Posts Tagged ‘UK news’

Tackle UK’s plastic bottle problem with money-back scheme, ministers told

July 5th, 2017

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Tackle UK’s plastic bottle problem with money-back scheme, ministers told” was written by Matthew Taylor and Sandra Laville, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 4th July 2017 05.00 UTC

The UK government is under growing pressure to introduce a money-back return scheme for plastic bottles, in order to tackle huge volumes of waste in a country where 400 bottles are sold every second.

Opposition parties have called on ministers to introduce a deposit return scheme that experts say would drastically reduce the number of plastic bottles littering streets and seas around the UK. Similar schemes have been successfully introduced in at least a dozen countries.

The idea has the backing of global drinks company Coca-Cola and comes amid warnings that the worldwide plastics binge poses as serious a threat as climate change.

Sue Hayman, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, urged the government to take swift action. “A deposit return scheme would have widespread public support and would go a long way to ensuring that we recycle as much of our waste as possible,” she said.

Kate Parminter, environment spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said momentum was growing behind calls for a deposit return scheme. “Earlier this year, Coca-Cola said to the Scottish parliament they would back a well-designed deposit return scheme,” she said. “Now that industry are backing this scheme, it is high time the UK government began to throw their weight behind it.”

Last week, new figures obtained by the Guardian established that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20% by 2021.

Chart

According to an unpublished parliamentary report, more than 4m plastic bottles a week could be prevented from littering streets and marine environments in Britain if authorities adopted the kind of deposit return schemes that operate in countries like Germany and Australia.

The Conservative party’s manifesto did not mention such a scheme in the run-up to last month’s general election, but a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the idea was being considered as part of a wider litter strategy launched in April.

“We have made great progress in boosting recycling rates for plastic bottles, with their collection for recycling rising from less than 13,000 tonnes in 2000 to over 330,000 tonnes in 2015,” the spokesman said. “We are considering further the practical ways in which we can deal with the worst kinds of litter, including plastic bottles.”

However, Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and co-leader of the Green party, said ministers must do more.

“The government is under growing pressure to take action on the plastic bottle crisis,” she said. “With such a slender majority in the House of Commons, and with the public swinging behind the campaign against plastic waste, there is a real chance that ministers will consider introducing a bottle deposit scheme.

“For a government desperate to salvage its reputation, taking such a simple step forward isn’t just the right thing to do – it serves their self-interest too.”

In Scotland, support is growing for a deposit return scheme. Last week, the Scottish National party launched a detailed study into how such a scheme for bottles and cans would work.

Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish environment secretary, said: “Clearly there are a number of issues for the Scottish government to consider when it comes to deposit return schemes, which can only be addressed by carrying out work to understand the design of a potential system.”

Recycling rates for plastic bottles in Britain stand at 59%, compared with more than 90% in countries that operate deposit return schemes, such as Germany, Norway and Sweden.

Coca-Cola in Britain and Europe has made a U-turn on deposit schemes and now supports their adoption in the UK, after pressure from environment and anti-waste campaigners. “We believe a new approach is needed,” the company said in a report to the environmental audit committee before its inquiry into plastic bottles was dropped after the dissolution of parliament.

“From our experiences in other countries, we believe a well-designed, industry-run drinks container deposit return scheme could help increase recycling and reduce littering,” Coca-Cola added.

Between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year, to be ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms, and by 2050 the oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Campaigners say plastic is polluting every natural system and an increasing number of organisms on the planet, with some of it already finding its way into the human food chain.

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Government support needed to unlock billions in green business, says industry

June 6th, 2017

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Government support needed to unlock billions in green business, says industry” was written by Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 4th June 2017 15.59 UTC

The UK could be a green business powerhouse in the next three decades, but only if given proper support by government, a group representing more than 30 low-carbon companies has said.

The low-carbon economy in the UK employs at least 432,000 people, with a turnover of more than £77bn in 2015. This is larger than industries such as car-making and steelmaking, which are frequently given the spotlight when politicians discuss industry and jobs.

Growth in green business is also expected to outstrip other sectors of the economy, as international opportunities open up for low-carbon goods and services. Investments by major developing countries alone are projected to be tn by the end of the next decade, with green business’s supporters arguing that the UK is well placed to take a share of the burgeoning market.

In a letter to the Guardian, a group representing more than 30 of the UK’s green and low-carbon companies forecast that the low-carbon economy would rocket from 2% of the UK’s GDP today to 13% in the next three decades, boosting both manufacturing and services, but only with government support.

The business leaders urged politicians across the spectrum to respond, as the policies of the next government will play a major role in determining how the sector develops and whether job opportunities are realised. They wrote: “Stable policies to grow the UK’s low-carbon market will be essential to turn this potential into reality and ensure our economy remains competitive on the global stage.”

Green businesses have been disappointed by the apparent lack of interest in the sector during the general election campaign, and by the absence of strong public commitments in the manifestos.

