Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ninth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

Lack of 'joined-up Government'

1.  We acknowledge that the Government has undertaken a number of important initiatives at both a domestic and international level to respond to climate change, but we are frustrated by the absence of a clear central direction to the Government's work on climate change. Given the strength of scientific evidence which suggests that the situation is even more urgent than anticipated, we recommend that a Minister for Climate Change or a Cabinet Committee on Climate Change chaired by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs be appointed, with sole responsibility for focusing and coordinating the actions of Government Departments to ensure that the UK's domestic and international targets are met. It is imperative that tackling climate change be put at the very heart of Government. (Paragraph 34)

2.  In our report on Defra's 2004 Departmental Annual Report, we recorded our concern that Defra does not yet have sufficient 'clout' to be taken seriously by other Government Departments in framing their key policy decisions. The findings of this report do not persuade us otherwise. (Paragraph 35)

3.  We are encouraged that the Public Service Agreement target on greenhouse gas emission reductions is now shared by the Department for Transport as well as Defra and the Department of Trade and Industry. However, we strongly recommend that the review of the UK Climate Change Programme does not lead to a reduction in the target for greenhouse gas emission reduction in Defra's existing PSA target. (Paragraph 37)

Road transport

4.  Road transport has a significant impact on climate change. Emissions from road transport must be made a priority in the UK's climate change mitigation strategy. We recommend that the Government re-examine the effect of its current fiscal measures, such as differentials in Vehicle Excise Duty, with a view to making them more effective in promoting the purchasing of low-carbon cars. We regard the recent announcement in the Budget of a £5 increase in Vehicle Excise Duty for the two most polluting bands as no more than a token gesture. At a European level we also recommend that discussions are held to examine what economic measures might be developed to require vehicle manufacturers to speed up the development of low carbon vehicles. (Paragraph 41)

5.  We welcome the Government's decision to focus its new vehicle technology programmes more on climate change. We do not believe, however, that it was helpful to cancel existing programmes rather than add to them, and urge that the Government publish details of any successor schemes urgently. We also recommend that the Government ensure that any hiatus between abolition of the Powershift programme and other low-carbon vehicle programmes and the implementation of their replacements is avoided. (Paragraph 43)


We believe that biofuels can be a useful a tool in the mitigation of increasing greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Accordingly, we welcome Defra's decision to rectify the omission of biofuels from the Climate Change Programme as part of the climate change review, and recommend that the Government take this opportunity to adopt policy measures to increase biofuel production and use within the UK. However, we regret that so far, in spite of a 20 pence per litre duty derogation first announced in the 2002 Budget, there has been very little UK biodiesel produced and no home-based bioethanol plant established. We note the apparent difference between Defra's enthusiasm for biofuel crops and the Treasury's reluctance to fully engage in this issue, and call upon the Government to re-examine its approach to its use of fiscal incentives in this area in order properly to kick-start the development of a UK biofuels industry. (Paragraph 47)


7.  Aviation has a significant impact on climate change, which is likely to increase with the projected growth in the industry unless alleviation measures are implemented. It is therefore vital that aviation be included in climate change mitigation strategies at both a national and international level. Depressing demand for air travel is possible in the short-term, but may prove difficult to maintain over time. We applaud the proposal to include aviation within the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), but we are concerned by the length of time seemingly required to achieve implementation. We recommend the Government use whatever means necessary to ensure inclusion within the scheme by the start of the second phase of the ETS in 2008. We welcome the commitment in the new Sustainable Development White Paper Securing the Future on this. (Paragraph 57)

8.  We also recognise, however, that there is a limit to what can be achieved in the short to medium term by the inclusion of aviation within the emissions trading scheme, due to the long asset lifetime of aircraft. We therefore additionally recommend that the Government work with the EU and other partners to encourage the uptake of new technologies and 'fast-tracking' their development, in addition to adopting fiscal measures to reduce demand. We also recommend that discussions are held at an EU level with the aircraft and aero-engine manufacturers and the airlines to examine ways in which the development and introduction of more fuel efficient aircraft can be accelerated. (Paragraph 58)

9.  In addition to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the fast-tracking of technological development, referred to in paragraphs 57 and 58, we also recommend that the Government evaluate the effects of an aviation fuel tax and a system of capping the overall carbon emissions associated with aviation and airport-related activity as part of determining what would be the most effective package of fiscal measures to contribute to an overall reduction in emissions from aviation. (Paragraph 59)

