As Cornwall Council considers what should be in the plan to be Carbon Free by 2030 I thought it would be of interest to set out each week some of the ideas and opportunities that could be grasped to help achieve this worthy ambition. These ideas are being formulated through a series of meetings and discussions I’ve had from the start of the year and I hope Cornwall Council will give serious thought to them.
- Scrapping gas-guzzling diesel cars for low income families
Many of us drive older cars that generate harmful emissions. Lots of families, if given the opportunity, would choose a more environmentally-friendly car. However, people don’t have sufficient disposable income and have many other demands on their finances. Cornwall Council should be bold and design an attractive ‘scrappage scheme’ that creates an adequate incentive for families to exchange their ‘gas-guzzling’ older car for a much more fuel efficient alternative. If this was included in a Carbon-Free plan seeking Government support I, for one, would argue strongly for the merits of this to the Treasury Department.
- Interest free loans for renewable energy systems
We know that energy efficient technology cuts carbon emissions and reduces energy bills. Salix Finance is an existing central government and regional government fund providing 100% interest-free capital for schools, higher and further educational institutions, emergency services, hospitals, leisure centres, local authorities and the NHS to reduce energy costs by enabling the installation of modern, energy efficient technologies. The savings achieved in reduced energy bills initially repay the loan. The organisation then reaps the benefit. Salic Finance state that ‘over 120 technology types are supported by the funding programmes, some of which include building energy management systems, cavity wall insulation, combined heat and power systems, evaporative cooling, heat recovery systems, LED lighting, lighting controls, loft insulation, pipework insulation, server virtualisation, T5 lighting and Variable speed drives.’ This is a ready-made solution that reduces carbon emissions, improving the environment for everyone using these buildings whilst reducing the running costs. The Council’s Carbon-Free Plan should include support to access this fund and calls on Government to introduce and extend further initiatives of this kind to include other properties including homes.
- Establish a Citizens Assembly
Suggestion week three as Cornwall Council considers the plan to be Carbon Free by 2030 and following the very positive cross-party declaration of a Climate Change Emergency in Parliament: Establish a Cornish Citizens’ Assembly. A Citizens’ Assembly is a group of people who are randomly selected and, in the case of a Cornish Citizens’ Assembly, would be charged with identifying a successful route to becoming carbon-free by 2030. The assembly would hear from experts, ask the difficult questions and help to establish a plan that leads us to a carbon free environment and a healthy economy. This would enable free and open thinking and debate and, in my view, provides the most effective method of identifying the measures that are needed and gaining public consensus and support. Without public support we will not achieve our goal to be carbon free.
- Build net-zero homes
This brings me to suggestion No 4 on how to deliver the carbon free Cornwall we aspire to. Cornwall Council has significant influence over what homes are built including having complete responsibility for increasing numbers of new homes. The Coalition Government lost its nerve when it abandoned plans to legislate that all new homes should be carbon neutral once complete. I urge Cornwall Council to act quickly and commit to ensuring all the new homes it is responsible for are carbon neutral and using its influence to encourage Social Landlords and large house builders to commit to the same. I will increase pressure on Government to return to plans to make this a condition on all new homes. It is possible, it does not need to significantly inflate house prices and the running costs to householders are dramatically reduced which is a big plus for new home owners and tenants. The Climate Change Committee state that low carbon homes can save between £70 and £260 in bills per year. Returning to Clayworks, the actual building of homes carries a sizeable carbon footprint but this can be reduced by innovative methods of building including using environmentally friendly products such as natural clays for plastering. In Cornwall we could celebrate, support and promote these sustainable methods of building.
- Fund and replace oil-fired heating systems with BioLPG
Suggestion week five for a Carbon-Free Cornwall; financial incentives are created to replace oil with LPG. This would ensure that households can move across to bio-fuels easily and at no extra cost when the BioLPG is available at scale. All of our oil-fired boilers will need replacing in due course so a policy such as this would mean that no home, even in off-grid rural Cornwall, will in future rely on oil for their heating.