The signatories to the letter concluded: “We call on the new government to put in place ambitious and long-term policies to tackle climate change and improve the state of the environment at the heart of its industrial strategy and vision for the UK.”

The letter was coordinated by the Aldersgate Group and also signed by 11 companies including Kingfisher, Aviva Investors, Anglian Water, Siemens, and Scottish and Southern Energy.

Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, said the decision by US president Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change would not make a major dent in the prospects for growth.

He noted that the shift to a more efficient and lower carbon economy is well under way across the globe, with the cost of clean technologies, such as renewable energy and electric vehicles, falling rapidly, and investment growing strongly. “Following the commitments made by six world leaders at the recent G7 summit, and the news of greater cooperation between China and the EU on climate change, major global players like the UK must continue to build competitive, low-carbon economies and honour their commitments under the Paris agreement.”

Environmental businesses in the UK have been hit in recent years by swings in government policy that have led to job losses and uncertainty among potential investors. These swings include the scrapping of subsidies and harder planning requirements for onshore wind farms; the slashing of support for solar panels and restrictions on solar farms; the abandonment of the “green deal”, which was intended to boost home insulation; the removal of the promised £1bn funding for carbon capture and storage facilities; and the scrapping of the target to make new homes zero-carbon.

Last week, Labour accused the Conservative government of failing to come up with plans on how to achieve the statutory targets on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, set out under the Climate Change Act. Green groups fear that a new Conservative government under Theresa May could scrap the Climate Change Act, leaving the UK without firm targets on cutting greenhouse gases.

However, the government has pointed to increased investment for electric vehicles, support for new nuclear power stations, and a boost to offshore wind as evidence of its commitment to low-carbon infrastructure.

Since May 2010, the UK has installed more than 11GW of wind power, generating enough electricity for more than 7.8m homes.

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The Guardian view on COP 21 climate talks: saving the planet in a fracturing world

December 14th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The Guardian view on COP 21 climate talks: saving the planet in a fracturing world” was written by Editorial, for The Guardian on Sunday 13th December 2015 20.16 UTC

In the late 20th century, those who stood against globalisation were charged with swimming against an unstoppable tide, caricatured as “Stop the world, I wanna get off!” But in the 21st century, history is running with the anti-globalisers. World trade talks have gone nowhere, immigration controls have shot up the agenda, and two post-national EU projects – the euro and Schengen – are under strain. Figures as diverse as Donald Trump, Nicola Sturgeon and Marine Le Pen – who failed to convert a remarkable first-round victory in French regional elections into any outright wins – are all peddling one form of nationalism or another. Rumours of the death of the nation state, then, have proved exaggerated: globalisation is spinning into reverse.

Looking back on the future as it appeared in the 1990s – as a technocratic, transnational order – a democratic push-back was surely inevitable, in some senses even desirable. But when problems from the overuse of antibiotics to terrorism refuse to respect national borders, the retreat from the dream of global governance has some frightening consequences, especially in connection with climate change, the archetypal global problem. Saving the planet in a fracturing world is a daunting challenge indeed.

The Paris COP 21 talks surpassed expectations in rising to it, demonstrating just how much can be achieved by determined diplomacy, even while working within the unbending red lines of jealously sovereign states. A formal treaty was precluded because it would hand a veto to the intransigent legislators of Capitol Hill, while also offending the sensibilities of Delhi and Beijing. Fortunately, it proved possible to work within the fudged alternative framework of a “legally binding instrument”. Everyone offered up voluntary emission targets, and agreed, too, to a five-yearly review of these. While the targets on the table are not yet adequate to avoid the disaster of more than 2C of warming, the surprise inclusion of an aspiration to cap temperature rises at 1.5C signals a shared understanding that the targets will have to be tightened at each successive review. The destructive standoff between developing and developed countries that doomed Copenhagen six years ago has been transcended: the big developing economies, which now produce the bulk of emissions, are no longer pretending that they can delay doing anything until the rich world is perfectly green; at the same time the rich world is effectively accepting that it will have to help shoulder the “loss and damage” costs inflicted by the long legacy of western pollution.

This is, on the face of it, a rare and heartening case of disparate peoples being led to a common conclusion by evidence and reason, but serendipity played its part too. It happens, for example, that in 2015 there is a progressive US president who never has another election to win. It happens, too, that China is the midst of replacing filthy old power stations, which is already curbing its emissions growth, making it less painful than before for Beijing to engage. Indeed, the latest global CO2 data registers a striking levelling off, raising the tantalising possibility that technological progress could be entering a phase where the cast-iron link between emissions and growth begins to rust. If that pattern were borne out in future years, future climate negotiations could get smoother on every front. Then there is the great oil price crash, which facilitates a more fruitful discussion on fossil fuels, by making it much more imaginable to keep it in the ground.

