The Environmental politics of Brexit – Speech at UK Environmental Law Association Conference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Environmental politics of Brexit – Speech by Tom Burke

UK Environmental Law Association Conference
October 13th, 2017
39 Essex Chambers, London

Let me begin by thanking you for inviting me to speak today. This conference connects two issues that, more than most, will shape the lives of everyone in Britain this century, especially if they are under forty: Brexit and the Environment.

And, it connects them in a particularly important way, through an examination of both the role of, and the rule of, law.

In this context I would like to recognise the importance of the distinctive contribution that UKELA is making to informing the public conversation on what Brexit means for the environment.

We live in a time of declining public confidence in institutions, falling financial and analytic capacity in government departments and a continuing coarsening of public discourse. We have a Secretary of State for the Environment who believes we have ‘had enough of experts.’

In such times the value of dispassionate, disinterested and informed voices grows markedly. I applaud UKELA’s initiative in adding such a voice to the debate on the implications of Brexit for the environment. It will mean that whatever the outcome of the torturous politics of Brexit the environment will better protected than it would otherwise have been.

There are a great many champions of the environment in Britain. Our environmental bodies have, between them, several times the membership of all the political parties in Britain combined.

I think it is possible that they know rather more about the will of the people than the political leaders who somehow managed not to mention the environment at all in making their case, either way, in the debate on Brexit.

Those organisations are gearing up to make sure that as the Withdrawal Bill makes its way through Parliament that omission is corrected. UKELA’s initiative provides authoritative advice to all the various parties, including the government, with a stake in this debate.

It does not need to, and nor should it, campaign itself. But all of those who are campaigning, from whatever position, will do so more effectively with the help of the series of reports that UKELA is issuing.

I must admit to having been a bit disconcerted when Richard Macrory, who invited me to speak, added that what he wanted me to do is to talk about the politics of Brexit, the environment and the law.

As I was searching for some inspiration about how to tackle such a challenging task the old, and probably apocryphal, tale of the Irishman asked for directions by some tourists came to mind, ‘Ah, says himself, if I wanted to go there, sure I wouldn’t start from here.’

I suppose, in the context of Brexit, this advice would be recast as: ‘If I wanted to go anywhere I wouldn’t start from here.’ If I wanted to improve the environment I certainly wouldn’t start from here.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Brexit will have more immediate impact on our ability to manage the growing stresses on the environment than any other single political development in the past 50 years.

I say this because the nature of environmental problems poses a particular challenge for policy and law. Many of the most serious problems are geographically blind. They pay no attention to political borders or legal jurisdictions.

The poor air quality in London is undoubtedly a product of the failure of our own government to enforce the law here. But there are days when even if the law were fully enforced pollution blown across the Channel from France, Holland and Belgium would damage the health of Londoners.

We may well regain control of our geographically defined fisheries as we leave the EU. We will not however, be able to prevent climate change, as it warms our waters, from driving those fish back out of our control. This will raise some fascinating and complex jurisdictional issues about the beneficial ownership of particular populations of wild fauna but would probably not help fishermen much.

Seeking, either to ameliorate environmental damage, or to obtain redress for it, across political boundaries is both difficult and expensive. This is so for nations and, even more so, for communities or individuals.

It is simply an inescapable feature of the world we live in today that successfully, and affordably, tackling environmental problems, in common with other contemporary scourges such as the trafficking of drugs and people, mass migration, organised crime or the spread of pathogens, requires a pooling of sovereignty.

The European Union is the world largest and most successful experiment in pooling sovereignty. Britain’s membership of the Union has been an immense benefit to the health of the British public and to its environment.

This is so not the least because it has created a whole new route by which the will of the British people on the environment could find effective expression.

As a bird watcher, I for one, will regret the loss of my government’s ability to continue protecting Britain’s migratory species from the depredations of Southern European hunters.

The environment has become so pervasive an issue in public and political discourse these days that it is easy to forget how recently this happened.

