Labour backbencher Alan Simpson MP yesterday called for greater adoption of green microgeneration technologies and urged the government to "catch up with the rest of society" on green issues, and in the meantime "make sure we are not in the way".
Speaking at an event at Portcullis House organised by environmental charity Global Action Plan, the outspoken MP claimed that national governments were guilty of inactivity in their the face of climate change and that "by far the most exciting ideas [for tackling the problem] are coming from outside government".
Simpson, who recently refurbished his own home with solar panels to turn it into a net energy producer, said this lack of urgency was typified by the UK government's failure to encourage wider adoption of energy microgeneration technologies.
He observed that while local councils such as Merton in South London had introduced legislation demanding that all new developments must generate 10 percent of their required energy from onsite renewable sources, some in Whitehall are unconvinced that energy and building legislation should be integrated and are opposing more widespread adoption of such regulations.
"I've had quite heated conversations with civil servants who say that "buildings are buildings and energy is for the energy sector"," he admitted. "If it was 100 years ago they would be the ones opposing toilets being put in houses, saying "buildings are buildings and toilets are for the sanitation department"."
Simpson argued that greater support for on-site energy generation - such as that found in Germany where the government introduced energy reforms that guarantee an above market price for renewable power that householders sell back to the grid – would deliver multiple environmental benefits by helping people see the connection between their activities and energy use, and creating "aspirational" targets that will help reduce carbon emissions.
He also argued that with many successful onsite renewable technologies already available the government should not be daunted by the task of supporting the transition towards more low carbon energy. "We don't need to reinvent the wheel," he said. "We just need to pinch ideas that people are already working on."
Meanwhile, Global Action Plan's director Trewin Restorick urged the government and the whole green business movement to be more honest about some of the changes that will be necessary to move to a low carbon economy. "There are undoubtedly benefits to be had from this transition, but while there will be winners we have to recognise there will also be losers and certain sectors of society will have to make big changes," he said. "There is a moral obligation to be honest about this, because if we are not people will begin to disbelieve us."
Restorick also praised the business community for taking a leadership position in tackling climate change, but warned that they were now entering a "dangerous phase" when they had to back up their environmental plans with quantifiable actions.
He added that it was now essential that businesses proved their green strategies had integrity, because there are "many journalists dying to uncover problems [with green business initiatives]" and too many high profile scandals would threaten to undermine the whole green business movement.
"PR departments want to jump on green initiatives and say the business is carbon neutral," he warned. "But often what they mean is offsetting, and in some cases offsetting with schemes that are not that scientifically sound."
He also urged firms to carry out thorough research before adopting any green business initiative. "One major firm we spoke too had moved its whole fleet over to hybrid cars and a few months later found emissions had soared," he said. "The problem was most of the staff were driving on motorways and the company had got rid of efficient diesel cars and replaced them with hybrids that are great in cities but less good on motorways."
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