14 Feb 2015, 00:05
It is the Valentine's Day gift many within the green economy had been hoping for. After several weeks of kicking chunks out of each other in what promises to be a brutal election battle, the three main party leaders have today risen above their narrow partisan interests and demonstrated some genuine statesmanship.
In delivering a joint commitment to "work together" to set new emissions goals for the UK, seek an international treaty in Paris, and accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and Ed Miliband have shown real leadership.
My understanding is that each man's personal commitment to tackling climate change played a role in this agreement coming about. There is little doubt the Prime Minister would have received advice not to antagonise UKIP and his climate sceptic backbenchers, just as Clegg and Miliband would have been fully aware that signing a joint letter may help neutralise election campaign attacks on Cameron over his at times mixed record on climate change. And yet all three leaders signed on the dotted line, acknowledging there are some issues where rising above the political fray to seek genuine progress is more important than honing the next attack line.
As Unilever's Paul Polman observed, "the importance of this pledge cannot be overstated". It effectively commits the UK to seeking an ambitious and legally-binding climate treaty in Paris and it massively increases the chances of a stretching fifth carbon budget being agreed in 2016.
However, the two really significant developments are found in the third of the three pledges the leaders have made. In stating they will work to "accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation", Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have sent two important signals to investors, one specific and one general.
The specific signal is that unabated coal's days are numbered. The letter may deliberately avoid setting a date for when unabated coal-fired power stations become a thing of the past, but it makes clear that day will come and the reality is it is likely to come pretty soon. Coal businesses and investors will be aghast at what this letter does to their medium and long-term prospects.
The general signal is the latest in a long line of messages to investors and business leaders that the UK is going to decarbonise and they should prepare accordingly. The joint nature of the statement is particularly significant, as it means whoever walks into Number 10 in May has a mandate to deliver on these pledges. Whether it is Cameron or Miliband who forms the next government they will face immediate pressure to honour these commitments and anyone who tries to water them down (we're looking at you Eric Pickles) will have to acknowledge the Prime Minister was elected having declared their intention to accelerate action on climate change.
The UK is now signed up to EU carbon targets for 2020 and 2030, national carbon budgets that will continue into the 2030s, an over-arching target to cut emissions 80 per cent by 2050, an international effort to deliver a legally-binding global emission reduction treaty, and an EU effort to reform the bloc's carbon market in a way that will push up carbon prices. And now the political leaders most likely to be lead the next government have said categorically they are fully committed to continued decarbonisation.
One could ask how much more certainty do green business leaders and investors want? The direction of travel in favour of decarbonisation is as clear as it has ever been. Anyone investing in fossil fuel projects does so knowing full well the policy environment is likely to get more hostile. Anyone investing in energy efficiency, low carbon infrastructure or greener business models does so knowing the UK's main political leaders wish to "accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low carbon economy". It's not like we have not been told what is planned.
The problem, of course, is whether we believe Cameron, Miliband and Clegg can deliver on the pledges they have made. Valentine's Day is not a time for cynicism, but it has to be noted that parts of the letter smack of a guilty husband promising he'll be better next time around.
Miliband has a relatively strong record on climate change, and the coalition does not get the credit deserves for the numerous ambitious green policies it has adopted.
But if the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister can sign a letter committing to "end the use of unabated coal for power generation" why did they pass up the opportunity to close the loopholes that would allow unabated coal to continue to prosper well into the 2020s? Why have they just introduced a capacity market that is handing subsidies to coal plants?
Can Cameron credibly square his heart-felt commitment to build a low carbon economy with his politically convenient opposition to onshore wind farms and solar farms, faltering progress on carbon capture and storage (CCS), watering down of energy efficiency policies, and unwillingness to challenge climate sceptic voices in his party? This letter provides green investors with significantly more political certainty, but it will not help onshore wind farm developers one iota as they wait to see if their industry is about to be devastated.