When I joined a local Friends of the Earth group in 1970 there was no Department of the Environment. There was virtually no domestic environmental legislation and even less international legislation. Such institutions as we had to protect the environment were fragmentary and weak.

One way of characterising what has happened over the last forty odd years is as a sustained endeavour, in which I have been a keen participant, to extend the rule of law over the previously uncolonised frontier of the environment.

It has had its successes. There are now some thirty major British statutes governing our environment.

We are party to a similar number of major international treaties on environmental matters and, of course, subject to a large body of European environmental legislation which Britain has played a significant, if not widely recognised, role in shaping.

There is now a government department with a clear mandate to protect the environment. We have two strong agencies in the Environment Agency and Natural England, which have the powers, if not always the resources and independence, to be effective guardians of the environment.

We have a Government that has made, and repeated, a clear promise to be the first to leave a better environment to its successors than it inherited. This is a big promise. There can be no doubting the Government’s environmental ambition.

Whether it can meet its ambition and fulfil this promise will largely be determined by how well it manages the environmental aspects of Brexit.

Immediately, this means getting the Withdrawal Bill right. So, the transposition of current EU law into domestic UK law must not leave the regulatory and institutional frameworks for protecting Britain’s environment weaker than they are today.

In the longer term, whatever future arrangements with the EU and other trading partners are finally agreed must offer not just a better level of environmental protection – if the promise it to be kept – they must also offer similar levels of regulatory stability and cost.

With this is mind, it is worth looking at some of the ways in which our membership of the EU currently supports the Government’s environmental ambition.

It offers a set of clear principles for the development and interpretation of environmental law. These can be, and are, tested judicially. This helps to build consistency across the different fields of environmental policy and law.

It offers regular environmental action programmes that set a forward-looking agenda for the development of policy. This makes it possible for businesses and civil society organisations to plan strategically for their participation in policy development.

This also offers a clear sense of the direction of travel for policy development which allows potentially affected parties the time and confidence to invest in innovative approaches to environmental solutions.

It offers a testable mechanism for the enforcement of EU legislation, and therefore the achievement of its environmental goals. It is a mechanism that backs the power of persuasion with the prospect of sanctions.

It offers stronger influence on the development of global regimes to manage the environment than would be available to any one of the 28 present members acting on their own.

The size of the EU market is such, and the rewards of access to it so large, that its environmental legislation on matters such as chemicals, for example, shapes the development of policy in other parts of the world.

This not only brings considerable benefits to the environment it also reduces the costs of compliance to business by reducing the costs of complying in different policy regimes.

It is not, of course, a regime without its problems. There are certainly things that could be better. Legislation takes a long time, sometimes too long, to develop. It can be inflexible in the face of changes in knowledge or technology.

Let’s assume, however that the Withdrawal Bill succeeds in its goal of transposing the text of the seventy percent or so of EU environmental law directly into UK successfully. Let’s also assume that it can fill the gaps for the other thirty percent. As we have heard, this may not be as straightforward as originally imagined but let’s start with the best possible case.

Even so, there will be some important changes which could make it more difficult for the Government to deliver on its better environment promise.

There is no formal place in British policy practise for the writing into legislation of principles such as the polluter pays principle or the precautionary principle. This weakens the strategic guidance to policy makers and judges as to the tests that should be applied in policy formation or implementation.

There is no equivalent in British environmental policy making practise of the series of environmental action programmes produced by the Commission over the past four decades.

The publication of ‘Our Common Inheritance in 1990 was the Britain’s first comprehensive statement of policy on the environment to offer guidance to business and civil society by a forward look at the longer-term development of environmental law.

In the 27 years since then there has been no further publication of a framework for the future development on environmental policy and law in the UK.

What we have seen instead is a succession of Government’s whose attention to environmental policy has been intermittent. On occasion, there have been outbursts of arbitrary and rapid policy change destructive of both business and civil society confidence.

The loss of regulatory stability will be accompanied by an increase in the cost of regulation. The UK will have to mirror a number of European agencies whose costs are currently shared by 27 other countries.