One anxiety is whether this fortuitous alignment of political and economic stars will remain, as nations move from making promises, towards real action. Paris cannot guarantees success, but it does encourage hope – and particularly if Ms Le Pen’s chauvinist form of nationalism can be seen off. The Front National dabbled in greenwash last year, but its insistence on an ecology defined by “patriotism and the national interest”, and its instinctive suspicion of a multilateral UN approach is precisely the attitude which could thwart the translation of impressive COP 21 words into deeds.

Paris has given the world new hope in the possibilities of pragmatic diplomacy, at a time when France’s own politics illustrate the difficulties of assuming solidarity extends beyond national borders. If the answer to climate change is going to have to be found in continuous haggling between 200 nations, then success is also going to depend on winning the argument against narrow nationalism in every corner of the world.

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Shale gas should be at centre of next government’s energy policy – Tim Yeo

March 13th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Shale gas should be at centre of next government’s energy policy – Tim Yeo” was written by Fiona Harvey, for theguardian.com on Thursday 12th March 2015 06.01 UTC

Shale gas exploration can be environmentally sound, and should be the centrepiece of the next government’s energy policy, the Conservative’s most senior green-leaning MP has urged.

Tim Yeo, the Tory former minister, and chairman of parliament’s energy and climate committee, said the time had come to make the “green” case in favour of fracking, and that the incoming government after the general election must seize on the technology for the good of the UK’s environment and economy.

“There is an opportunity now, and it might not exist in a few years [when other European countries have developed fracking],” he told the Guardian. “People who think fracking is an environmental problem are mistaken.”

He said that the regulations governing fracking in this country were sound, and that related problems such as tremors were very small, and there would be no danger to the water supply here, as there has been in some places in the US. “Once people see that horizontal drilling is not causing earthquakes or poisoning the water they will be satisfied,” he said.

While warning that shale gas would not be the “transformational” industry it has been in the US, where the widespread exploitation of fracking technology has sent gas and oil prices tumbling, Yeo said it would be cheaper for the UK and have less impact on the climate than importing gas.

Fracking involves blasting water, sand and chemicals at dense rock to release tiny bubbles of gas trapped within, but the technology has been slow to be adopted in the UK after a series of hitches in the first targeted sites.

At the general election, Yeo will leave parliament after 32 years, having been de-selected by his constituency party, apparently for spending more time on national than local issues. A former environment minister and shadow environment secretary, he is one of the longest-standing and most influential champions of green issues among the ranks of Tory MPs, and chairs the influential parliamentary cross-party select committee on energy and climate change.

He makes his last major speech on energy and the environment on Thursday, at a conference that will highlight some of the committee’s progress on making policy recommendations in the current parliament.

He has chosen to make the green case for shale gas as his parting shot, because he believes the coalition has been too timid in persuading the public of the value of shale. Yeo has no current financial interest in shale and does not intend to take up any such interests on leaving parliament.

He will also use Thursday’s speech to argue strongly in favour of onshore wind turbines, which he will say are a cheap and reliable form of low-carbon energy. David Cameron has vowed to end subsidies for onshore wind, despite polls showing most people are in favour of the turbines.

Yeo said that reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions would still leave the country reliant on gas for years to come, and that fulfilling heating and power needs using domestic sources of gas would be both lower in emissions and cheaper than importing liquefied natural gas from overseas.

“I yield to no one in my desire to [tackle climate change] but the fact is we will not get by without consuming a lot of gas between now and the 2030s, so better to have a domestic source than to import it,” he said. “I do not think that a single extra cubic metre of gas will be consumed in the UK because of a domestic fracking industry.”

He said many green groups were opposing fracking because of a “visceral reaction to anything involving fossil fuels”, but he said the UK could meet its commitments on carbon reduction while producing gas from shale.

He will tell the conference: “The next government must stand up to the fuzzy-headed ideological fringes that oppose fracking. The greens opposed to fracking do not have evidence on their side.”

He will add: “Too many of us take the ready availability of energy, and the prosperity it makes possible, for granted. We expect electricity and gas to be constantly available – but we won’t accept the energy infrastructure on which that availability depends.”

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Lib Dems pledge to drop plastic bag charge exemptions

March 6th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Lib Dems pledge to drop plastic bag charge exemptions” was written by Karl Mathiesen, for theguardian.com on Friday 6th March 2015 05.00 UTC

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said that exemptions to an upcoming charge on plastic bags are overly complicated and should be scrapped to save billions of bags being given out each year.

The government has legislated for a 5p charge on single use plastic bags to come into force in England in October 2015. As it stands, the law will exempt businesses with less than 250 employees as well as paper and biodegradable bags.

The Lib Dems on Friday proposed changes to the upcoming plastic bag charge that they claim will remove an extra 3.5bn plastic bags and 328m papers bags from circulation each year, and save small businesses £300m annually. Plastic bag use has risen for four years running, with 8.3bn given out in 2013.