Miliband may have helped deliver the Climate Change Act, but why has he not used is stint as leader of the opposition to publicly pressurise the government into delivering more ambitious policies?
All of the three main parties have been good at signing up to climate change targets and delivering encouraging speeches, only to struggle when it comes to facing down vested interests and delivering the policies and investment that will ensure emissions targets are actually met. Those businesses and entrepreneurs who have been burned in the past by government u-turns on environmental policies will greet this letter with a healthy dose of scepticism. Once bitten, twice shy works just as well in business as it does in relationships.
Had this letter been signed by George Osborne and Ed Balls, then high carbon business leaders will have really sat up and taken notice. Without a clearer commitment in favour of decarbonisation from the men who would be Chancellor, polluting firms know there are conciliatory ears to be found amongst Treasury officials who remain firmly wedded to a narrow and unsustainable growth model.
However, those legitmate concerns are for another day. There are plenty more political battles to come that the green economy has to win, but this Valentine's Day pledge massively increases the chances of victory. When it comes to the green economy, the love is there from the men at the top.
The letter shows that for all the short term political temptations that have attempted to turn their heads our political leaders are still capable of focused leadership on climate change. It confirms decarbonisation will remain on the agenda no matter who forms the next government. It underlines how climate sceptic arguments have been thoroughly rejected by Westminster's most powerful figures. And it reveals that unabated coal is about to get dumped. Happy Valentine's Day.
13 Feb 2015, 00:05
Do journalists have a responsibility to campaign on climate change within their reporting? That was the deliberately provocative question posed this week by those heroic enviro-scamps/eco-terrorists at Greenpeace and wrestled with by a panel featuring Channel 4 News' Jon Snow and Tom Clarke, the Guardian's Zoe Williams, Buzzfeed's Tom Chivers, and Greenpeace's Li Shuo.
The general consensus was that "campaign" is too strong a word to describe how journalists should approach climate change. Politicians campaign, polemicists campaign, campaigners campaign; journalists do something different, if related.
But it's more complicated than simply answering Greenpeace's question in the negative and moving on. As Williams pointed out journalists of all stripes do campaign, in so much as everything is a campaign. Everything is political. Journalists campaign through the stories they select and reject, the primacy they give those stories, the words they use, and the angles and sources they opt for. You do not have to subscribe to a neo-Marxist critique to acknowledge all texts are political. The status quo is definitely not apolitical.
However, leaving aside that truism for a moment, campaigning is typically regarded as anathema to journalists, which makes things more than a little uncomfortable for someone like me who surfs the line between reporter, editor, and (I hate this oxymoronic phrase) campaigning journalist.
This understandable reluctance to take on the mantle of "campaigner" raises an important question. If journalists should not campaign on climate change, what should they do about it? Because what they are doing at the moment sure as hell isn't working.
The panel offered an at times brutal assessment of mainstream climate change reporting, from Snow's admission the Copenhagen Climate Summit was the most dispiriting political story he had ever reported on, as hopes were dashed and the media chased the wrong story by giving legs to discredited climate sceptic arguments, to Clarke's honest appraisal of how climate change is too slow-moving and unsexy to grab editors' attention, and Chivers' acknowledgement that the sheer complexity of climate change debates do not lend themselves to easy and accessible reporting.
How can a media that is so critical to business and public understanding of climate change and the green economy overcome these challenges?
As someone who is lucky enough to write about these issues all the time I'd argue journalists should not necessarily "campaign" on climate change, but they do have a responsibility to detail the context climate change provides for countless other stories. You don't have to campaign on climate change, just stop ignoring it.
This context is crucial because climate change impacts almost everything in some way or another. I am heartily sick of mainstream energy or economic or environment stories that fail to provide a single sentence on the direct relevance climate change has for so many of these stories.
