Business and households key to hitting carbon targets

TWO houses bought by Huntingdonshire District Council to demonstrate how residents can save cash and reduce their carbon footprints could be key to achieving emissions targets. The council has installed ( retro-fitted ) a variety of energy-saving devices

TWO houses bought by Huntingdonshire District Council to demonstrate how residents can save cash and reduce their carbon footprints could be key to achieving emissions targets.

The council has installed ('retro-fitted') a variety of energy-saving devices in an Eynesbury semi and a detached home in St Ives - both dating from the 1960s, an era typical for properties in the district - to show how residents and small businesses can play their part in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

HDC's first target is to cut its own CO2 output by 10 per cent in 2010 (the 10:10 campaign to which the council agreed to sign up last month).

But longer-term goals - a 20 per cent reduction on 1990 emissions levels by 2010 (which will be missed), a 34 per cent cut by 2020 and an 80 per cent reduction by 2050 - will be hit only if householders and businesses can be persuaded to take part, a set-piece council debate was told last week.

Every person in the district currently pumps an average of 10-11 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, Matt Taylor, from the University of East Anglia's carbon reduction team told the council. That must be reduced to just two tonnes in the next 40 years if the targets are to be met.

With carbon dioxide remaining in the atmosphere for 100 years, that implies immediate and urgent action, he stressed.

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But a recent survey cited by Councillor Jonathan Gray, the driving force behind HDC's espousal of the 10:10 campaign and the cabinet member responsible for such matters, suggests 59 per cent of the population are in denial about the human causes of climate change.

Although not represented in the same proportion on the council, it was clear that climate change denial features in the minds of several councillors.

Whether mankind turned out to be responsible for global warming or not, no harm would come from the assumption that it was, Councillor Doug Dew said. Society would get the benefits of the remedial measures of reducing waste, whichever cohort of scientists proved to be right about the cause.

"Nothing will be lost by heading for a low-carbon economy," he said. "I see nothing wrong with trying to delivery sustainable energy."

Mr Taylor advised that there were four strands to reducing emissions: not wasting energy, using more energy-efficient equipment, switching to renewable energy sources, and capturing or off-setting the remainder.

Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Peter Downes, who had introduced the debate, said HDC's record to date was creditable - it was one of the best authorities in the country for recycling and it had a credible environmental policy - but the need now was to challenge, encourage and enable residents and businesses in the district to play their part.

Cllr Gray, whose day job in the City involves insuring against the effects of natural disasters, said that, whatever the causes of climate change, there was no question that rising sea levels were making the effects worse.

"Our philosophy is that being green should not be about being huddled in a cold house with a couple of low-energy light-bulbs, that we give up flying and our cars and start cycling. We need to make big technological leaps again.

"The future I wish for my children is not one where we can't drive or take an aeroplane to interesting places, but that we should be able to do so sustainably. I want clean private transport."

He pointed to HDC's retro-fit programme, which should be open in the spring to offer residents a choice of energy-saving and money-saving systems to suit their pockets and lifestyles.

He said 2,000 homes in St Neots would get cut-price insulation, starting next year, and added that a 'smart meter' trial in Warboys - soon to be extended to Somersham and with the meters available on loan from public libraries - had already cut energy consumption by 22 per cent [as readers of The Hunts Post's Green Page will have read].

Working from home in just one HDC department was already delivering savings of 11,000 commuter-miles a year - eight tonnes of CO2 - and advances in waste disposal that had just come on stream meant that virtually no perishable waste now went to landfill in Cambridgeshire.

"We are already punching above our weight, but we cannot be complacent," he added. "The pace of investment in environmentally-friendly choices is going to have to intensify in spite of the economic difficulties. But a reduction will not be achieved by hectoring the general public."

Communicating the benefits of reducing costs and carbon emissions to residents and businesses was the only sensible way forward, councillors concluded.

"But that may mean our excessively consumerist society in which the things we do have been replaced by the things we buy will have to be reversed if our children and grandchildren are to be able to enjoy some of the pleasures we have enjoyed in our lives," Cllr Downes concluded.