After six weeks of rising fuel bills topping the headlines, this month saw the UK government finally announce its new policy on the future of ‘green taxes’ from energy bills and policy on energy more generally. Industry responses ranged from worry about mixed messages to ‘extreme disappointment’. Concerns about food banks continued while the government met forecasts of economic growth with continued cuts to public spending, saying the ‘hard work was paying off’.
We were heartened and inspired by Right Livelihood Award-winner Vandana Shiva’s explanation of why judging progress by growth (GDP) is misleading, and even dangerous. You can watch her lecture from the Festival of Dangerous Ideas here.
And we like Friends of the Earth’s new blog ‘Transforming the Treasury‘:
“Is the only goal of environmental policy to facilitate long-term GDP growth? Is a healthy environment not desirable in itself?Is the only goal of education policy to maximise the contribution of students to marketable production? Are well-rounded and skilled pupils not an end in themselves?” …follow the blog and join the debate about growth, other values to orientate governance towards, and ensuring viable, decent livelihoods for all.
The Autumn Statement, as expected, cut energy bills by cutting the programme to insulate poorer homes, the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), that comes directly out of fuel bills. Critics wrung their hands in despair at the lost opportunity for maintaining and improving ECO to alleviate fuel poverty, reduce emissions and create up to 200,000 jobs. In an effort to show a continuing commitment to tackle fuel poverty, other schemes were announced that will continue to enable retrofitting some of the poorest homes, but these were criticised as being largely a recycling and rebranding of existing programmes.
The UK Green Building Council were glad for the ‘sugar coating’ of stamp duty rebate and support for landlords to improve the least efficient properties, but were ‘extremely disappointed’ by a 33% cut in the Carbon Saving Obligation. They criticised the ‘pitifully low targets’ such as those for solid wall insulation that aim for only 31% of 2012’s installation levels, and declared the announcement to be ‘clearly a step backwards for domestic energy efficiency’. The impact on installation numbers and jobs remains to be seen.
Fracking subsidies, renewables and the risk of mixed messages
The Autumn statement also announced changes to renewables funding, including a cut in subsidies for onshore wind and solar and a slight rise for offshore wind farms. The government was criticised for ‘responding to UKIP’ and the supposed unpopularity of onshore wind at the expense of developing the UK’s cheapest available renewable. Offshore benefited most from the rejigged subsidies, but some analysts thought the overall effect balanced disappointments in lower-than-expected investments to the sector.
The bigger criticism was the effect of changing policy on everything that requires predictability – namely investments and job creation. Continuing the ‘mixed messages’ trend, the OECD’s Green Growth unit head warned about the inevitable disruptions to investment and employment when there is a ‘big disconnect’ in policy. George Osbourne claimed ‘going green needn’t cost the earth’ as he announced the Autumn Statement. At the same time he confirmed tax breaks for shale gas extraction as a way to reduce energy costs, despite profound uncertainty about gas prices going down from the technology, and the risk of emissions soaring
Joined up thinking for distributed local energy
On a happier note, there were some good ‘connects’ this month. The Micropower Council, the green trade association for microgeneration, has renamed itself the Sustainable Energy Association to reflect its increasingly linked-up approach to microgeneration, insulation and other local distributed energy technologies in the built environment. Climate Change Minister Greg Barker celebrated the move, saying “it fits exactly with my vision of a much more distributed and dynamic energy sector, a sector dominated not by the Big 6 but the Big 60,000.” We couldn’t agree more.
“After graduating and after getting over the initial ‘yuck, rubbish’ factor, I was grateful I worked in recycling. Why? Well, many of my fellow students ended up in a variety of green sectors, mostly things like conservation and climate change, where there was little or no discernible progress. Meanwhile, I had a lovely little tonnage graph on the wall at the council I worked at that, as services were introduced, rolled out and refined, made steady upward progress. There you go – increasing environmental benefit, clearly shown in excel form. You couldn’t get much more satisfying than that.”
Mike at our member organisation London Community Recycling Network goes on to express concern about policy changes in the waste sector. Join the debate on the LCRN website or on twitter @lcrnnew or @ReallianceEmma, and connect up your workplace with their waste management trainings coming up next month.
We like REalliance and LCRN’s decision to draft their own Waste Prevention Plan – in the spirit of just doing stuff. Join the discussion #wikiwasteplan.
Green Jobs in London and Beyond – Building Up From Here
We want your input for the next steps for the East London Green Jobs Alliance:
▪ Where are there opportunities for creating and brokering green jobs at the moment?
▪ How can we proactively and positively address the challenges?
▪ What more can we do to engage with employers and training providers?
▪ How can we best work to get a joined-up approach to sustainability and job-creation higher on the agenda of local councils and central government?
▪ Looking back at the aims of the ELGJ Alliance – what have we achieved and what do we still need to do? What’s the future for the alliance and who’s able to do what?
Come join us 2.30-4.30 on Tuesday 4th February to talk it out and get planning next steps.
Please RSVP before 10 January and we’ll confirm the Hackney venue…
If you can’t come but want to offer ideas, time or energy, please get in touch email@example.com.
Otesha is hiring! If you missed the news last month – we’re after a new Green Jobs Co-director to join our team. Applications for this awesome post are accepted until 5th January so spread the word or get in touch!
Groundwork has opportunities coming up for ‘Green Doctors’ to help people reduce their energy use at home. If you’re an accredited domestic energy assessor check it out.
If you like the sound of that but don’t have the training, you can enrol on a free training course as a domestic energy assessor and Green Deal Assessor! January 16-18, 23-25, 30-31 and February 6-7 in Manor House
Want to start a small food business but don’t know where to begin? A good cook but not sure how to turn your skills into a product or business? Join Made in Hackney’s intensive weekend course in making to sell and get support, inspiration and lessons from those who’ve walked the path before!
Interested in low impact building? Hackney City Farm is running a one-day practical session on preparing to build with straw bales.
Start the year learning about trees, heritage and ecology! The Tree Musketeers annual New Year’s Day tree walk at Abney Park Cemetery could start you as you mean to go on!
Wishing you a happy holiday season and green and gorgeous 2014.
Be warm and well, and stay in touch