To take just a few recent examples, if you are going to report on the impact of the collapse on the oil price on North Sea investment, you should probably mention that from a climate change perspective reduced oil exploration is a very good thing. If you are going to report on a politician forgetting to mention the deficit in speeches, you should also report when politicians forget to mention climate change, particularly if said politicians admit climate change poses an existential threat. If you are going to introduce Ed Davey, he is the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, not the Energy Secretary - the distinction matters.
If, like BBC Breakfast this week, you are going to report on the falling cost of heating oil making heating homes in this way more attractive it would be remiss of you not to mention that from a pure climate change perspective this is an appalling development. A single sentence would improve any one of these stories no end. Just an acknowledgment that there is an underlying issue that needs addressing would make a world of difference to wider understanding of what climate change means and what can be done about it.
There was a big story about eight or nine years ago where the context was not provided. Cheap money flooded global markets, complex financial products metastatised, and sharp practices became commonplace. In retrospect, everyone kind of knew something was up, but the failure to provide the true context to the business stories of this era helped usher the global economy off a cliff.
How do you go about delivering this context? Snow's proposal that journalists should be provided some kind of climate awareness training in the same way war correspondents get battlefield training is a good idea. But it is about more than that. It is about editors grasping the bigger picture - and climate change is one of the biggest pictures there is - and trusting that the audience can navigate the complexity.
It is also about recognising that there is some pent up demand for these stories. It is about balance - not the false, 'let's have a debate when an issue is all but settled', kind of balance, but the balance between light and shade, good news and bad, that the media is so reluctant to provide. Move past the banal "debate" about whether climate change is happening and there is an abundance of fascinating stories to explore, stories about politics, and communities, and technology, and scandal, and business, and tragedy, and hope, and life itself.
I'd argue there are countless great stories out there around climate change, there are even 'sexy' stories arising from the green industrial revolution we are in the midst of. As Buzzfeed demonstrates there is an audience for news that balances the good and the bad, the inspiring and shocking, if you package it in an innovative way and have a good sense of what your audience responds to. I'd wager there is huge untapped interest in currently unreported developments in everything from clean technology to potential climate catastrophe.
Should journalists be campaigning on these issues? No. They should be doing what good journalists always do, providing accurate and balanced reporting on the biggest issues of the day. Some people will call that campaigning. Well, so be it.
12 Feb 2015, 14:30
Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden's speech to delegates at International Petroleum Week tonight looks like it will be right on the money.
For example, he's right to suggest "provoking a sudden death of fossil fuels isn't a plausible plan". No one wants to wake up tomorrow and find the fossil fuel industry has been shut down; the consequences for peace, prosperity and health would be catastrophic.
He's also right to suggest reforming the energy industry through a "fossil fuels out, renewables in" strategy is "simply naive". No one wants to see the concentrated energy intensity of fossil fuels replaced immediately with nothing but solar panels and wind turbines.
He's absolutely right to say we need to "balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change". No one wants to deny developing nations access to energy that they desperately need.
And Van Beurden is right to say the fossil fuel industry's credibility is at stake when it is "slow to acknowledge climate change" or opposed to effective carbon pricing. No one wants to see one of the most important industries in the world indulge in anti-scientific hokum in a desperate bid to protect its outdated operating model.
The good news for Van Beurden is that almost everyone in the green economy will agree with these key aspects of his analysis. On these crucial topics there is little opposition; which is unsurprising really, because these are wilfully constructed straw man arguments designed to conceal the gaping holes in Van Beurden's wider analysis of the energy market.
Here's the problem. If, as Van Beurden suggests, the fossil fuel industry properly acknowledges climate change it smashes straight into the unanswerable logic of the 'carbon bubble' hypothesis. A logic that is very simple to understand. You. Can't. Burn. It. All.
The only way for Van Beurden to respond to this analysis is to ascribe extreme opinions to climate-savvy investors, green campaigners, and clean tech firms that they simply do not hold and hope no one notices his underlying message: "we're going to burn it anyway". Judging by the trailed quotes Van Beurden looks like his main goal is to provide a little bit of chief executive sophistication to the ridiculous and mysteriously funded cartoon this week attacking the divestment movement.