For example, membership of Euratom meant that it handled the nuclear safety and safeguards regime under which Britain’s nuclear facilities are operated. The Office of Nuclear Regulation will now have to take on the additional staff and equipment to discharge the functions currently carried out by Euratom.

Both the Environment Agency and Natural England will have to take on additional regulatory burdens without any guarantee that they will be absolved from the current and future rounds of spending cuts.

As we have seen, the European Court of Justice, has acted as a powerful incentive on member states to comply with the requirements of European environmental law.

This has largely worked, flexibly and efficiently, by encouraging negotiated settlements of disputes. An approach to compliance that we in the UK have long favoured.

However, the ability of the Court, as a last resort, to impose sanctions has been a powerful incentive to settle. The UK found this out to its cost when a failure to properly transpose the Water Frameworks Directive properly led to the imposition of fines costing hundreds of millions of pounds.

The UK Courts have no such ability. And, as we have seen in the recent cases on air quality, have considerable difficulty getting the UK Government to comply with the law, even while the prospect of an eventual sanction by the ECJ remains.

These changes set a clear bar for the Government’s forthcoming 25 Year Environment Plan to clear if Brexit is not to lead a decline, let alone, an improvement in Britain’s environment.

It will need to show how the Government will transpose not only the text of European legislation, but also its functionality. Without the functionality the text can make little difference to outcomes. It is environmental outcomes that matter to the people of Britain, not environmental words, not matter how warm.

There is, of course, a wider political context into which these environmental challenges must fit. I am finding it as difficult as I suspect most people, including the Cabinet, are to see through the fog of possibilities for the end state of Brexit.

Making the best sense I can of the Prime Minister’s Florence speech and subsequent statements, there are three broad possible outcomes from this process. We crash out into a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit. We could, possibly, change our mind and decide to stay. Or, we could find whatever, other than the Atlantic Ocean, lies between Canada and Norway.

Of the three options, I am in no doubt which one would be best for the environment: changing our mind. It is also the one that is least likely for the moment.

I am also in no doubt which would be worst. A ‘hard’ Brexit would leave Britain exposed to an economic hurricane. The pressure to grow the economy at any cost would wash away all the warm words and environmental ambition we have been promised in tsunami of deregulation.

That leaves us with the option of the creativity to which the Prime Minister has referred on several occasions. But since, like everyone else, I have no idea what might lie between Canada and Norway I am hard put to say anything about what this option means for the environment – other than it would be better than a hard Brexit, especially if there is a transition period in which the current EU legislation and other instruments would remain in place.

So, which will we choose? Immediately after the election, Michael Heseltine was asked by a BBC interviewer how long he thought the Prime Minister would last. In his magisterial way, he looked over at her and said, ‘You’re asking the wrong question. What you must understand is that events are in charge now, not people.’

I think the same is absolutely true about the wider politics of Brexit. We seem to be slipping inexorably down an ever-steeper slope towards a hard Brexit that no-one but a tiny number of highly motivated obsessives wants and which will be very bad for our ability to protect the environment.

What this suggest to me is that it will not be enough for those of us in the environmental community to focus effort on our particular policy priorities in the Bill. We will also have to think how we can best intervene in the wider politics of Brexit. Can we play a part in breaking and, if possible, reversing, the headlong slide to an outcome that will not only defeat the Government’s environmental ambition but also our own best efforts to leave our children a better environment than we inherited.

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BBC Radio 4 – Today Program – Who should be held responsible for climate change damages?

 

 

 

I think that it’s a little simplistic to say that the oil company’s products are what causes climate change, which we have known for a long time, and is absolutely right, and then to say that is where the chain of liability ends. The chain of liability also includes all of the companies that make the products that burn the fossil fuels, all of the governments that permit both those companies and the fossil fuel companies to operate, and all of the people who then make used of the product made by all of the companies that burn fossil fuels, so there is a very long chain of liability here. So when you come to say who is responsible for what proportion of the damages, you have a very complicated question about how we allocate the responsibility in society. Now being able to quantify a bit more precisely both the question  of whose fuels? and also the question of how much you can attribute any particular set of damage to climate change? All of that is going to help move that debate onwards. But I think the bigger issue is not so much penalising companies for damages to individuals, but how to you get the big emitting countries to pay for the damage that is being done in the poorest countries around the world. That’s not an issue that is going to come to a court anytime soon.