Clegg said: “The facts are simple; single use bags blight our towns and countryside, they trap and suffocate wildlife, and plastic bags take hundreds of years to degrade.

“The countdown to charging has begun, and by the time it arrives this autumn, reusable bags should increasingly be commonplace. As we get used to it, the hundreds of millions raised from the charge will go to charities.

“But we need to do much more. We need to go further and faster.”

The policy follows a recommendation from the environmental audit committee of MPs in June that all exemptions should be dropped.

An exemption-free charge would bring England into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Wales the first year of the 5p charge saw the use of plastic bags drop by 96%. An Environment Agency report found that on some measures, particularly carbon emissions, paper bags were worse for the environment than plastic.

The business community was supportive of the move.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: “The BRC has always maintained that the charge should apply to all retailers and all bags. It makes sense to improve on the current proposal now rather than waiting until the next parliament. The proposal as it stands is confusing and will not send a clear message to shoppers.”

John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “The FSB supports the introduction of charges for plastic bags. Many small retailers believe this measure could be good for business, good for the environment and good for their customers and community. However, we agree with the widely held industry view that imposing complex reporting requirements on smaller businesses is overly-burdensome and unnecessary.”

But the chairman of the Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association Michael Stephen criticised the removal of the exemption on biodegradable plastic bags.

“There will still be an awful lot of bags in circulation, even with the 5p charge. Some of them will get into the environment,” said Stephen. He said the exemption would ensure that more of these bags were biodegradable.

Clegg’s announcement comes after a week in which the Lib Dems attempted to position themselves ahead of the Conservatives and Labour on the green agenda. Across five days they announced an environmental policy agenda which included tougher penalties for flytipping and a prescription-for-boilers scheme.

Clegg said he was proud of the Lib Dem’s part in David Cameron’s “greenest government ever”.

“At the beginning of this coalition government we made ambitious promises. Four years on I’m proud to say that we’ve made real changes. From planting new trees, to boosting green travel options in their cities, the powerful steps we’ve taken will conserve our environment now and for years to come.”

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Lib Dems promise to triple flytipping fines to £9m

March 4th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Lib Dems promise to triple flytipping fines to £9m” was written by Karl Mathiesen, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 4th March 2015 05.01 UTC

Fines for companies caught flytipping on an industrial scale should triple to £9m, the Liberal Democrats have said.

The increased penalities would target businesses that avoid paying landfill tax by dumping rubbish in hedgerows, parks and roadsides, and follows a 20% increase in such incidents in 2013-14.

The measure is part of a suite of environment announcements the Lib Dems have made this week in an attempt to capitalise on what they see as a distinct point of difference against the Tories and Labour.

The current maximum fine of £3m for deliberate dumping that causes serious environmental damage was introduced by the government in early 2014.

But Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, announcing the policy on Wednesday, said the increased fines were still not enough of a deterrent.

The deputy prime minister said the policy was based on a Sentencing Council report that found fines handed to offenders had been “too low and did not reflect the seriousness of the offence committed”.

In 2013 a waste business operator was caught systematically dumping hundreds of tonnes of asbestos without a permit and was fined less than £80,000 – despite an annual turnover of £400,000.

If they were part of the next government, the Lib Dems would ask the Sentencing Council to triple the penalties for the deliberate dumping of waste. The minimum fine will rise to £165,000.

“Commercial flytipping and illegal dumping of waste not only harms British wildlife and the environment, but also means the taxpayer loses out,” said Clegg.

Flytipping in England rose for the first time in several years to 852,000 separate incidents in 2013-14. During that year, clear ups and enforcement was estimated to cost the UK taxpayer £186m.

A spokesperson for Keep Britain Tidy said the increase was a good idea but that it should be expanded to target domestic dumpers as well.

“We welcome the Liberal Democrats’ promise to take action on industrial flytipping, which is a major scourge. However, more than three-quarters of all flytipping incidents are domestic. Alongside any stronger regime for penalties, we would urge measures to tackle domestic and small scale flytipping, for example, by unregistered ‘cowboy’ builders and householders who evade their responsibilities to dispose of waste properly.”

Councillor Peter Box, the Local Government Association’s environment spokesman said: “Waste crime costs taxpayers tens of millions of pounds every year and is a burden on businesses, and residents. Councils are remarkably effective in addressing flytipping but the current system works against them. Giving councils tougher powers will enable them to tackle this criminal activity head on. Not only does flytipping create an eyesore for residents, it is also a serious public health risk, creating pollution and attracting rats and other vermin.”

The party’s zero-waste policy announced on Wednesday will also include an action plan to cut landfill by reusing and recycling the vast majority of materials.

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Would a Labour or Tory government be better for the environment?

March 3rd, 2015

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Would a Labour or Tory government be better for the environment?” was written by Karl Mathiesen, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 3rd March 2015 07.00 UTC

After five years of a government that aspired to being the greenest ever, what can we expect from the next parliament?

