As we career towards yet another general election, Greenpeace has published a league table of the various parties' ambitions when it comes to creating a carbon neutral Britain, according to their manifestos. Unsurprisingly, the Green Party tops the table, closely followed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Plaid Cymru follows, but the Conservatives, Brexit Party and, surprisingly, SNP, fall far behind. But as climate change is high on the political agenda, especially among young voters, are the major parties' manifesto promises (if, of course, they can be believed) really going far enough - and quickly enough?
A major new report, published by Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), a Powys-based charity, has determined that a net-zero carbon Britain is already possible, without relying on future technology developments. Concerted changes to industry, transport and buildings could decrease the demand for energy by 60%, and further changes to energy, land use and diet could help provide 100% renewable energy and cyt emissions from agriculture and industry. And just as importantly, this could be achieved now, without waiting for as-yet untested new technologies.
The report is necessarily technical in its approach, but this does not hide the overriding message, that we have the ability to drastically reduce the UK's carbon footprint now, instead of waiting for the various periods of time espoused by the political parties. Whether or not there would be a political or commercial appetite to make the necessary changes remains to be seen.
First on CAT's hit list is energy use, which the authors claim could be combated by the use of insulated masonry and concrete, triple glazing and LED lighting. Attractively to the consumer, this could reduce energy costs per households to a remarkable £15 a year. And some of these changes could be made to existing buildings, reducing energy heating use by up to 50%. Transportation is also in the spotlight, with energy demand reduced by up to 78% by the increased use of public transport, walking, cycling, electric vehicles and, most importantly, reducing flights by two-thirds.
Britain could also produce sufficient energy to meet the entire country's needs, through renewable and carbon-neutral means. 50% of energy needs could be created by wind, with the rest through sources suited to the UK climate - geothermal, hydro, tidal and even solar. And through the Bill Gates-backed Canadian company Carbon Engineering, the technology already exists to do this commercially.
And following the United Nations lead, CAT also asserts that changing from a meat and dairy-based diet to plant-based could go a long way to reduce carbon emissions as, of course, would reducing food waste and improving agriculture practice. Through these measures, on-farm greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 57%, food imports (and the resultant transportation issues) from 42% to 17% and 75% of existing livestock farmland returned to forests and peat-lands.
All of which shows that far from being pie in the sky, the UK does indeed have the power to become carbon neutral, and far sooner than the deadlines set by the political parties. And CAT has laid down the gauntlet by challenging politicians to formulate action plans with policy frameworks and the large-scale investment that would be required as a matter of urgency. The ultimate power, of course, lies with the people - please think carefully before you vote next month.