We'll have to wait and see if Van Beurden's full speech addresses the real challenges the fossil fuel industry faces, but in the interests of clarity this is what most mainstream green businesses, campaigners, and politicians want from Shell and its peer group (I stress the word mainstream in that sentence, there are some eco-warriors who do long for the immediate destruction of the fossil fuel industry, but they have little to do with modern green-thinking or the crucial 'carbon bubble' analysis).
Green investors and campaigners don't want the "sudden death" of fossil fuels. They want an orderly yet rapid transition away from unabated fossil fuels and towards the clean sources of energy that can head off potentially catastrophic climate change.
They don't want "fossil fuels out, renewables in". They want fossil fuels 'out' over time, to be replaced by a mix of clean energy sources and massive improvements in energy efficiency.
This would be "simply naive" if your goal was to achieve such a dramatic transition with nothing but the technologies we currently possess. But that is not the goal. The goal is to scale up these technologies and innovate along the way, as has happened in every technology deployment in history, resulting in ever more cost-effective replacements for fossil fuels.
They don't want to compromise "energy access for all". They want political and business leaders to acknowledge that in the vast majority of cases new energy infrastructure needs to harness clean technologies if there is any hope of avoiding climate change impacts that will devastate developing economies more than most.
And here's the real problem for Shell, BP, and the rest. The vast majority of global political leaders, many of the world's most powerful businesses, growing numbers of investors, and the bulk of the public are fully signed up to this wish list.
All of this means that fossil fuel companies that continue to invest in the most capital and carbon intensive projects are loading risk into their business model. They are trying to bring on line new supplies of fossil fuels that we may not need, particularly at the high financial price they will be made available. Highlighting this risk is not naïve, it is a sensible investment strategy. Arguing that companies like Shell should be doing much more to prepare for a low carbon economy by investing meaningfully in clean tech R&D and mapping out how it could continue to operate in a carbon-constrained world is not implausible, it is a logical response to the threats climate change presents. Divesting from those companies that fail to respond to these risks and seeking safer long term returns from cleaner firms is not counter-productive, it is a rational deployment of capital.
As the Guardian's Damian Carrington argues today, the fossil fuel industry is looking distinctly rattled by the break-neck pace of the divestment movement and the growing traction of the carbon bubble analysis. Van Beurden's latest comments suggest even this most articulate of chief execs is struggling for a plausible response.
Van Beurden says he wants a "balanced debate". But the only way to balance climate risk and fossil fuels is to fully acknowledge what deep emission cuts mean for the industry. That means ditching the straw man arguments and deliberate attempts to polarise reasonable oil men and 'naïve' environmentalists, and instead demonstrate how Shell can adapt and prosper in a world where you really can't burn it all.
10 Feb 2015, 14:34
How do you define 'anti-business'? For the Tories, Ed Miliband's inability to remember the deficit and tax-and-spend instincts make Labour inherently hostile to business leaders. For Labour, the Tories penchant for hedge fund donors and tax avoiders results in policies that damage the majority of businesses who pay their fair share. For many business leaders, Labour's talk of higher taxes and price controls are inherently 'anti-business'. But equally, many executives regard Conservative talk of a politically motivated exit from the UK's largest market as anything but 'pro-business'.
The problem is they all have a point. The business community is as varied and volatile as any form of human community. Some businesses are inspiring innovators and engines of prosperity. Others are polluters and monopolists who do genuine harm to society. If this diversity wasn't confusing enough, some businesses occupy both extremes at the same time. It is possible to admire Google's track record of innovation and long term investment in clean energy, while condemning its tax practices.