Renewables and the Renewables Obligation

10.  We are concerned that alternative renewable technologies such as wave, tidal and solar power are currently believed to be commercially non-viable for many years. In order to achieve its targets on renewable power generation, it is imperative that the Government urges the development of a suite of technologies rather then relying solely on onshore windfarms, although these have a valuable role to play as part of a suite of renewable energy sources. Accordingly, we recommend that the Government comes forward with programmes to promote the rapid mainstream development and use of new renewable energy technologies, particularly biofuels, biomass and solar, wave and tidal power. (Paragraph 75)

11.  We are concerned that any gains made in the proportion of the energy supply generated by renewable technologies may be cancelled out by the declining proportion of energy production from nuclear sources. Renewables are predicted to supply some 9.9% of the UK's energy by 2010, but the proportion of electricity from nuclear sources is predicted to fall from 24% in 2004 to 7% over the next fifteen years. We are concerned that the current rate of increase in renewable energy may not be sufficient to compensate for decline in electricity from nuclear sources, resulting in an increased dependence on fossil fuels. Therefore it is essential to accelerate the increase in sustainable energy and energy efficiency measures. (Paragraph 76)

12.  The contradiction between the new business rates introduced by HM Treasury and the Renewables Obligation, the aim of which is to mitigate climate change, is a clear example of the lack of 'joined-up' Government. Given the urgency for action underlined by the climate change conference in Exeter, it is essential that all relevant departments reaffirm the Governments commitment to the Renewables Obligation and renewables targets to inspire investor confidence. (Paragraph 78)

Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

13.  We are concerned that the Government is not doing enough to enable Combined Heat and Power (CHP) to achieve its national uptake targets, particularly given the gains in carbon reductions that can be achieved through this—already commercially available—technology. We commend the announcement in the Budget of a reduced rate for the installation of micro-CHP. We recommend that the Government, in its response to our report, detail the actions which it will now be pursuing to address the current deficit in CHP generation. (Paragraph 85)

Nuclear power

14.  It is clear that there are concerns regarding the economic viability and environmental impact of nuclear energy generation. The Government must make clear the role it believes nuclear power could or should play in achieving the carbon reduction targets set out in the UK Climate Change Programme. The Government should at the same time publish a candid assessment of the prospects for nuclear fusion technology contributing to the generation of domestic electricity within the next twenty years. Details of the level of investment thus far made in the development of this technology should also be made available. (Paragraph 92)

Carbon capture and storage

15.  We acknowledge that carbon capture and storage could be an extremely valuable technology. But we are aware of the concerns regarding its economic viability and the potential long-term environmental and potential safety impacts. We also note the disparity in timescales between the 2006-08 date suggested by the Energy White Paper needed to maximise the technology and the 2020 target set by Defra. We look forward to the findings of the Carbon Abatement Technology Strategy due to be made public later this year. Irrespective of these findings, we recommend that the Government should not spend too much time and resources on what is ultimately a useful tool for 'buying time'. Pursuing this route should not detract from more 'mainstream' adaptation and mitigation strategies. (Paragraph 96)

Energy efficiency

16  Increasing uptake of easily implemented measures with small financial outlay and comparatively rapid payback periods, such as encouraging use of energy saving light-bulbs, is a prime example of 'low-hanging fruit' which we recommend to the Government as a simple yet effective means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions whilst increasing consumer awareness of the issue and how minor changes in lifestyle can have a significant beneficial impact. The Government needs to work with energy providers to overcome the apparent inertia in adoption of these straight-forward energy efficiency measures. (Paragraph 101)

17.  We welcome the inclusion of energy efficiency measures in the Building Regulations. This will help lessen the climate change impact of new housing. But we are concerned that the Energy Efficiency Commitment is not having sufficient impact on existing housing stock. The large initial cost combined with the length of the payback period for domestic installation of renewable energy sources urgently needs to be addressed. We recommend an urgent expansion of programmes leading to domestic energy efficiency in existing housing stock, including energy generating measures. We also urge a review of energy market rules in order to promote this. We note the value of simple measures such as installation of cavity wall insulation and the rental of solar panels, and recommend the Government lead the rollout of such schemes at a national level. (Paragraph 103)

Stamp duty

18  A reduction in stamp duty as a 'reward' for installing energy efficient systems within the home fails to address the majority of the housing stock. However, even with the recent announcement in the Budget to raise the stamp duty threshold to £120,000, such a move would still affect some 900,000 homes sold every year. Incentives to improve energy efficiency of such houses could contribute significantly to the Government's domestic carbon reduction targets. Despite the fact that such a move will not affect all existing housing stock, the Government should seriously consider making such a change. The Government should also examine what fiscal measures it has at its disposal, such as a council tax discount, that could accelerate the adoption of more energy efficient systems by owners of existing building stock. (Paragraph 105)

