and China, which have traditionally been slow to commit to engaging with climate change targets. with negotiators from 195 countries trying over the next two weeks to reach a deal, aimed at reducing global carbon emissions and limiting global warming to 2degrees Celsius. President Obama called the summit was a “turning point” in limiting future temperature rises.

However, we have been here before, notably at the previous climate change conference in Copenhagen, in 2009. There are two key issues, one differences in perceptions between the larger countries and the smaller (developing) countries, and lack of action after such meetings.

In terms of the first issue, I have previously written about the efforts being made one one small island developing nation, Barbados to increase its share of renewables and difficulty in faces in doing so. There is no doubt that more support is required from larger countries by smaller countries.

At the COP21 summit, the British Prime Minister David Cameron noted that “Our grandchildren would ask why it was so difficult”. He added that “Instead of making excuses to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action”. Mr Cameron also listed progress that had been made in delivering climate policy, such as financing, carbon budgets and technological research and development.

When he initially came to power in 2010, the Prime Minister stated that he wanted his Government to be the “greenest ever”. However, in March 2015, the UK Government said that solar energy could provide about 4% of the UK’s electricity, by the end of the decade. However, with a change in government in May, as well as in market conditions in July, the government proposed an 87% cut to the feed-in-tariff. The tariff is a key subsidy which supports domestic and commercial rooftop solar and some small solar farms. Government has also proposed to exclude solar from the Renewables Obligation.

Recently, the Solar Trade Association (a grouping of UK solar energy companies) has stated that around 576 jobs in the solar power industry have been lost, and 1,600 more are at risk because of planned Government cuts to subsidies. Many businesses are reportedly at risk of closure. These changes in the incentive schemes, are also having an impact on the waste management industry, with difficulty in areas such as the anaerobic digestion industry.

The latest Defra figures recorded for the 12 month period to March 2015 show the household waste recycling rate in England was 44.7%, up year-on-year by just 0.2% from 44.5% for the 12 months to March 2014. Research done in conjunction with Steve Waite backs up the fact that England will struggle to meet its 50% target. A copy of the article can be downloaded here, until December 18.

Coupled with cuts in the budgets of key Government departments, momentum in the sustainability agenda is not as strong as it should be. For example, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) recently warned that with councils expected to face £10bn in cost pressures by 2020, increases in waste arisings could add further pressure.

There is an urgent need for Government to put more effort into leading the agenda. If not, the sustainability agenda will continue to falter.

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