Mark argues that action on climate change begins at home

May 8, 2007 6:00 PM
By Mark Hunter

The original title of this debate was "Action on climate change begins at home". The latter part of that title is the most important in relation to what we have discussed today, not least because of the pressing need to persuade the public and individuals that they can make a difference by changing their own habits and lifestyles at home.

All of us, as politicians, should do more to help instill in the minds of the population the belief that their actions can and do affect levels of air, water and light pollution. We need to believe that ultimately, only the collective efforts of individuals at home, in their jobs, and perhaps even in their capacities as leaders of the community in business and in Government, will be able to tackle the problem of climate change and the devastating effects that we can already see it bringing.

There are many fine examples of individuals taking the lead. I recently visited a gentleman in Cheadle Hulme, in my constituency, who had installed solar panels on his house to do his bit to help stop climate change, at considerable expense to himself. That was a fantastic initiative, which should be held up as an example to others. I was, however, appalled by what he told me about the lack of Government support for such schemes. The Government need to give individuals incentives to take "green" action.

The fiasco of the low carbon building scheme, reported in recent months, only serves to prove that the Government are failing to keep up with the public demand for greener solutions to energy problems. In March the monthly capped grant for the scheme was allocated to householders in only 75 minutes, which clearly showed the Government's dismal failure to fund the scheme properly. With solar panels costing up to a possible £7,000, many households will simply not be able to afford to take the drastic action necessary to tackle global warming. Despite the promise from the Environment Secretary that householders would have better access to renewable energy funds, the low carbon building scheme effectively shut up shop from March until later this month. No wonder so many people are asking how on earth this is helping to tackle climate change.

Buildings in the United Kingdom are responsible for nearly half our total carbon emissions, yet the Government still fail to create incentives for people to improve the carbon footprints of their own homes. Not only do we need tough new standards to be set for new build; we need to provide incentives for home owners to improve older properties by installing insulation and other energy-saving devices. The Liberal Democrats' energy mortgage policy would deal with the problem of cost by lending home owners money for the initial outlay, which could then be paid back in money saved from lower energy bills.

Doorstep recycling is yet another example of the way in which changing patterns of public behaviour can be seen to have a real effect on climate change and the environment. My own council, Stockport-where, incidentally, the Liberal Democrats increased their majority last Thursday at the expense of the Conservatives-has a better recycling record than any other metropolitan borough council in the country, with 33 per cent. of all household waste now being recycled, but even there we know that we can and must improve. When the council rolled out its pioneering "green waste" wheelie bin programme it was flooded with requests from residents asking for the bins, and struggled to keep up with the public demand. With its excellent environmental record, Stockport puts many other local authorities to shame.

Recycling is a low-cost option for the public, and a simple way in which individuals can make a difference to climate change. Local government has a vital leadership role to play in environmental issues and should be doing its utmost to encourage recycling and other environmentally conscious behaviour, but, it can do that only with the active support and encouragement of central Government. The Government may have made a start, but they need to do much, much more if they are to deliver on their promises.

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