July 2022 has seen high temperatures that climate scientists predicted for 2050 – both this and the images of housing burning as a result is terrifying. The Met Office has estimated that this kind of extreme here is ten times more likely now because of climate change.
Not only have we seen the dramatic effects of the climate crisis on our doorstep, but in the same week the High Court has ruled that the UK’s plan to tackle this emergency is unlawful. Greg Hands, minister for business, energy and industrial strategy approved the government’s climate change strategy, despite not having the information needed to inform these plans. The UK’s commitment to net-zero is legally binding, and therefore detailed policies about how we will reduce our carbon emissions are also a legal requirement.
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In light of this, here’s just five policies that we need right now to help tackle the climate crisis:
1. Reinstate the feed-in tariff for solar panels
Solar is one of the best sources of renewable energy, and we have an abundance of roofs to install it on. However, anyone who’s installed solar panels in recent years will be selling energy back to the grid at a seventh of its actual value – aka they’re being ripped off and this isn’t making residential solar an appealing investment. Some homeowners could install solar that produces more energy than they need, and sell it back to the grid.
Typical rates offered by energy companies are around 4p/kilowatt hour (kWh), even though the retail price of energy is around 28p/kWh. The lowest export tariff rate on the UK market is just 1.5p/kWh. So when they find out how ineffective this would be, they don’t bother. Leading energy experts say that fairer pay outs could see a much faster greening of the grid.
2. Regulate carbon off-setting
A lot more companies have recently been claiming they’re ‘carbon neutral’ – instead of reducing all their carbon emissions, they will pay for some sort of project that takes carbon out of the atmosphere somewhere else. However, there is very little by way of regulation checking whether they’re actually offsetting their CO2 emissions at all. You can very easily pay £2 per tonne of CO2, with little credibility for how much carbon is actually being absorbed. This is in comparison to much higher prices for carbon offsetting with more scrupulous rules, at over £100 per tonne.
This is leading to greenwashing by many large, high profile companies, but offsetting is also creating a dangerous distraction from the carbon reduction that we need to slow down global warming. This is an area the government isn’t particularly interested in regulating, so we will only see more and more companies using poor offsetting schemes as a way of paying their way out of the problem.
3. Ban Banks from funding the Fossil Fuel Industry
This policy is more of a pipedream, because it is unlikely the government will ever try and regulate the financial sector in this way. However, regardless of all the other policies combined, climate change cannot be tackled without moving away from the production of oil and gas. Last year, Barclays Bank financed $5.6bn (£4.1bn) in new fossil fuel projects, ranked ahead of HSBC ($5.3bn) and Standard Chartered ($4.3bn).
But if the government does want somewhere to start on this, it would be to stop talking about new coal mines in the UK.
And if you would like to make an impact, moving your own money away from fossil fuel investing banks is one of the best ways individuals can make a difference.
4. Re-nationalise public transport and make it affordable
Transport makes up 27% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, emitting 122 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from domestic transport in 2019, with another 37 millions tonnes from international aviation emissions too. The government website itself talks about how a petrol car journey from London to Glasgow emits approximately 3.3 times more CO2e per passenger than the equivalent journey by train, and yet we are still seeing investment in our road networks and bus services being cut. The UK could take a leaf out of Germany’s book, and offer monthly rail travel for €9 instead of £1000’s being spent on season tickets in the UK.
5. Fund local councils properly to tackle the climate crisis
Investing more in local councils to tackle the climate crisis on a local level will bring massive benefits across the board. Local councils are uniquely situated to bring the co-benefits of climate change policies (such as lower costs, improved wellbeing, access to green spaces, energy autonomy, etc) to the people who need it the most. At the moment, councils aren’t required to report on their own carbon emissions, those in their wider area, or what they’re doing to reduce them – making it incredibly hard for climate projects to be funded out of already tight budgets.
All these can only be done with ‘big’ government, with regulation and with investment. This is not something the private sector is going to step up and take on – we can see from the offsetting issue that they cannot be trusted to do it properly. The banks will talk about the environment while funding its demise, and the government will set targets whilst writing policy that heads in the opposite direction.
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