Here’s how the two big parties stand on some of the key upcoming environmental issues, from crunch UN climate negotiations and how and whether the UK should frack, to what to do about the country’s energy inefficient homes and whether the government should keep killing badgers.

Climate change

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have signed a cross-party pledge on climate action, but the issue is still approached differently by the parties.

Labour leader Miliband has been forthright in placing climate change on the party’s agenda. In an op-ed in the Observer last week, he said climate change was a key economic issue for the UK and attacked Tory MPs who he said “flirt with climate change denial”.

Miliband’s shadow energy and climate change minister Jonathan Reynolds told an audience in London last week: “I look at the Conservative party front bench and I do not see anyone coming through who takes this agenda seriously, who wants to develop ideas on it … To me, the Conservative party, having had that phase where it looked like it was going to embrace this agenda, has fundamentally moved away from it and that is a great shame indeed.”

But Greg Barker, Cameron’s climate envoy who was also on the panel, disagreed: “There are lots of green Tories.”

When pressed for names Barker was able to cite just one example – Matt Hancock a minister for business, enterprise and energy – before saying:

“The most important green Tory is David Cameron and he has consistently been my greatest ally in government.”

But Cameron’s rhetoric on climate change has been undermined by his elevation of prominent climate sceptics to influential positions within the government’s environmental departments. The nadir was the much-lambasted and summarily-ended tenure of Owen Paterson as environment secretary, who has called climate science “consistently and widely exaggerated”. Michael Fallon who was a minister for climate change has also questioned climate science. These appointments represent an undercurrent of scepticism in the Conservative party. Last year a poll found just 30% of Tory MPs accepted it was “now an established scientific fact that climate change is largely man-made”.

The election will also decide who represents the UK at the defining climate conference in Paris this December. Labour has employed former deputy PM John Prescott, who led the UK’s delegation on the Kyoto protocol, and it can be expected that he would take a lead role in any negotiations. Liberal Democrat secretary of energy and climate change Ed Davey, who has been the UK’s lead in climate talks, will need a hung parliament and a new coalition deal to see the job through to Paris. Should the Tories win government outright, Barker, may retain an active role despite his imminent retirement from politics.

Carbon budgets

More contentious than the need for action, will be the question of how Britain achieves decarbonisation. In order to chart a way to its goal of 80% emissions reductions from 1990 levels by 2050, the UK has defined how much carbon it can burn in five yearly periods from 2008 until 2028. These are known as the carbon budgets.

In December 2015, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) will advise on Britain’s emissions reductions between 2028 and 2032 – the fifth carbon budget. Under the law, the sitting government must accept this advice and implement policies to achieve the reductions.

All parties agree unabated coal power must be eradicated and have committed to phasing it out – although any new parliament will not have to do much to make this happen as anti-pollution laws and carbon pricing will see all stations closed by 2027.

Chairman of the CCC John Gummer says, with coal heading for oblivion by the time its term begins, the fifth carbon budget will be the toughest to legislate. “Whoever is in power, there will be tough discussion about how we do that because the fifth carbon budget is going to be very difficult indeed in the sense that we’ll have picked off a lot of the low hanging fruit.”

Clean energy: onshore wind and nuclear

Labour and the Conservatives largely agree that Britain’s low-carbon future involves a broad suite of energy sources, including renewable technologies, nuclear and potentially domestic shale gas. But how much of each and their enthusiasm for certain technologies varies significantly.

“No doubt there is greater appetite for the nuclear component and a lesser appetite for onshore wind among Conservatives and a smaller appetite for the nuclear component in the Labour party,” says Gummer.

The Tories are openly hostile to onshore wind and various MPs have fanned the flames of public nimbyism by calling it a “blight” on landscapes and consistently rejecting planning applications. If it wins in May, the party has committed to cutting subsidies to the sector – Britain’s largest source of renewable energy – a move renewables groups say would “kill the industry dead”. This is despite onshore wind’s increasing affordability, reflected in the prices offered in Thursday’s government auction for new project contracts.

Jim Watson, research director of the UK Energy Research Centre, says the Tories’ opposition to certain forms of renewables runs counter to the interests of taxpayers. “If we want to reduce the costs of meeting our climate targets we ought to be enabling the lower cost technologies to come through and be built to save people money. It seems odd to me that a politician of whatever party would want to stand in the way of a technology that lowers the cost of meeting our climate targets for consumers.”

Financial support for the £25bn nuclear behemoth at Hinkley Point C, which was born of a pro-nuclear policy under the last Labour government, was announced by the current administration in 2013. This is a key plank of the Conservative’s decarbonisation plan and the defining infrastructure announcement of Davey’s term as energy and climate change secretary. But it looks likely to be delayed by shareholder setbacks and legal challenges to its generous subsidy regime.