I don’t think that we can afford to wait for the courts to get around to sorting this out. I think the fact is that governments can act now, to move fossil fuels out of our need to meet people’s needs for energy, the can do that much faster than they are doing currently, and that way of getting governments to act can get us further along the right road. We got on to the right road in Paris, but we are not going down it fast enough or far enough, and that is really something for governments to take responsibility for, not to focus on companies so much.

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No Need for Nuclear. The renewables are here – Conway Hall, London 17 June 2017

 

 

There is a very broad National consensus about what we want our energy policy to do, what the goal of British Energy Policy should be. It should be affordable, it should be secure and it should be low-carbon, in delivering the service that people want. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t agree that that trilemma is what we are trying to do. And there is no doubt at all that it can be delivered in the UK, in a way that does not involve nuclear power, and if we were to do that it would be cheaper and more secure than doing it in the way that we are currently trying to do it. We don’t have a problem with technology, we actually have more technology than we can begin to use, and we certainly don’t have a problem with the economics of using low-carbon technologies, or a variety of low-carbon technologies. All the problems we have with getting to the goal, are political problems. They are problems about getting the politics right, not about getting the technologies or the economics right.  As we look at that project in the context of what’s going on in the world, as we look around at what is happening in the world, it is very clear that all over the world we are now engaged in a transition, in the so-called energy transition, as we move to a low-carbon economy to make sure that climate change doesn’t destroy civilisation. And as we make that transition, we must make sure that it is a “just transition”. It’s not just as shift of technology it is also a shift of people’s livelihoods and communities, and we must take those communities and those livelihood with us as we make that transition.

 

 

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What does Brexit mean for Environmental Legislation in the UK – Guardian Podcast

 

 

One of the things that you get out of our membership of the EU is an enormous amount of regulatory stability. It takes a very long time to create environmental legislation, but then it is very difficult for governments, in a whimsical way, to change it. Now from a business point of view that means that you have certainty in the investment that you are going to make. We will lose that, because we are not going to have a series of action programs which give you long-run guidance to what there may be legislation on, so that business is able to prepare and get ready for it, and join in in a successful way. More than that, business really needs to pay attention to the fact that we are going to have to replace a whole lot of agencies that currently share the costs of regulation the environment. We are going to have to pay for those equivalent agencies to be built in England. That means that businesses are going to be asked to pay for the additional costs, that means far from businesses getting a reduced burden from Brexit, it is actually going to get and increased burden as it is expected to pay for the extra staff in all of those agencies, otherwise you have zombie legislation.

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Sky News – Discussing Al Gore’s new film on climate change “An Inconvenient Sequel” – 11 Aug 17

 

 

Sky news: With me now in the studio is Tom Burke, a former senior adviser to the foreign secretary’s special representative on climate change, and now the chairman of third generation environmentalism, which encourages sustainable development. First of all, Mr Burke, what do you make of this documentary?

Tom Burke: Well I think that there is both bad news and good news, the bad news is that the climate is changing faster, and its impacts are nastier, than we used to think. The good news is, that the things that we need to do to solve it, decarbonising our economy, using renewables and getting more efficient, all those costs are going through the floor. It is getting cheaper and cheaper to do what we need to do. What I think that Al Gore is doing is putting his finger on the nub of the problem, which is not the technology, we have lots of that, which is not the economics, we won’t wreck our economy by solving this problem. It is getting the politics right, and that’s what I think he is setting out to do which this film.

Sky News: So how exactly do we now put that into action?

