Kyoto Summit: Prescott paints a greener and more frugal land energy

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The Independent Online
John Prescott told the climate conference that Britain aimed to cut its emissions of global- warming carbon dioxide by a fifth by 2010. In the second of a two-part series, Nicholas Schoon looks at what this would mean for our homes, transport, energy industries and towns.

The biggest changes will be in our homes and ways of travel. Almost all housing will need surgery if the 20-per-cent cut is to be made. Not only double glazing but special low-emissivity glass will have to be installed. Insulating foam will be pumped between the internal and external walls of the 9 million homes which have cavity external walls - today this insulation is a rarity. Houses with central heating will have to have more efficient, and expensive, gas-condensing boilers and electronic controls.

Tougher standards will also be set for electrical appliances, with the biggest carbon-dioxide savings coming from replacing refrigerators and freezers with more frugal models. The Government's Energy Saving Trust has drawn up a programme for households which would go a fifth of the way towards making the 20-per-cent cut. An extra pounds 70m a year would have to be pumped in, as Government grants or by a 2-per-cent levy on household fuel bills.

Road traffic accounts for 22 per cent of UK carbon dioxide emissions and is rising. The White Paper on an integrated transport policy, due soon, will show how serious ministers are about making the 20-per-cent cut. As well as raising petrol and diesel duties, there will need to be a package of measures including such things as road tolling or restrictions on road space for private cars, taxes on office-car parking and final elimination of the company-car perk. Fuel-thrifty cars will need cheaper tax discs than gas guzzlers and there needs to be an incentive for scrapping old, highly polluting cars. Together, such measures would encourage the manufacturers to develop and market much more fuel-efficient cars, and people to walk or use bicycles for shorter journeys.

The electricity and gas industries industries will have to change too, with the Government continuing to encourage non-polluting sources such as wind power. Already these renewable sources provide electricity equivalent to one big coal-fired power station, but that will have to more than double. Regulation of the gas and electricity industries also has to be reformed: the requirement is for less emphasis on driving down prices and more on incentivising businesses and homes to install energy-saving equipment. Better terms are needed for mini-electricity generators who make cleaner, greener power and sell some of it into the grid.

In planning, there will have to be more restrictions on sprawling out- of-town and edge-of-town development of homes, offices, shops, leisure facilities and factories; these are hard to serve by public transport and encourage longer car journeys. If the Government moves ahead with the programme needed to make the 20-per-cent cut it will face opposition and controversy.

But there will be winners as well as losers; it could help Britain gain new export markets for energy-saving technologies and create more jobs than it destroys. It will take two Parliaments to implement the programme, with an immediate start. The greatest challenge it faces is to keep the public's trust and support for the duration.

Sources of uk carbon dioxide

Power stations - 30 per cent.

Home heating - 15 per cent.

Commercial and public services - 6 per cent.

Oil refineries, iron and steel - 9 per cent

Other industry - 15 per cent.

Road transport - 22 per cent..

Others (eg aircraft, railways, shipping) - 3 per cent.

(In 1995, Britain's CO2 emissions totalled 543m tonnes.)

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