Labour has offered its support for the Hinkley project.

“It will be interesting how much [Labour] pursue a pro-renewables versus a pro-all-of-the-above strategy,” says Green Alliance’s head of politics Alastair Harper.

Miliband has expressed tentative support for onshore wind. But Harper says the issue could be politically divisive.

“Are they going to go all out and say onshore wind has a real future in the UK if you vote for us? They haven’t quite done that yet and it’d be an interesting binary moment for them to go for.”

By the time the fifth carbon budget is announced in December, says Gummer, whichever party (or parties) is in government may have had the argument settled for them. “The price of renewables is falling much more sharply than even the most optimistic would have said and the situation of nuclear is of course still not certain with the delay on the next stage of Hinkley [Point C nuclear power station]”.

Fracking

The issue of shale gas exploration, or fracking, will be another key decision during the planning of the fifth carbon budget, says Watson.

“How much gas we can burn in the context of our targets and what is the role of shale gas within that will certainly come up, for whatever government is in power,” he says.

Both the Conservatives and Labour have expressed enthusiasm for fracking and claim credit for creating a safe, attractive legal platform for the industry – although there is a distinct difference in their approach. The Tories have aggressively pursued an agenda that removes regulatory hurdles. Some of which Labour has opposed, including fracking beneath national parks and beside aquifers.

“You’re really talking about difference of emphasis,” says Watson. “But there really isn’t a clear difference of one party is really for it and one party is really against it. I just detect a more cautious approach from Labour. There isn’t the same sort of rhetoric that there is from some government ministers.”

Watson says some less-straightforward electoral outcomes could influence the politics of fracking during the next term. Scotland has implemented a moratorium on fracking. Watson raises the possibility that a Labour-Scottish National party coalition (a possibility being hawked by the Tories) may have a more adversarial attitude towards shale gas.

The Welsh government is investigating its legal options to implement such a ban. The national Labour party has committed to devolving powers to Wales to allow them to ban fracking.

Animal welfare

Badgers and foxes are perhaps the only environmental issues where daylight exists between the Tories and Labour. Should the Conservatives win in May, they will allow a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act, which bans hunting with dogs. They will also continue and expand the badger cull. Labour stands opposed to both these policies.

There is massive public opposition to both the badger cull (42% against, 36% for) and fox hunting (80% against). So why are the Tories swimming against the flow? These debates hark back to the days before the UK’s politics became a bland amble to the centre. They are based on ancient rivalries between the country and the city, a small group of landowning toffs versus the renting class.

But most importantly, they are politically irrelevant. “It’s very easy for the parties to hold those different positions because they speak to different audiences that don’t really cross over … It’s very easy to get off the fence both ways,” says Harper. Few people will decide their vote on animal welfare issues. The Tories might grab a few votes from Ukip in rural areas and Labour from the Greens, but the floating centre has more pressing concerns.

Energy efficiency

The coalition government’s flagship energy efficiency scheme, the green deal, has become a traumatic experience for its architects. Despite recent successes in some aspects of the grants-for-home-improvements scheme, the overall take-up has been disappointing. This has left the UK’s desperately needed drive for household energy efficiency languishing.

The Conservatives are yet to outline exactly how they will approach this tainted issue in the next parliament. Harper suggests it is a case of once bitten, twice shy.

“I think the Tories feel burnt by the green deal and they haven’t really come up with how they’d deal with it. I’d be interested to see what’s in the manifesto on that. At the moment it just feels like they are still amazed that it didn’t work,” he says.

Labour on the other hand, smelling electoral blood in the water, has pre-emptively announced an interest-free loan scheme that will replace the green deal grants. As part of a five-part efficiency strategy, Labour says the loans will improve up to one million homes during the next parliament. But the Green Building Council has warned that Labour may have to further sweeten the deal in order to motivate homeowners.

Nature

Nature is the thorn in the free market’s side, that pesky “externality” that the UK’s major parties don’t really know what to do about. So on the whole, they ignore it.

“The thing that is absent from the narrative of both parties right now is a real vision for what they are going to do about nature. And how we’re going to stop the losing battle of our habitats and our local environment getting worse and worse with every passing year and for the last 50 years,” says Harper.

“That conversation, that ambition hasn’t really been owned by either of the main parties. Their manifestos will have to address it in some way and I think what you’ll see is a lot of the big natural environment organisations, like the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts and so on, will be pushing for … clear legislative plans to restore nature at a national level.”

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World leaders urged to tackle food waste to save billions and cut emissions

February 26th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “World leaders urged to tackle food waste to save billions and cut emissions” was written by Rebecca Smithers, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th February 2015 00.01 UTC

Governments across the world should make reducing food waste an urgent priority in order to save as much as £194bn annually by 2030, according to a report.

Cutting food waste leads to greater efficiency, more productivity and higher economic growth, it said, but achieving such an aspiration would involve consumers cutting their own food and drink waste by as much as half.