Consequently, it is impossible to establish a universal definition of what is or isn't 'anti-business'. Some policies and political rhetoric do more harm to more businesses than others, but you'd be hard pressed to find a policy that is bad for each and every business. Some regulations damage businesses, but other regulations help create new markets and opportunities for commercial innovators. To take just one example, were vehicle emissions standards an 'anti-business' cost imposed on auto manufacturers, or a 'pro-business' means of stimulating demand for clean technology developers and protecting the health of the workforce for millions of other firms?
In the UK political context, the Conservatives are traditionally regarded as the party of business and are seen as being more likely to introduce 'pro-business' policies, as evidenced by David Cameron's announcement today of intriguing new plans for a Help to Grow scheme to support fast-growth firms and the latest pledge to cut 'red tape' (although how a party can get away with saying it has identified £10bn of legislative savings and then not say what they are is beyond me). But this is not a zero sum game. The Tories occupation of 'pro-business' territory does not mean they are pro every business, nor does it mean Labour are automatically anti every business. In an election year, people will be reluctant to inject nuance into this debate, but this is not an issue that allows simple polarisation and sensible business leaders and politicians should recognise that, not least because the public certainly does.
This is the debate that one of the UK's most high profile green business leaders, Ecotricity's Dale Vince, waded into this morning with the announcement the company is to donate £250,000 to Labour's election campaign.
My understanding is there was a lengthy debate at Ecotricity about whether to take this step. No consumer-facing company relishes getting involved in party politics, given the obvious potential for alienating customers. But eventually Vince concluded the Conservative's policies were so 'anti green business' that the company had little choice. As a spokesman explained, a Conservative victory and the enactment of the party's effective ban on new wind farms would make it extremely difficult for Ecotricity to keep its promise to customers to invest their bills in new wind turbines. In contrast, the company is satisfied Labour's support for renewables and decarbonisation, coupled with its plan to remain within the EU, means that from its perspective the party is 'pro-business'.
Will other green businesses, or even mainstream businesses who back decarbonisation and climate action, now reach a similar conclusion and publicly provide Miliband with some much-needed business backing? Or will they conclude the Tories' promise of tax cuts, deficit reduction, and conventional support for the business community outweighs concerns about Cameron's commitment to growing the green economy?
The reality is that while the Conservatives are broadly regarded as 'pro-business' there is mounting disquiet among green firms and investors that the supposed party of business is increasingly 'anti green business'.
Ecotricity and other onshore wind farm developers are most obviously in the firing line and have to now ask themselves whether they wish to get involved in the election and try and stop a party that would cause massive disruption to their medium to long term plans. But there are plenty of other clean tech sectors that harbour similar fears. Conservative ministers have signalled their opposition to solar farms, the Chancellor has previously sought to water down carbon targets and clean energy funding, the coalition deliberately downgraded support for circular economy policies, and there is scant evidence Conservative Central Office has much to say about energy efficiency, electric cars, or smart technologies. Meanwhile, climate sceptics periodically pipe up from the Tory backbenches to decry anything and everything that seeks to reduce emissions and drive green investments.
Again, the picture is complicated by the fact some Conservative MPs remain supportive of the green economy and powerful advocates of the need to decarbonise our economy. But it is equally clear that, for the first time in a generation, there are clear dividing lines on a host of green policy issues between the only two parties that have a hope of forming the next government.
Faced with this choice will more green business leaders emulate Ecotricity and declare a political allegiance? Plenty of business leaders have evidently concluded Miliband poses enough of a threat to the economy to pile in, will green business leaders conclude Cameron, or perhaps more pertinently, Osborne, May or Boris, poses enough of a threat to the green economy to get involved?
I have little doubt if Labour looked more convincingly like a government in waiting, was a few more points ahead in the polls, and could offer a handful more policies that were demonstrably 'pro-business' in a conventional sense green business leaders would be more vocal in their criticism of Cameron's slide away from his previous stance on environmental issues and his failure to prioritise the UK's climate and energy security. But currently support for Labour's green business policies tends to be balanced with continued concern about the party's wider business and economic policies.