Tom Burke: Well, his part in that, is to mobilise lots of people in the base of society, in order to put pressure on parliamentarians, representatives and politicians, from their own constituencies, to take this problem seriously. At the end of the day politician pay more attention to the people who vote particularly for them than others, and that’s what I think is unique about the approach that Gore is taking here, but then you’ve got to build on that with the thousands and thousands of organizations there are. But what has really changed in the last 4 or 5 years, is the extent to which business has begun to get in on the act, and discover the extent to which the risks to the climate are also risks to business. So what we saw on the same day as Trump pulled America out of the Paris Agreement, was we saw the world largest investment company vote against Exxon, because it wasn’t putting enough emphasis on climate risk to the profitability of the oil company.

Sky News: But surely, on the whole, President Trump is a big problem?

Tom Burke: There is no doubt at all that President Trump is a problem. He is a problem not because he can stop us doing what we are doing, but what Paris did was set us on the right road, but it didn’t take us far enough, and we are not going fast enough, And I think that Trump will slow down the acceleration that we make, and how we deploy the technologies we have to solve this problem.

Sky News: Al Gore said the climate movement has seen an incredible surge because people were worried by what President Trump said. So you do not agree with that?

Tom Burke: I agree with what Gore said, there has been this enormous surge because people are quite correctly scared by having somebody as erratic as Trump in the White House. But I think that his direct effect on the progress that we are making, the day after Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, 19 other nations at the G20 meeting, reaffirmed their commitment to going ahead, so he has no influence on other politicians, and in particular in the United States, he has no influence on business voices, and he had no influence on the states and cities that are going ahead with getting America to meet its commitments.

Sky News: What kind of situation are we in with climate change? What are we looking at 100 years from now?

Tom Burke: I think that if within 100 years we don’t solve this problem we won’t be having reasonable discussions on television shows like this. What people haven’t really grasped is the extent to which, if the climate changes at the current pace that it is, by the time we get to the end of the century, not even one hundred years away, we are going to be in a world that is full of conflict, in which a lot of the things that we take for granted, that make our economy work and keep us secure, all of those things will be put a risk. We are seeing already the effects of climate change in places like Africa, and part of south America, it is driving people of their lands as they become uninhabitable. We are seeing that effect now, not in huge numbers, but we go on changing the climate at the rate we are now, we are going to get more of that. We have already seen just how difficult it is if you get lots of people trying to move around on the planet. So you have problems like that, and problem with the fact that it will alter the amount of water that’s available to human beings, particularly in parts of Asia, for instance, where we will have real problems producing enough food for people to eat. All of those problem will get worse if we don’t deal with this problem.

Sky news:  But of course addressing the issue cost billions of pounds, when budgets are already stretched.

Tom burke: The private sector could address this issue, if the government sets the right kind of policy framework. You have to think that if you don’t solve this problem you will definitely wreck your economy. What we are seeing now is the more we move to a decarbonised economy the better it actually is for our economy, it is much more efficient, and we’ve got a whole range of new technologies generating new investment. So I‘m not worried about the fact that it will cost a lot. It will cost a lot to keep everybody supplied with energy however we do it.

Sky News: Tom Burke, thanks very much for your thoughts, we appreciate your time this evening.

 

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BBC Radio 5 Live – Government announces independent review of energy prices – 6 Aug 17

 

 

5 Live: The government has launched an independent review into the cost of energy, days after British Gas raised energy prices by twelve and a half percent. The study is being carried out by Oxford University professor Dieter Helm, and will look at how to meet climate change targets while keeping bills low. Tom Burke is the chairman of climate change think tank E3G, and a former government advisor, and joins us now. Thanks for joining us. So what is your reaction to this announcement?

Tom Burke: Well, it’s rather difficult to see, clever as I am sure Mr Helm is, what in three months, he is going to discover that we don’t already know. We are pretty clear about what we need to do if we want to combine those goals of keeping bills down and dealing with climate change, and that is invest a lot more in improving the overall energy efficiency of our buildings. And, the fact is, the government has been pretty weak at both putting in place the policies to do that, but also implementing the policies that is has already got. So, I’m really a bit puzzled about exactly what this is supposed to achieve, in an extremely short period of time.