One third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste, with food wasted by consumers globally valued at more than £259bn per year.

But that cost could soar to £388bn as the global middle class expands over the course of the next fifteen years, according to new figures from the UK government’s waste advisory body Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

Their new report, ’Strategies to achieve economic and environmental gains by reducing food waste’, also identifies significant opportunities to improve economic performance and tackle climate change by reducing the amount of food that is wasted at various stages in the supply chain – in agriculture, transport, storage and consumption.

It highlights how practical changes, such as lowering the average temperatures of refrigerators or designing better packaging, can make a big difference in preventing spoilage. Approximately 25% of food waste in the developing world could be eliminated with better refrigeration equipment.

In the UK, the most recent data from Wrap showed that households threw away seven million tonnes of food waste in 2012, enough to fill London’s Wembley Stadium nine times over. Avoidable household food waste in the UK is associated with 17 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Reducing food waste worldwide can make a significant contribution to tackling climate change, the report said. It found waste is responsible for around 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, 3.3bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) a year.

Wrap estimates that emissions from food waste could cut by at least 0.2bn tonnes CO2e and possibly as much as 1 billion tonnes CO2e per year – more than the annual emissions of Germany.

Dr Richard Swannell, director of sustainable food systems at WRAP said: “Food waste is a global issue and tackling it is a priority. This report emphasises the benefits that can be obtained for businesses, consumers and the environment. The difficulty is often in knowing where to start and how to make the biggest economic and environmental savings.”

Consumers had a vital role to play, he added: “In the UK, where we are based, the majority of food waste occurs in the home.”

Helen Mountford, global programme director for the New Climate Economy, a programme of the commission, said: “Reducing food waste is good for the economy and good for the climate. Less food waste means greater efficiency, more productivity, and direct savings for consumers. It also means more food available to feed the estimated 805 million that go to bed hungry each day.

“Reducing food waste is also a great way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. These findings should serve as a wakeup call to policymakers around the world.”

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World’s biggest offshore windfarm approved for Yorkshire coast

February 18th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “World’s biggest offshore windfarm approved for Yorkshire coast” was written by Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, for The Guardian on Tuesday 17th February 2015 18.37 UTC

Plans for the world’s biggest offshore windfarm have been given the green light by the energy secretary, with planning permission for an array of up to 400 turbines 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast on the Dogger Bank.

The project, more than twice the size of the UK’s current biggest offshore windfarm, is expected to cost £6bn to £8bn and could fulfil 2.5% of the UK’s electricity needs.

Covering about 430 sq miles, the Dogger Bank Creyke Beck project will – if fully constructed – generate enough electricity to power nearly 2m homes, and could support an estimated 900 jobs in Yorkshire and Humberside, according to the government.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary, said: “Making the most of Britain’s home-grown energy is creating jobs and businesses in the UK, getting the best deal for consumers and reducing our reliance on foreign imports. Wind power is vital to this plan, with £14.5bn invested since 2010 into an industry which supports 35,400 jobs.”

Although the UK does not manufacture large wind turbines, the Department of Energy and Climate Change says half of the costs associated with building and operating a windfarm are spent buying services and products from UK businesses.

Dogger has long been mooted as a possible location for offshore windfarms, because the shallow seabed, only about 30 metres deep, should make it easier to lay foundations and construct large turbines there, but no company has yet ventured into the area.

If built, the Creyke Beck turbines would be the furthest offshore that have ever been attempted. They would be the first stage of a project that could eventually be three times the size, if further tranches are also constructed.

Nick Medic, director of offshore renewables at RenewableUK, the wind industry association, said: “This is an awesome project and will surely be considered as one of the most significant infrastructure projects ever undertaken by the wind industry. Dogger Bank demonstrates the sheer potential of offshore technology to turn our vast ocean and wind resources into green energy.

“It is a project that pushes the offshore engineering envelope, demonstrating how far this technology has evolved in the 10 short years since the first major offshore windfarm was installed in North Hoyle just five miles from shore.”

Construction of the first turbines could still be years away, however. The Forewind consortium which is behind the 2400MW capacity project has yet to make a final investment decision. The consortium comprises Scottish and Southern Energy, Germany’s RWE, and Norway’s Statoil and Statkraft, the former the country’s majority state-owned oil business and the latter its state-owned electricity company.

Though the granting of planning permission may encourage a positive decision, the falling oil price and uncertainty over what may happen to wind energy subsidies after the general election make long-term investments in the sector more fraught.

About £60m has been spent by the companies so far on surveys alone.

“Achieving consent for what is currently the world’s largest offshore wind project in development is a major achievement and will help confirm the UK’s position as the world leader in the industry,” said Tarald Gjerde, general manager for Forewind.