With the election on a knife edge green businesses and investors will have no desire to alienate a Conservative Party that could yet secure another five years in power. And yet, for Ecotricity, with a business model based primarily on developing onshore wind farms, there is nothing left to lose from publicly siding with a party that will allow it to continue to invest. Others will have to undertake their own cost-benefit calculations and decide whether to follow Dale Vince and Lord Stuart Rose and join this election battle or else keep their head below the parapet and hope the green economy can adapt to the electoral fallout.
What is clear, is that despite what Tory spin doctors claim there are no clear-cut 'pro-business' and 'anti-business' candidates on offer at this election. It has always been more complicated than that, as green business leaders can certainly testify.
06 Feb 2015, 15:06
Today is the last day of Cold Homes Week, although sadly many people will have been too cold, too broke, or too dead to notice.
The perennial nature of the UK's fuel poverty crisis/scandal/national shame (delete as appropriate) means statistics revealing the true scale of the problem become dulled by repetition. But they shouldn't be; they are little short of a disgrace. Each year the UK typically experiences up to 30,000 excess winter deaths and this year it is on track to hit 40,000. Not all those deaths are directly due to cold homes, as increases in road traffic accidents and the limited success of this year's flu vaccination programme indicate, but poor housing stock is a big contributory factor to the spike in the death rate during the winter months.
Anyone who doubts that should consider this: each winter Sweden's death rate rises by around 10 per cent, in the UK it soars by 30 per cent. The main difference between the two countries? Our homes are much less efficient. Around six million low income households in the UK live in homes that have energy efficiency rating of Band D or worse, while over two and a quarter million households are officially living in fuel poverty. That is more than one in 10 households really struggling to pay energy bills and having to make choices between healthy comfort and other necessities. In one of the richest countries in the history of humanity, thousands die as a result of this unenviable choice.
It is a wilfully emotive comparison, but would we be so indifferent to these deaths if they were happening on this scale on the roads or as a result of medical negligence or military action? Sadly, cold grannies do not make for eye-catching headlines.
Instead, when the media or the political class deign to address fuel poverty at all it is to decry high energy bills and complain about corporate fat cats or renewables subsidies. I am no apologist for the energy companies who are often their own worst enemies, but focusing on energy prices is a distraction. Blaming energy companies for fuel poverty is like blaming supermarkets for food banks; confusing tariffs and sharp practices don't help, but they are not the root cause of the problem.
The uncomfortable truth is that energy prices in the UK are not high by European standards. A government study last year confirmed that "in 2012, average UK domestic gas prices, including taxes... were the ninth lowest in the IEA, third lowest in the G7, and were 18.9 per cent lower than the IEA median". Electricity prices were similarly competitive, and yet our domestic energy bills are among the highest in the EU. Why? Because our inefficient homes mean we use far more energy than many of our international competitors.
However, if there is one thing more scandalous than the UK's fuel poverty crisis it is the government's faltering and flawed response.
In fairness, some encouraging progress has been made. Winter death rates have been steadily falling thanks to flu vaccines and the gradual installation of insulation. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey this week introduced new rules to stop landlords letting the coldest homes and again highlighted how one million homes have received energy efficiency upgrades through the government's Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation (ECO) schemes.
These improvements should be welcomed, but they are akin to a relegated football manager arguing they should not get the sack because they won a couple of games over the course of the season. As an analysis from the UK Association for the Conservation of Energy this week revealed the number of households receiving upgrades through government schemes slumped 80 per cent between the winter of 2011/12 and this winter. Had the rate of delivery seen in 2011/12 been maintained it would not be one million people enjoying warmer homes this weekend, it would have been nearly 2.8 million.