5 Live: So, do you think it can have any ramifications for energy pricing going forwards?

Tom Burke: I doubt that it will tell us anything that we don’t already know. And it strikes me that this is a bit of a blame game going on, where the gas industry is blaming the government for its policies which are putting energy bills up, and the government is blaming the industry for not passing on the reductions in wholesale prices to customers. And actually, the reality is that we have got a massive amount of savings that are available out there, and if we did the right things and invested properly in infrastructure, we could make our bills go down permanently. So, I am a bit puzzled as to what, other than managing the headlines, this is really all about.

5 Live: So, what do you think the government should be doing?

Tom Burke: Well, what the government should really be doing is treating investment in the energy efficiency of our buildings as infrastructure, as part of the underlying infrastructure that we need to make the economy work effectively. And it needs to be investing in both making sure that all of the new homes that are built are zero carbon by around about 2020. It needs to make sure that people with very low incomes are given the ability to improve the energy efficiency of their homes right away with grant, essentially taking money out of the social service budget and putting it into investment in energy efficiency, to keep their bills down permanently. There are a whole array of other things that we have looked at over the years that could not only make our bills lower, but could make our climate better, and could also improve the efficiency of the economy. If you combine that with investing properly in renewables, then what you are offering consumers is the chance not only to get a lower bill through the front door, but possibly to also get a cheque through the front door as the sell electricity back to the grid.

5 Live: Couldn’t this all still happen once the review has been completed?

Tom Burke: I think it could happen, indeed the government announced a couple of weeks ago, a policy for smartening up the energy grid, that would take us in the right direction. I am just a bit puzzled as to what the added value will be, of doing this review instead of just getting on with it? Why carry out another study, when you know what to do and you can get on with it right away?

5 Live: Tom Burke, thank you very much.

 

 

 

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BBC News – What can the energy price review achieve? – 06 Aug 17

 

 

BBC News: The government has asked for and independent review of the energy market, just days after British Gas announced it is putting up its standard electricity price by twelve and a half percent. Theresa May did pledge to cap energy prices in the conservative manifesto, but the policy has been shelves since she lost her majority in the election. Well now the business secretary Greg Clark says the review will examine how price can be kept as low as possible while ensuring that the UK still meets its climate change targets

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BBC News: Tom Burke, who used to advise both labour and conservative governments on energy policy, says that there is not much that can be achieved in a three month time frame.

Tom Burke: I think that a review this short is essentially headline management. I don’t think Dieter, heroic though he is, is going to be able to come up with something that isn’t already widely discussed within the energy community. We know that the quickest and cheapest way to drive bills down is to improve the efficiency of our buildings.

 

 

 

BBC News: Let’s take you back now to the news of an independent review being launched into the cost of energy, being launched by the government just a few days after British Gas raised standard electricity prices by twelve and a half percent. The study which is supposed to be published in October will investigate how to keep price as low as possible while ensuring that the UK still meets climate change targets. I have been talking to Tom Burke, who is the Chairman of the independent climate think tank E3G, and asked him whether he thinks that this is a good idea?

Tom Burke: Well I welcome the idea of more information, but I doubt that it is going to come up with anything new. It’s a three month review, and Dieter Helm is a very well informed person, but it’s unlikely that he will be adding anything new to the equation that’s already there. What we know is that of you want to achieve your fuel poverty reduction goals, you want to achieve your climate goals, and you want to improve the efficiency of the economy, then what you most of all need to do is improve the energy efficiency of your building stock. It is the fastest, most reliable, and most secure way of driving bills down. And what’s more doing it permanently so they are not at the whim of policies or wholesale prices.

BBC News: Well, professor Helm, who is running this review, says that it will be independent and it will sort out the fact from the myths about the cost of energy.

Tom Burke: I am always troubled by someone who comes up with the line facts and myths, it tends to be they want you to use their facts, not your facts, and as we saw with Howard Davis and the airport commission, as we’ve seen with HS2, it’s very difficult to do that, especially difficult if you’ve got to do that in three months. These are highly contested areas, there’s an awful lot of opinions, very many different judgements about what the facts mean. And that’s what matters to consumers, not what the facts are, but what the facts mean for people in their daily lives.