Approximately 3 million of us use oil to heat our homes, myself included. I was shocked to learn (as I research the extent to which we need to change if we are serious about reducing harmful emissions) that an old oil-fired boiler emits 3.5 tonnes of CO2 each year. A new oil-fired boiler emits 3 tonnes of CO2 pa. The Chancellor was right to commit to a ban on oil-fired heating installations in new homes by 2025. For the environment this is the right thing to do (the effect is that house builders will move fully to alternative systems much earlier than this date). For householders this could prove costly. Last week I met with representatives of Calor, a company that has stated that by 2040 100% of their energy products will be from renewable sources. It is worth noting that a gas-fired (LPG) boiler, unlike an oiled-fired boiler, needs no technical alteration or mechanical adjustment in order to burn a renewable fuel. A new LPG boiler emits just over 2 tonnes of CO2 per year which is not good. However, using BioLPG reduces this to less than 0.5 tonnes of CO2 pa.
- Town and parish carbon free plans
Commit to actively supporting and resourcing well thought-out evidence-based carbon-free plans from town and parish councils, making real money available to enable councils to cut harmful emissions and dedicate land for nature recovery. Last September Town and Parish Council Clerks and I joined forces to host a conference to reflect the increasing role these hands-on councils have. We discussed improving communication, policing, and plastic free initiatives etc. As we plan this year’s conference an enthusiastic suggestion has been to discuss and produce a toolkit to help town and parish councils take a lead towards making their area carbon free. The conference is open to elected representatives of each town and parish and their clerks and takes place on September 25th. Communities are already leading the way and I was delighted to receive an email from volunteers connected to The Centre of Pendeen informing me of their free events about sustainability in their area.
The events, under the title Sustainable Pendeen, will help local residents to learn more, and make decisions about what we can do, as individuals and families, to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Their first event, on Saturday, 24 August from 10.30am to 4pm, is about electric vehicles. There will be electric cars and bicycles to see, passenger rides, films, presentations, experts to talk to, information and ideas, children’s quiz and refreshments throughout the day. It sounds really exciting and completely practical!
- Ten Carbon Pledges
My suggestion for week 7 towards a Carbon Free Cornwall is to encourage each other to take the pledges! Sarah Newton MP and I often discuss the opportunities that come with a Carbon Free Cornwall. Sarah helpfully directed me to Climate Vision and their useful online tool that helps all of us to be part of this journey. Climate Vision has ten carbon pledges: switch to green energy, buy local seasonal veg, learn about climate change, reduce the use of the car, work out our carbon footprint, reduce energy use at home including turning down the heating (but stay comfortable), halve our air miles and learn to drive in a greener way! These are actions we can all make to reduce our environmental impact.
- Food Waste
I met with a small group who are working to bring an end to food waste in Cornwall. Food waste is estimated to produce 10% of greenhouse gases. Putting this aside, throwing away food is a disgrace and we must do all we can to prevent the unnecessary disposal of food. The initiative I am supporting aims to take all surplus food from supermarkets and food producers, use it to make good nutritious meals and distribute these to organisations to make good use of them. I’ve seen this in action and it is a great way to encourage a healthier and fairer society and address, in earnest, the need to bring an end to entirely avoidable source of greenhouse gas. However, for a small initiative to grow to meet this huge workload and to be located close to supermarkets and our communities, council support and funding is needed. This pump-priming will lead to savings in waste disposal and could easily be cost-neutral to Cornwall Council and every other council that adopts this initiative.
- Tree planting
Suggestion 9 is that Cornwall Council ramps up its engagement with the Forestry Commission (who are mapping all the possible locations suitable for tree planting) and enables community tree planting initiatives across the Duchy. I met with the Minister responsible for forests and woodland. This followed a question in Parliament I put to the (former) Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP, seeking his support for communities who want to plant trees to improve air quality and the natural environment. To help to address harmful emissions, millions of extra trees are needed and the Government has two schemes that help community tree-planting initiatives. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is supporting the Woodland Trust with the Trees for Schools project where schools can have 400 trees to plant on their grounds. Many local schools have already taken up this challenge. The second is a recent initiative titled The Urban Tree Challenge Fund. The UTCF is open to anyone who wants to plant trees in urban or peri-urban areas as long, as you have full management control or consent to use the land for the duration of your agreement and your planting location is within an urban area. The closing date is 28th July, 2019. I know that Cornwall Council is keen to see trees planted and as part of the commitment to Carbon Free Cornwall I urge the Council not to miss this opportunity. It’s not the whole solution.