If the current rate of improvement continues over the next decade less than 30 per cent of the six million households enduring poor levels of efficiency will be improved. And yet, as BusinessGreen revealed, late last year, it is unlikely the current rate of improvement will continue - it is about to get a lot worse. The government's decision to water down the ECO scheme means energy company energy efficiency targets will be met in the coming months, bringing property improvement programmes to a grinding halt.
There is an obvious environmental angle to this failure to address the weaknesses in the UK's building stock. Around 40 per cent of emissions come from buildings and enhancing energy efficiency using proven technologies remains the most cost-effective means of tackling emissions. A genuinely ambitious programme to improve domestic energy efficiency would not just tackle fuel poverty, it would cut emissions and reduce the cost of decarbonisation by curbing demand for new wind farms and nuclear reactors. If we can't deliver the clean technologies that make financial sense regardless of climate change it does not put us in good stead for the big ticket clean energy generation investments that will be required over the next 15 years.
The bulk of the blame for this scandal lies not with Davey and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but David Cameron, the Treasury and Conservative backbenchers. The Prime Minister's decision to axe "green crap" from energy bills did not so much throw the energy efficiency agenda under a bus, as lock it in a freezing cold room and wait for nature to take its course. The Treasury's repeated refusal to properly back a pay-as-you-save financing scheme that remains the most effective means of delivering national-scale energy efficiency improvements with serious funding and tougher regulations fatally undermined the Green Deal from the start. Tory MPs willingness to put the concerns of rentier investors above the health of their cold tenants meant energy efficiency rules that have finally emerged for the private rental sector are much weaker and later than they should have been.
However, the political blame game offers nothing for those currently considering whether they need to put on a third jumper of an evening. The question is what can be done to bring the UK's six million cold homes up to scratch?
The Energy Bill Revolution campaign has a relatively simple answer, designating domestic energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority and providing £3bn over the course of the next parliament on top of the £5bn you could raise by keeping the ECO scheme going would allow the UK to improve two million homes in five years to a Band C energy efficiency rating.
The proposal has significant business backing, not least because savvy executives recognise that money not spend on heat that flows out of single pane windows is spent on the High Street, driving economic growth. They also understand that a healthy workforce is more productive and that energy efficient buildings will help bolster UK energy security and reduce clean energy investment costs. It is no surprise that an analysis of the Energy Bill Revolution proposal suggests it could boost GDP by nearly £14bn by 2030.
And yet this eminently sensible proposal is struggling for traction in Westminster. Labour has revealed a domestic energy efficiency strategy that looks like an encouraging step forward, but is reluctant to endorse anything that smacks of increased Treasury expenditure. The Lib Dems are also likely to propose a beefing up of the ECO and Green Deal schemes, but are yet to back the kind of national retrofit programme that is needed. There is little evidence the Conservatives are planning any move on energy efficiency that extends beyond maintaining the status quo. David Cameron would be delighted if the words fuel poverty are not uttered once throughout the election campaign.
The standard response to proposals to spend taxpayers' cash on tackling fuel poverty is that there is no money. The government can't afford it. You do not need to belittle the debt challenge the UK continues to face, to point out that this is demonstrably untrue. There is infrastructure money available, the question is what do you choose to spend it on. The current government would prefer to prioritise roads at a time when car use appears to have peaked, runways at a time when aviation emissions have to start falling, and big energy projects at a time when reducing energy use offers better returns. It would prefer to throw emergency cash at the NHS rather than tackle one of the root causes of winter health crises. Some MPs would prefer to quietly argue the fuel poor do not deserve government largesse, while voting through much more costly measures designed to reduce energy bills for middle class voters.
There is a relatively simple way to tackle fuel poverty, reduce excess winter deaths, boost the economy, cut carbon emissions, cut the cost of decarbonisation, and improve the lives and health of millions of people. Whether it is short-sightedness, indifference, or incompetence that has stopped the government seizing this opportunity will be sadly irrelevant to the millions of people shivering through this winter.
ABOUT JAMES' BLOG
Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray