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Why WWF is fired up about energy

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The government will soon publish its long-awaited Energy Bill. As we wait to see the detail, the debate around energy gets more heated. To many people the biggest concern about energy is the cost of their fuel bills, and a lot of other aspects of the energy debate can seem unclear or confusing. So it’s worth taking a step back to look at what’s so important about the Energy Bill, and exactly why WWF is working so hard to influence it.

This is the biggest shake-up the energy market will see for a generation – the most significant change to the way energy is produced and used in the UK.

Storm clouds gathering over Amazonas, BrazilA warming planet is changing weather patterns – leading to more storms and freak weather. © Edward Parker / WWF-Canon

Our main worry about energy is in relation to the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use and the environmental damage done by the resulting climate change. A warming planet will change weather patterns, water supplies and habitats for countless people and wildlife species – often in already-vulnerable areas. That’s something we all need to be concerned about.

Almost four years ago exactly, the UK passed the landmark Climate Change Act, with cross-party support – the first legislation of its kind in the world. Under the act, the UK is legally committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels), in order to keep global warming within ‘safe’ levels – meaning a temperature rise of less than 2°C.

The 2008 act also created the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC), whose role is to prepare carbon budgets, and advise the UK government on the level of emissions that need to be cut in each sector of the economy by a particular date.

The CCC’s most recent budget, its fourth, said that in order to hit our climate change targets, our power generation sector (which represents around 25% of UK carbon emissions today) would need to be “near-decarbonised” by 2030.

At the moment the UK power sector emits around 500g of carbon dioxide per unit of electricity produced (kilowatt hour, kWh), and the CCC argues this needs to go down to just 50g per kWh by 2030. A 90% reduction.

Thermal photo of a power plantFrom 500g to 50g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour – this is the target set for electricity generation by 2030. © National Geographic Stock / Tyrone Turner / WWF

The CCC said this partly because the power sector represents a lot of emissions in its own right, and also because, if we’re going to cut emissions in other sectors of the economy like transport and heating (currently very reliant on oil and gas), we’ll need more of these sectors to run on electricity – electricity from low-carbon, renewable sources.

Which brings us to the upcoming Energy Bill. There’s a number of things we want to see in the bill, including a clear target for decarbonising the power sector, measures to support energy efficiency and robust, long-term support mechanisms for renewable forms of energy.

We believe it’s essential to have a decarbonisation target for the power sector – a specific target to reduce emissions to around 50g of carbon dioxide per kWh by 2030. Partly because the 2050 Climate Change Act target is still a relatively long way off, but also because businesses and investors in renewable energy need more policy certainty now. A clear, more imminent target shows that the government is committed to cleaner, greener forms of energy.

We’ve made some progress towards getting a target agreed. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and some prominent Conservatives like Tim Yeo, chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, are all backing one. Although of course the devil may be in the detail.

Wind turbine at a wind farm, Castilla-La Mancha in SpainReducing the amount of carbon produced by power generation isn’t just about renewables – it’s about efficiency as well. © Carlos G. Vallecillo / WWF-Canon

Energy efficiency is something that’s not currently addressed in the bill, even though a recent report by WWF and Green Alliance showed that effective measures to reduce electricity use could save the UK more than £10 billion per year by creating a ‘market’ for electricity savings. The report was widely well received, with energy minister Greg Barker commenting that it was ‘excellent’.

We also recently published a report called ‘On Picking Winners’, written by Dr Rob Gross of Imperial College London, which highlights the need for targeted policies to support different forms of renewable energy. These are forms of financial support, known by acronyms like ROCs (renewables obligations certificates) for wind power and FiTs (feed-in tariffs) for solar power, which again help boost certainty for businesses and investors and drive down the costs of renewable energy technologies.

Lastly, there’s gas. We’re concerned about what role the government sees for gas in the UK’s energy mix. When the Energy Bill is published next month the treasury will also publish a ‘gas strategy’, which seems likely to reflect the ambition of the chancellor George Osborne to turn the UK into a ‘gas hub’.