The consortium said the Creyke Beck project could create up to 4,750 new direct and indirect full-time equivalent jobs and generate more than £1.5bn for the UK economy, especially in Yorkshire and Humberside owing to their “historic strengths, existing skills in large-scale production activities and a marine support legacy”.

The UK’s last biggest offshore wind site, the London Array, ran into difficulties soon after gaining the government’s green light in a long drawn-out process from 2005 to 2007. Costs spiralled, investors withdrew backing and the future of the project for long periods hung in the balance. However, the windfarm, with 175 turbines, was inaugurated in 2013.

The UK currently has about 1,200 offshore wind turbines, with a total generating capacity of about 4GW.

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Biofuel from trash could create green jobs bonanza, says report

February 17th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Biofuel from trash could create green jobs bonanza, says report” was written by Arthur Neslen in Brussels, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th February 2015 10.26 UTC

Creating biofuels from waste produced by industry, farms, and households could generate 36,000 jobs in the UK and save around 37m tonnes of oil use annually by 2030, according to a new report.

Across Europe, hundreds of thousands of new jobs could be created by using these ‘advanced biofuels’, which could replace 16% of the continent’s road transport fuel by the same year, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) study said. But the gains will not come without ambitious policy to promote advanced biofuels, it warned.

“Alternative fuels from wastes and residues offer real and substantial carbon savings, even when taking account of possible indirect emissions,” said Chris Malins who led the analysis for ICCT . “The resource is available, and the technology exists – the challenge now is for Europe to put a policy framework in place that allows rapid investment.”

However, a key vote in the European Parliament’s environment committee next week could stop this potential being realised, as a centre-right grouping of MEPs has signalled that it will oppose a biofuels reform package considered crucial to the fledgling industry.

The committee will vote next Tuesday on a compromise biofuels reform bill that would mandate a goal of advanced biofuels providing 1.25% of Europe’s transport fuel by 2020.

This advanced fuel could come from woody crops, agricultural residues, algae or household and industrial waste. It is seen as less environmentally damaging than first generation biofuels produced by growing crops such as rapeseed, which have been criticised for displacing food crops and raising commodity prices.

Malins said that a mandatory advanced biofuels goal was “absolutely crucial” to realising the sector’s potential, as it would bring market certainty and long-term signals for investors.

But sources at the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) told the Guardian that they were unlikely to back such a package. “We think it is unrealistically ambitious,” a source said. “We are not going to support the compromise proposal.”

The bill would also introduce criteria for assessing biofuels’ sustainability and set a 6% cap for the amount that first generation biofuel could contribute to the EU’s 2020 target of providing 10% of road transport fuel from low carbon sources.

Marko Janhunen, the vice-president of UPM Biorefining in Finland, said that parliamentary manoeuvring could risk the advanced sector’s potential for hi-tech job creation in rural areas.

“This is a critical moment for the advanced biofuels sector and this discussion is very frustrating,” he told the Guardian. “We want to see incentives and reasons to invest. We want to get rid of the regulatory uncertainty that has been surrounding the discussion.”

UPM recently opened a €175m renewable waste biorefinery that transforms residues from pulp into renewable diesel that can be used by cars – or potentially, one day, by planes. British Airways is one of several members of a Leaders of Sustainable Biofuels group that Janhunen also chairs.

“The EU has spent hundreds of millions in projects supporting the uptake of these technologies,” Janhunen added. “Now they are here, it is very important to set policies in place that enable them to be brought into the market.”

The current proposal has faced a tortuous journey and campaigners fear that even a narrow victory now will embolden east European states to finally bury it in the European Council.

“If the EPP votes against the compromise, there is a massive risk that the whole package could fall into a conciliation process, or even no conclusion at all,” said Nusa Urbancic, a clean energy programme manager at the Transport and Environment group. “This will mean continued negative impacts on deforestation and food prices, as well as leading the EU away from our climate objectives.”

The European ethanol industry association (ePURE) has thrown its weight behind the biofuels bill. Its secretary-general, Robert Wright, told the Guardian that “only a binding target will send a clear signal to investors that there will be a future market for advanced biofuels.”

But other industry figures were sceptical about the likelihood of meaningful regulation at the EU level, and about the ICCT’s analysis more generally.

“Studies like this have rosy assumptions that feed into rosy conclusions,” said Eric Sievers, the CEO of Ethanol Europe Renewables. “You don’t make a large capital investment in a regulatory regime that expires in 2020, so the potential and reality are at odds. Nothing prevents this stuff from being imported from the US or Brazil so the whole jobs argument goes down the tubes.”

In the absence of EU renewable targets for 2030, however, Malins said that the cleaner fuel process in Europe could still be continued with carbon intensity fuel standards similar to those in California, an extension of the bloc’s Fuel Quality Directive, or fiscal measures by European states.

Urbancic said that the US already had advanced biofuels targets which would likely deter its small industry from importing to the EU, while Brazil was likely to focus its industry on aviation.

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