BBC News: So, do you think that there is a link between the announcement of this review and the controversial price hike that we have from British Gas, putting up electricity prices by twelve and a half percent?

Tom Burke:  Yes, I think that there is a link in the sense that there is a blame game, the industry wants to blame the government, and the government wants to blame the industry, and the reality is that they are both at fault. The fact is that the utilities have not passed on the full benefit of falling energy prices, and government has failed to implement its building regulations as effectively as it could. There is, conservatively, about twenty five percent more savings we can get on our energy demand through efficient proper use of our building stock, and seeing it as infrastructure, and investing in it as if it was infrastructure.  We could get those savings, and that would drive down energy bills permanently, it would also improve the overall efficiency of the economy, as well as meeting our climate targets.

BBC News: We heard a lot during the election about the promise of a price cap on energy, what happened to that?

Tom Burke:  Well, it was interesting to hear that the government had suddenly adopted an Ed Miliband policy that they rubbished, and I think it was probably an attempt to manage the headlines, rather that really change the outcomes. This is not going to be brought about by tinkering in the margins of price policy. This is going to be brought about if the government decides to make this part of its infrastructure program, its industrial strategy if you like, and harnesses the energy in the cities to do this, and then drives it forward as a proper investment program.

 

 

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BBC News – Government launches an independent review into the cost of energy prices

 

 

BBC News: An independent review into the cost of energy is being launched by the government, just days after British Gas raised standard electricity prices by twelve and a half percent. The review will examine how prices can be kept as low as possible, while ensuring that the UK still meets climate change targets. Well let’s discuss this new review with Tom Burke, who is chairman of E3G, an independent climate change think tank. Thanks very much for being with us. So, a new energy bill review ordered, is it a good idea? do you welcome it?

Tom Burke: Well I welcome the idea of more information, but I doubt that it is going to come up with anything new. It’s a three month review, and Dieter Helm is a very well informed person, but it’s unlikely that he will be adding anything new to the equation that’s already there. What we know is that if you want to achieve your fuel poverty reduction goals, you want to achieve your climate goals, and you want to improve the efficiency of the economy, then what you most of all need to do is improve the energy efficiency of your building stock. It is the fastest, most reliable, and most secure way of driving bills down. And what’s more doing it permanently so they are not at the whim of policies or wholesale prices.

BBC News: Well, professor Helm, who is running this review, says that it will be independent and it will sort out the fact from the myths about the cost of energy.

Tom Burke: I am always troubled by someone who comes up with the line facts and myths, it tends to be they want you to use their facts, not your facts, and as we saw with Howard Davis and the airport commission, as we’ve seen with HS2, it’s very difficult to do that, especially difficult if you’ve got to do that in three months. These are highly contested areas, there’s an awful lot of opinions, very many different judgements about what the facts mean. And that’s what matters to consumers, not what the facts are, but what the facts mean for people in their daily lives.

BBC News: So, do you think that there is a link between the announcement of this review and the controversial price hike that we have from British Gas, putting up electricity prices by twelve and a half percent?

Tom Burke:  Yes, I think that there is a link in the sense that there is a blame game, the industry wants to blame the government, and the government wants to blame the industry, and the reality is that they are both at fault. The fact is that the utilities have not passed on the full benefit of falling energy prices, and government has failed to implement its building regulations as effectively as it could. There is, conservatively, about twenty five percent more savings we can get on our energy demand through efficient, proper, use of our building stock, and seeing it as infrastructure, and investing in it as if it was infrastructure.  We could get those savings, and that would drive down energy bills permanently, it would also improve the overall efficiency of the economy, as well as meeting our climate targets.

BBC News: We heard a lot during the election about the promise of a price cap on energy, what happened to that?

Tom Burke:  Well, it was interesting to hear that the government had suddenly adopted an Ed Miliband policy that they rubbished, and I think it was probably an attempt to manage the headlines, rather that really change the outcomes. This is not going to be brought about by tinkering in the margins of price policy. This is going to be brought about if the government decides to make this part of its infrastructure program, its industrial strategy if you like, and harnesses the energy in the cities to do this, and then drives it forward as a proper investment program.

