Miliband's manifesto to make Britain a low-carbon economy

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The national strategy to cut emissions published yesterday comes at a price. But are we willing to pay it?

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Thousands more wind turbines, millions of "smart" electricity meters for homes and new cars emitting 40 per cent less pollution than they do now all are on the way in the next decade under ambitious plans to slash CO2 emissions from every sector of the economy.

They form part of the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, a national government strategy for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change, which was launched by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, yesterday.

Although the detail may sound familiar – many of these projects are already on the drawing board – it is the bringing them together into an all-inclusive society-wide plan which is new, as the Government faces up to its legally-binding target of cutting UK carbon emissions to 34 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Under last year's Climate Change Act, ministers have bound themselves to hit the target with a system of rolling five-year "carbon budgets", and the strategy shows in detail for the first time how they intend to do this.

Its central component is a seven-fold increase – in just a decade – in the amount of Britain's energy for power generation, transport and home heating supplied from renewable sources such as wind, wave and solar power (from just over 2 per cent to 15 per cent).

This leap will mean that by 2020 about 30 per cent of electricity alone will come from renewables (up from 5.5 per cent today) and this huge expansion will derive principally from much more wind power. Although no precise figure was given yesterday, this will involve, Mr Miliband said, "thousands" of new wind turbines, both onshore and offshore (one current estimate is about 7,000).

By the 2020 date another 10 per cent of electricity will come from non-renewable low-carbon energy sources, principally the new nuclear power stations whose construction the Government is backing, and the infant technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which takes the CO2 emissions from power stations and buries them underground. Demonstration power plants fitted with CCS should be coming onstream by 2020.

The Government accepts that low-carbon energy will be more expensive for consumers and yesterday gave two sets of estimated increases on power bills. Just paying for the new system might add £77 to electricity and £172 to gas bills each year but when all climate change measures are taken into account – such as home insulation which will save consumers money – the total addition is likely to be between £75 and £92 by 2020, the Government said. On the other hand, the White Paper foresees a substantial increase in employment from the changes, with as many as 400,000 new green jobs being created.

The Low Carbon Transition Plan: Major cuts in five sectors of society

Energy Generation (responsible for 35 per cent of UK emissions)

The plan envisages 40 per cent of UK electricity coming from low-carbon sources by 2020 – 30 per cent from renewable energy sources and 10 per cent from nuclear and clean coal. Later this year there will be a national Policy Statement on Nuclear Power which will assess potential sites for new atomic power stations. The Government has already said that any new coal-fired power stations will have to be fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage technology. Later this year plans will be published for a "smart" version of the National Grid which will be more flexible.

Workplaces: Industry and Business (20 per cent of emissions)

High-carbon industries will be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme which will save around 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2020. There will be financial incentives to save energy and invest in low-carbon technologies. The Government will seek to boost green industries with £405m for new technologies, up to £120m of investment in offshore wind, and £60m for marine energy and to help develop the South-west as the UK's first Low Carbon Economic Area.

Homes and Communities (13 per cent of emissions)

Emissions will be cut from homes by 29 per cent on 2020 levels by much greater energy efficiency achieved through the wider use of insulation. Smart meters, which enable people to understand exactly how much energy they are using in real time, and maximise their energy saving opportunities, will be rolled out to every home – 26 million – by 2020. The obligation on energy suppliers to help households save energy will be extended. From 2016 all new homes will have to be zero-carbon and rental properties may have to have Energy Performance Certificates.

Farming, Land Use and Waste (11 per cent of emissions)

Farmers will be encouraged to cut emissions by 6 per cent by 2020 through more efficient use of fertiliser and better management of livestock and manure. Although the UK now recycles or composts a third of its waste, more must be done. There will be support for anaerobic digestion (a technology which turns waste and manure into renewable energy) and there will be a push to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, and also for better capture of landfill emissions.

Transport (20 per cent of emissions)

By 2020 transport emissions will be cut by 14 per cent on 2008 levels, and the first step will be to improve the fuel efficiency of conventional vehicles : C02 emissions from new cars will have to fall by 40 per on current levels across the EU by 2015, to 95 grams per kilometre. British government vehicles will comply with this by 2011. £30m will be invested to deliver several hundred low-carbon buses and there will be more support for new technology for low-carbon cars. £140m is being invested to promote cycling and £5m is being spent on new cycle storage at rail stations.

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