We need to localise the benefits of going low-carbon

At the moment 68 per cent of the UK’s nuclear and 50 per cent of our offshore wind is owned by foreign state-backed companies

 

In December the world’s focus will turn to Paris where world leaders will attempt to reach a global deal to tackle climate change for the first time since 2009. The mandate for the UK government to take a lead at these Paris talks is clear. 88 per cent of the public here agree that climate change is a problem and most support strong action to address it.

This does appear to be reflected by the top-level consensus to act that exists among the leaders of the main political parties. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg signed a joint agreement in February to continue the effort to cut carbon pollution in Britain.

The challenge for the UK will be doing this whilst also improving living standards. Research from IPPR has set out recommendations for achieving this and they have been echoed, to a greater or lesser extent, across the political manifestos.

Examining these documents, it is possible to see where the parties differ. Energy efficiency is a Cinderella issue –it could deliver huge social and welfare benefits by improving people’s homes and reducing energy bills, but it does not receive the political support that shiny new power stations get. Unfortunately the current energy policy package has not delivered as hoped, particularly for the low-income groups that are most severely affected by leaky homes and high energy bills.

To fix the problems IPPR proposed a programme for delivering home improvements at a local level using money that would otherwise have been directed at the big six energy companies. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have now set out comprehensive plans for energy efficiency that draw heavily on our proposals.

At present, the funding that is available for reducing carbon pollution is heavily focused on supporting large-scale technologies like offshore wind and nuclear power stations. These technologies are very important but they are largely foreign-owned, meaning that too much bill-payers money is leaving the country and not enough is being done to maximise the industrial benefits to the UK of going low-carbon. 68 per cent of the UK’s nuclear and 50 per cent of our offshore wind is owned by foreign state-backed companies.

Smaller-scale technologies like onshore wind and solar panels are cheaper but also enable more of the benefits of the subsidies they receive to stay in the UK and to boost our economy. Increased support for scaling up the use of these smaller scale technologies would mean increased economic benefits for the people who are paying in the subsidies.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto includes financial and regulatory support for community energy, which is important for delivering these small-scale technologies and is bolstered by their support, along with Labour, for a legally-binding goal of making the power sector virtually carbon-free by 2030. In contrast, the Conservatives have said they would stop the development of onshore wind and UKIP argue for the withdrawal of all subsidies for wind and solar energy.

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have jointly agreed that coal use should be phased out. IPPR recently set out detailed policy proposals for how to do this in an affordable manner using the same sort of power station pollution controls President Obama just introduced in the United States. The Liberal Democrat manifesto adopts this plan, but neither Labour nor the Conservatives have yet set out how they would ensure that too much coal use doesn’t make meeting their climate promises impossible.

At the rhetorical level, there is a cross-party support to tackle climate change. However, the extent of ambitions from the parties is very varied so on climate change, as with other policy areas, there is a real choice before the voters this week.

Clare Linton is a researcher at IPPR. Follow her on Twitter

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