It’s not been the best week for progress on sustainability. While the world’s political leaders meeting at the G20 in Cannes were focused on fixing the increasingly fragile global economic system, the US Department of Energy revealed that global carbon dioxide emissions increased by a “monster” six per cent last year.
While China and the US are the source of much of the increase, the European Environment Agency reported last month that Europe’s emissions rose by 2.4% in 2010.
Given that a proportion of China’s emissions come from manufacturing goods for export to Europe, the overall picture is not looking good.
Meanwhile at a national level, the UK Government’s announcd proposals for major changes to the Feed in Tariff, cutting the incentives available for people wanting to install solar PV electricity. The funding had been a key trigger for community schemes aiming to increase the take up of renewable energy and cut carbon emissions, including here in Bristol, but as proposed, the changes could have “devastating effects”, leave solar firms facing bankruptcy and affect 25,000 jobs.
Local initiatives on climate change appear to be suffering more generally as a result of the government’s austerity measures, combined with the new localism agenda. A Green Alliance report found that 37% of local authorities were deprioritising their commitment to climate change (or did not have a commitment in the first place).
A further 28% were reducing their commitment, often focusing just on cutting emissions, rather than a wider environmental agenda.
One officer reported: “the sustainability function within my local authority has been deleted and the climate change function has been discontinued”.
Better news is that 35% of local authorities remain firmly committed and think that they may do more as a result of the government’s localism agenda, with Local Enterprise Partnerships, such as the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, and Neighbourhood Partnerships flagged up as potential opportunities.
In the same week that the Energy Minister Greg Barker announced his proposals to slash the solar panel incentive, he instructed the government’s Committee on Climate Change to investigate the role councils can play in cutting carbon emissions.
David Kennedy, chief executive of the CCC, said the report was likely to recommend some form of carbon targets for councils, but targets alone were unlikely to deliver deep cuts in emissions.
Local action is of course key to bringing down global carbon levels – but if we are going to make progress at the global level, local and national policies need to work together and encourage individuals, business and local authorities to move to a sustainable future.