- Smart meters
My simple suggestion (week 10) for our carbon-free commitment in Cornwall is that Cornwall Council works with Ofgem and ensures the energy companies are rolling out the smart meter programme correctly and incentivises every home to install a smart meter. Today smart meters have not been the technical revolution anticipated when Government committed to rolling out 20 million smart meters by 2020. Problems with the meters themselves, connectivity and access to competent engineers has left many people unimpressed. However, once these issues are resolved, moving to low carbon energy generation requires smart meters in every home and every business. No ifs or buts. Smart meters provide the only tool to match demand to the supply of low carbon generated electricity. 36% of electricity is used in our homes. This will increase with electric vehicles and electric heating etc. New appliances are fitted with chips that allow smart meters to control when they operate and, in many cases, this can be when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. Find out more about getting a smart meter here.
- Shared prosperity fund for low carbon outcomes
Cornish Colleagues and I meet with the senior leadership team of Cornwall Council every quarter. We discussed a number of important issues including how, as a county, we position ourselves to benefit from the Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund, the successor to EU support for less developed regions. As the 11th suggestion to achieve a Carbon-Free Cornwall my plea to council officers is that they commit absolutely to only seek finance from this fund for investment that clearly demonstrates low carbon outcomes. This is completely in keeping with the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change and as such would be attractive to Government decision-makers. The recommendations are very clear about the need for research and development in low carbon technologies, the need for a dramatic increase in skills development and recognises that distribution of energy, the built environment and transportation needs to be done very differently. Each of which offers a real opportunity for Cornwall. An assessment that measures the contribution towards a carbon-free Cornwall impact should be a central part of every project considered for investment.
- Universal bus service
If Cornwall Council is fundamentally committed to dramatically reducing carbon emissions I suggest they undertake a comprehensive review of public transport with the straightforward objective of ensuring that the Duchy enjoys a bus service that enable people to get to and from work and to and carry out journeys that modern life determines for a price that is widely affordable. Connecting people through a good public transport service will drive down car journeys, address isolation and create sustainable communities. I can assure you that having carried out the rural bus survey (which had a substantial response early in the year) the current bus service is not designed to significantly reduce private car journeys.
- Retro fit business property
In the Commons Chamber I pressed the Government to consider how we can make interest-free loans available to small businesses to retro-fit their buildings and install renewable energy technologies such as the fund that enables publicly-owned buildings to become more efficient. The Minister invited me to a meeting to discuss this idea further and, as my 13th suggestion and invitation to Cornwall Council as they work towards a carbon-free plan by 2030, I’d be pleased to work with Cornwall Council and the Minister to develop a scheme that would be locally delivered and enable our small businesses to access interest-free credit to improve the efficiency of their buildings and install renewable energy infrastructure. This would be a very good way to cut our carbon footprint and enable skills development.
- Plastic Bags and devolution powers
My 14th suggestion to Cornwall Council, as the Carbon-Free by 2030 plan evolves, is that an ask of Government should include devolution powers explicit to protecting and enhancing our natural environment. The Council deserves powers to set our own destiny in this area. Powers such as introducing a complete ban, for example, of single-use plastic bags. We will all quickly adapt and Cornwall and our oceans will be better for it. Rwanda has done this (and I’ll be pushing Government to accelerate the legislation required to ban single-use plastic nationwide). In the meantime, Cornwall can be a leader and, if Cornwall Council has powers along these lines, we are in a position to move more quickly than Central Government in lots of areas in support of our natural environment.
To promote widely and wildly what Cornwall Council already has in place to help cut costs and cut carbon is my 15th suggestion for Cornwall Council’s Carbon-Free Plan. Carsharecornwall.com is a site to which you can register and find others making the same journey as you. Register on the site and you can find people who are able to share transport. I should have done this when I went to RNAS Culdrose Station Reception recently. A large number of people also attended from West Penwith and we should have travelled together. Cornwall Council have done the hard work in setting the scheme up and I strongly encourage the Council to use any communication they routinely send out to advertise this useful tool.