Planning and building regulations

19.  We welcome the inclusion of energy efficiency measures in the Building Regulations. This will help lessen the climate impact of new housing. However, we are concerned that the inclusion of energy efficiency measures may be undermined by the target set out in the ODPM Five Year Plan to build homes for £60,000 each. While we support the Government's desire to increase the volume of affordable new housing, such a policy should not be pursued without incorporating best practice with regard to energy efficiency. In its response to our report Defra should set out how houses built at this price can still be as energy neutral as possible, and the steps Defra has taken with ODPM to ensure this is the case. (Paragraph 110)

The commercial sector

20.  We commend the work of the Carbon Trust in helping business and the public sector adopt energy efficient practices and reduce carbon emissions, and we support their awareness raising campaign. It is evident from case studies that considerable financial savings can be made through implementation of energy efficiency measures. We recommend that the Building Regulations for new commercial buildings are made more stringent so as to demand improved energy efficiency from this sector and include design requirements for such buildings to generate a proportion of their own energy consumption. (Paragraph 116)

Communication and education

21.  Raising awareness amongst consumers of the impact of climate change, and ways in which they can help combat it, is of great importance. We welcome the recent commitment by Defra to provide £12 million over three years to support a climate change communications initiative. However, we are concerned that the current 'head of steam' resulting from the recent flurry of media coverage of the G8 climate conference in Exeter may be dissipated. We recommend that some of the resource set aside for climate change communications should be used to identify what the barriers to the public changing their attitudes and consequently behaviour are, thus ensuring that future policy is aimed at removing these barriers. It is also imperative that any communication initiatives—such as television advertising—are fully supported by provision of websites, telephone hotline facilities and literature to assist consumers. In this context, we welcome the work of the Energy Saving Trust in developing the Sustainable Energy Network based on the network of Energy Efficiency Advice Centres. We recommend that Defra consider increasing funding to the Energy Saving Trust to support this work. (Paragraph 123)

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme

22.  We note that the current situation of uncertainty surrounding the UK's National Allocation Plan (NAP) can only have a negative impact on the UK's credibility and leadership position with respect to climate change. We urge the Government to consider reviewing its current position on the NAP. We are concerned that, once again on a key development of EU environmental policy, the UK finds itself at odds with the Commission on the detail of how the new rules on emissions trading will work. Given that 22 Member States have now got approved NAPs in place, we call upon the Government to rapidly resolve its difference of opinion with the Commission on this matter without resorting to time-wasting and lengthy proceedings via the European Court. (Paragraph 133)

23.  We are concerned that, while the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) focuses attention on relative positions, it has the potential to 'lock-in' current energy use, with heavier emitters merely purchasing carbon allocations from the new accession States which themselves, in absolute terms, may have energy inefficient systems compared to those used by allocation purchasers. We recommend that the ETS be monitored carefully to ensure that it increases the use of more CO2 efficient technologies and that total emissions are capped at increasingly restrictive levels to achieve an EU-wide reduction in emissions. (Paragraph 134)

The EU's Kyoto targets

24.  It is important in itself for the EU to meet its Kyoto targets, but it also adds weight to attempts to persuade the rest of the world to change. It is imperative that the EU sets an example to developed and developing nations, by achieving its target and thus showing, through its own practice, that implementation of energy efficiency measures is not detrimental to economic growth, or indeed individual businesses. (Paragraph 137)

Agricultural policy

25.  We recommend that the Government investigate using CAP reform and the redirection of agricultural subsidies to encourage biofuel/biomass production, and to encourage agricultural best practice with regard to climate change during its Presidency of the EU. (Paragraph 146)

International relations and the G8

26.  We commend the Government for hosting the Exeter scientific symposium 'Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change' in February this year as one of the first major events of the UK's Presidency of the G8, reinforcing the Prime Minister's commitment to bringing the issue of climate change to the fore in the international arena. We hope the Government will take full advantage of the momentum generated by this event by taking forward climate change policies during its Presidency. We also applaud the work of the International Climate Change Taskforce, and recommend that the Government supports the Taskforce's activities in working towards international engagement on climate change issues. All political leaders must show in their actions a consistent commitment to tackling climate change. (Paragraph 155)

27.  We understand that the use of existing coal stocks in developing countries is inevitable. However we recommend that the UK Government encourages international technological development of more efficient fossil-fuelled power generation to minimise emissions per tonne of coal during its Presidency of the G8. We recommend that the UK take full advantage of the current global prominence of the issue of climate change to take forward the proposed G8+ Climate Group and pursue international agreement on concrete carbon reduction measures to run alongside—and not instead of—the Kyoto Protocol. (Paragraph 161)

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