BBC News: Tom Burke, many thanks very for being with us.

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Al Jazeera – Earth Overshoot Day marks unprecedented environmental damages – 2 Aug 17

 

 

Al Jazeera: I am joined now by Tom Burke, he is chairman of the environmental think tank E3G, and has advised a number of senior British politicians, thanks so much for being with us.

How surprising is it that we have reached this overshoot day as early as August this year?

Tom Burke: I don’t think that it’s a surprise, when I was born there were two and a half  billion people on the planet now there are close to eight billion, and we are all doing a lot more so we are putting increased pressure on the natural resource base of the economy, and what this is telling us is that in a sense we have run out our current account and we are starting to run up an overdraft, on maintaining the productivity of that natural resource base.

Al Jazeera: Why is that happening?

Tom Burke:  Just because there are so many of us making more demands. To have a decent life people need to have food security, water security, and energy security in particular, and the pressure of trying to provide that for so many people is squeezing the natural resource base of our economy. So, this is not only a problem for the environment this is now increasingly a problem for the economy, because most of our economy that is not provided by fossil fuels and fossil minerals is provided by those ecological systems

Al Jazeera: So what can we do about it, can we go into reverse gear and have or overshoot day take even longer to reach per year?

Tom Burke: It depends on which bit you are looking at, if you are looking at energy, I think we really could really do something pretty optimistic. We now have the technology we need to make use of the abundant energy from the sun. It’s a question of deploying the technology that we already have, and doing that fast enough, and that means we can maintain energy security for everybody. Water security is more difficult, because the world has got a lot of water, but a lot of it isn’t where the people are. What we have got to do is become much more efficient at using water, and much more interested in complicated solutions involving people, rather that simplistic engineering solution that simply shift the problem around. I think we can address the problem we have with water if we get cleverer with the way we use the knowledge that we already have. I think that there is a big problem, that is going to get bigger as the climate changes, is maintaining food security for everybody. And I think, for instance, agriculture is one of the reasons that we have a problem with water. We have to get much cleverer and invest much more in restoring the fertility of soils, we lose billions and billions of tones of soil every year, declining the productive base of or agriculture, because we don’t use the smarts systems that we actually know how to use, a lot of which are things that human being have been doing for years, just not doing them of a large enough scale, and making use of local knowledge about how to maintain the productivity of soils, which is the foundation for food security.

Al Jazeera: I feel a little less depressed than I did at the start. Tom Burke, thanks for that reassuring interview.

 

 

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Will the Government energy efficiency drive work? – Sky News

 

 

I think that this about the smartest thing that the government has done in energy policy in some time. It really does set Britain on the right trajectory for getting a low-carbon, affordable, secure electricity supply, that’s right for the twenty first century. It’s very good for consumers, it opens up the prospect that you won’t only get a bill through the door but you will also get a cheque. It’s very good for the climate because it makes it quicker and cheaper to meet our climate targets, and it’s also good for the economy as it means that we will be making much more efficient use of our generating capacity.

Two things are going to happen. Firstly, the cost of batteries are going down extraordinarily rapidly, they have gone down far faster than anybody thought they would go down and secondly you are going to find a lot of innovative financial measures to make that these options are available to ordinary consumers, provided that you’ve got the right regulatory structure, and that’s exactly what the government has set out today that it is going to do, so that the pricing will be fair when you sell your energy back to the grid not just when you pay for it. We are going to create a much more dynamic, flexible and efficient energy system, that will both drive down bills, but also off consumers the opportunity to make some money for themselves.

There will be some areas where you can’t have solar panels on your roof, it maybe in conservation areas or high-rise flats where the is multiple occupancy, but the vast majority of people in this country will see opportunities opening up for them, and in those other areas what you will see is a tremendous development of community schemes, that don’t necessarily involve you putting things on your roof, or in the case of high rise buildings on roofs you don’t have.

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