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Domestic Carbon Emissions

Volume 454: debated on Thursday 14 December 2006

5. What assessment he has made of the extent to which individual behaviour may contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions from homes. (109019)

The Department is making a detailed assessment of the actions that people can take to help the environment, including reducing their carbon emissions. We will be publishing further proposals shortly.

I thank the Minister for that answer. In his pre-Budget report, the Chancellor announced that householders’ income from installing micro-generation will not be subject to tax. In view of that statement, what further policies are the Government considering to encourage individuals to reduce carbon emissions from their homes?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that individuals take action to reduce their carbon footprint. About 40 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions stem from actions taken by individuals. People in Britain understand the impact of climate change and want to do something about it. There is still a gap, however, between people’s values and their behaviour. Finding new and better ways to make it easier for people to reduce CO2 emissions is a high priority for the Government. My hon. Friend will be interested in the Energy Saving Trust’s “Save your 20 per cent.” campaign, which provides a number of useful tips on how people can reduce their carbon footprint.

I welcome what the Minister has to say, and he knows of my initiative to make Fylde the most energy-efficient council in the country. He will also accept the complexity of the issues involved in dealing with climate change, whether from a personal or governmental standpoint. Will he consider changing the energy White Paper that is due out in March 2007 to a climate change White Paper, enabling the whole range of issues influencing the subject, not just energy, to be dealt with in volume?

I was very pleased to meet the right hon. Gentleman recently to hear of his plans to make Fylde council the most energy-efficient in the country. As a Government, we are keen to stimulate competition between local authorities to take action to tackle climate change. Over 200 authorities have signed the Nottingham declaration on climate change and many are very advanced in terms of action plans to reduce their carbon footprints.

The right hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the close co-operation that exists between our Department and the Department of Trade and Industry on the energy White Paper, just as we worked closely on the energy review that we published in July. Clearly climate change and energy security were key priorities and will remain so in the energy White Paper when it is published.

Public expectations have been raised greatly by the promise of a climate change Bill, but, of necessity, that Bill is going to be about committees, frameworks and processes. May I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that the narrative that accompanies the Bill through the House involves the public and indicates ways in which they can make their contribution with, as he said, the Energy Saving Trust 10-point plan, which is so simple that I have been able to complete all stages? I trust every hon. Member would do so similarly.

I agree that engaging the public in tackling climate change is hugely important. We will pass landmark legislation for the UK and it is important that we do so, but we also want to generate a wide public debate about climate change and the actions that we can all take to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions.

As the Minister and others have said, the most effective agent for encouraging individuals to do their bit at home in tackling climate change has been the work of the Energy Saving Trust; indeed, its campaign to raise public awareness generally was singled out last month by the Prime Minister. So why have DEFRA Ministers appointed yet another advertising agency to run their own public awareness campaign around exactly the same issues and given the agency £5 million to spend on advertisements that duplicate the work of the Energy Saving Trust?

We are not duplicating the work of the Energy Saving Trust. We are looking at new and better ways to communicate the message on climate change and to give people some clear, practical advice on measures that they can take that will change their behaviour and help to reduce their carbon footprint. The Energy Saving Trust does extremely valuable work, but we also have the climate change communications initiative and we are looking at ways in which we can improve our websites and other mechanisms to get our message across. This is vital and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) said earlier, it is important that we have a big national debate about the actions that individuals can take. We need more communication, not less.

My hon. Friend talks about the carbon footprint, but is he aware that few people understand the term? The biggest contribution to that that families make is through heating, and nowadays no sensible household uses excess fuel or energy because of the rip-off prices that the gas and electricity industries charge them. When will we start taking this issue seriously—like we did with regard to North sea gas when we had a conversion programme that converted 13 million appliances—by telling households exactly how they can take steps, and by supporting them with capital investment if they need that? They do not understand the new factors, the insulation properties or the regulations. When are we going to get real about this issue and develop a national programme to meet every household’s needs?

Energy efficiency is extremely important for all households, and particularly for vulnerable households. This Government have spent a substantial sum on the Warm Front programme. We have also introduced warm zones, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the pre-Budget report that there will be extra funding for such zones. That will make a real difference, because it will join up action on the ground in a practical way to help people to insulate their homes and reduce their energy bills. There is an issue to do with future electricity and gas supplies. We need to address that as part of theenergy White Paper, and we are doing just that. Weare also encouraging microgeneration through the microgeneration strategy and, of course, we have the renewables obligation and the renewables targets that were set out for 2010 and 2020.

On changing personal behaviour, would the Minister like to comment on the contrast between the measly £6.5 million allocated to the low-carbon buildings programme, which will yet again lead to household grants being exhausted before the year-end with serious implications for local supplier businesses, and the £12 million allocated to the communications initiative that he has just referred to, whose latest output is as follows:

“Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the Feast of Stephen

Sunbathers lay round about

Tanned and crisp and even

Brightly shone the moon that night

With mosquitoes cruel

When a poor man came in sight

Malaria killed his mule”?

Is that really the work of a Government who are serious about climate change?

It is important that the low-carbon buildings programme takes a range of action to help to reduce CO2 emissions from buildings. As a Government we have set the target of the Government office estate becoming carbon neutral by 2012, and we have ambitious, sustainable operation targets that go much wider. We do need to communicate, and although the hon. Gentleman might have one view about the effectiveness of what he has quoted as a communication I am sure that others will have different views.