Mr Osborne maintains that “gas is cheap”, despite the fact that the wholesale price of gas has been the main factor driving up people’s bills over recent years. Although we do see a role for gas within the energy mix, importantly in providing backup for renewable sources of energy, it’s still a fossil fuel. If we have too much gas in our energy mix we’ll be at serious risk of missing our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

So there’s a lot of work to do, but supporting the move to clean, renewable sources of energy is one of our main priorities at WWF, both here in the UK and around the world.

And we’ll be needing your help to make sure it happens. So watch this space…

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  • brian_riches

    I am one of your “members”. I’d like to make it very clear to you that unless you put many of your “environmental” policies on hold for the foreseeable future, I won’t be.

    In the run-up to Christmas, what do I see? You delivering petitions to the Prime Minister about “green”, “environmental”, “climate change”, “renewable energy” policies signed by 40,000 people. I have a “suggestion” for you from the point of view of a pensioner.

    Get your 40,000 petition-signers to dig their hands into their undoubtedly deep, money-filled pockets and come up with about £1,000 each. Then I’ll gladly see you get £40 million worth of “policies”. When that’s spent, they can all dig in their pockets again and come up with another £1,000 each. And so on.

    You may not have noticed but the British economy is in a parlous state. For me, that means hard choices between food, heat and getting to a shop where I can buy food. And the prices of everything increasing. So, at the bottom line, I am choosing between life and death. Not being able to get to a shop, freezing or starving is in prospect.

    Strangely, all your “green”, “environmental”, “climate change” and “renewable energy” priorities seem to cost me money. Money that I don’t have.

    You need to get into the real world and recognise that “people”, particularly those on a fixed income, can’t afford what you’d like. You need to do what the rest of us are having to do. You can either WAIT or GO WITHOUT.

    I shall be watching carefully. I expect you to take account of the current needs of people. I’d like to see you tell the Prime Minister that you understand that “the people” cannot currently afford what you want and that you, and your associated charities, withdraw your poorly-timed, inconsiderate and thoughtless “petitions”.

    The money that I give you on a regular basis may not be much by your standards. But I take the view that my money is helping to support you in these ridiculous demands. In that case, the money is better in my pocket than in yours. I shall look again at your activities and attitudes in the New Year, if I survive.

    Do you want to see the early months of 2013 marked by the cessation of my contributions?
    Be intelligent, reasonable, sensible and grow up. This is the only advice I will give. My next action, if required, will be the cessation of contributions. And NO response at any attempts at contact. It will only take me a couple of minutes at most.

    • http://www.wwf.org.uk/ Adam WWF Supporter Care

      ‘Dear Mr Riches

      Thank you for your comments. We are sorry to hear of your situation. With regards to energy bills in particular – the cost of heat and electricity has been rising for a number of years with much of this being due to increasing gas prices. For example between 2004 and 2010 the average UK consumer bill for heat and electricity rose from £605 to £1060. Of this £455 rise, £290 was due to the rise in the price of gas (with only £30 linked to supporting low-carbon energy generation).

      I don’t know if you are aware but today nearly half of the UK’s electricity is produced from gas power stations and 80% of our homes use gas for heating and that according to the Government the price of gas is likely to continue to rise over the decade. We therefore consider that increasing the amount of energy that is generated from renewable sources and reducing the amount of gas we use makes sense not just from the perspective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling climate change but also in terms of helping to expand our energy sources and making us less dependent on increasingly pricey gas. However, we do appreciate that such investment will of course cost money and that bills will be affected as a result. This is why we also place equal importance on reducing demand for energy by working with government to help them develop policies which for example will make it easier and cheaper for people to insulate their homes.

      We’ve had a look on our supporter database, but can’t seem to find you under this name or email address – are you a supporter of WWF under a different name or email address? Do get in contact with our Supporter Care team at supportercare@wwf.org.uk. We will be happy to talk further with you about why we believe it’s important for the future of our natural world that we end our reliance on fossil fuels and move to renewable energy.

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