Science in Society Archive

Parliament Launch of Which Energy?

I-SIS Energy Report Gets Cross Party Support

Tim Yeo MP Shadow Secretary of State for Public Services, Health and Education, and Chair of cross-party Environmental Audit Committee, welcomes and praises I-SIS Energy Report

I-SIS report leads the way

Welcome to the launch of the Which Energy? report.  It’s good to see so many of you here and I know that a lot of you have come from quite far-flung places around the country so I am grateful for the effort that you made.

This report is extremely stimulating and could hardly be more timely.  I agree with a great deal, although, I have to say, not all of the views expressed in it.  But I shall let other people debate that today.

My committee, The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has also published its own report on most of the same energy issues last month. The conclusions are available on the (EAC) website and worth reading. It was an interesting exercise trying to reconcile the polarised positions of the individual committee members.  We produced a unanimous report after only a moderate amount of agony and we managed to set up some benchmarks by which the Governments own review can be judged and criteria for how choices can be made in the drive for more low carbon electricity generation.

We’re all hanging on the Governments own review. I’m not being partisan here, but I fear that the review seems to have somewhat been pre-empted by the Prime Ministers speech to the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) last week. There is cross party support on that point, I reckon!

However, what everyone does agree on is the importance of the topic.  There can be no solution to threat of Climate Change without big changes in the way we produce and consume energy. 

No doubt about Climate Change

I first became interested in Climate Change in my second stint at the Department of Environment (DOE) as a Minister of State in the early 1990s. And, even then, I suspected that many scientists deliberately underplayed both the scale and the urgency of the threat of Climate Change, for fear of being mocked. They wanted to approach it cautiously because so many people did not believe in the concept at that stage. Today, nobody disputes the fact that climate is changing, and few doubt that the pace of change is much faster than we previously believed. But what we have failed to do is to translate that acceptance of the fact of Climate Change into the actions that will avert the politically catastrophic consequences of Climate Change.

For example, only yesterday the EAC took evidence from the aviation industry, in the context of our enquiry as to how to reduce carbon emissions from transport.  They confirmed that they cannot foresee any time in the next half century when carbon emissions from aviation transport will actually start to fall.  In fact they have projected a continuous rise of emissions over the next 50 years.  No government in the world that I have identified has yet recognised the need to act to check that remorseless growth.

In Europe all we have is a lot of waffle about bringing the aviation industry into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) – a process which will require years of the most tortuous negotiation and unlikely to have any measurable effect on the growth of those emissions for at least a decade.

If you look at road transport, it’s now possible to drive cars whose impact and emissions are only a tiny fraction of those produced by conventional vehicles.   But the incentives that we put up to try to encourage people to do so are so ludicrously timid that the result is that hardly anyone is actually using the vehicles, even with the technology that is available.

Here in Britain we’re building thousands of homes every month whose energy standards are way below those now routinely achieved in other countries. And yet again the Government resolutely blocks any attempts to introduce real incentives for builders, or tenants or homebuyers actually to insist on higher standards.

At least, on the energy front, there is a serious debate now taking place.  I think that there a really big danger, however, and perhaps a danger that the PM is deliberately fanning, that if we make a big decision about nuclear, whatever that decision is, that somehow diverts attention from the far more important areas that we should be examining. Because the box would have been ticked - that we have sorted the energy policy, so we can move on to something else. 

No single solution to Climate Change

That’s why I particularly welcome the ISIS report, which recognises there is no silver bullet, no single solution to the challenge, or how we achieve sustainability in the energy sector. The approach has to be a multifaceted one.

Let me start with one plea, yet again, for even more priority to be given to the purest and most unarguable solution to the energy problem, and that is to use less of it.

Energy efficiency still has an enormous role to play, yet too often it is merely the subject of lip service from politicians, both national and local, businesses and consumers. But even the Climate Change deniers cannot argue against more investment in energy efficiency.

Turning to the report itself, it covers a wide range of subjects, and I welcome that.  It is very rightly hardheaded about biofuels.  And, that itself, is a reminder that in all our efforts to generate more low carbon electricity, we must set prejudice and ideology aside, and concentrate on the hard facts.  Examine the life cycle impact of different forms of electricity generation.

Waste - an unexploited resource

The section on wastes is another very important area with considerable unexploited potential. The EAC visited Sweden last week and saw in Malmo the significant progress being made in biogas vehicle use.

 I particularly welcome the report’s references to food as well. Again, we’re all now paying lip service to the need to source more of what we eat from local producers. But very little tangible action is taken to make that happen.  And, as a direct read across from there to aviation, if you fly food all around the world on the basis that you do not have to meet any of the costs of the environmental damage caused by the flights, then of course, the competitive market place is distorted immediately.

There’s lots and lots of material here and that’s enough from me.

Speech made at Which Energy? Launch Conference, House of Commons, 25 May 2006, transcribed by Sam Burcher

Article first published 14/06/06

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