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Photograph Courtesy of East Anglian Daily Times Ipswich layout graphic David Ruffley MP
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Latest Update: Press Releases (24 May 2005)  
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David gives his views on the environmental challenges ahead
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We must manage our environment better for the sake of the planet and our own quality of life.
Climate change is a great challenge. In the last thirty years, world temperature has increased by almost half a degree centigrade. We cannot predict with total certainty what will happen in future decades. But the risk of abrupt climate change is very real.
A recent report for the Pentagon states that "with over 400 million people living in drier, subtropical, often over populated and economically poor regions today, climate change and its follow on effects pose a severe risk to political, economic and social stability". Climate change has happened in the past through a variety of natural causes but human activity seems a major factor in the changes we see today.
The current government has squandered the chance to do something about this issue and really press the United States to curb its CO² emissions into the atmosphere.
Renewable energy
Renewable energy is the future. We must continue to search for and develop more cost effective ways to tap into this almost infinite energy reserve.
I am not against onshore wind in principle but I believe that the Government’s current policy is ill thought out. Planning concerns about a huge number of onshore wind farms are well founded. Many conservationists in Suffolk are very exercised about the skyline of Suffolk being altered for the worse by a big expansion of wind farms. I do not believe that the Government’s decision to alter the planning guidance shifting power away from local communities to the regions addresses the problem identified by local conservationists.
But I believe that offshore wind farms could have a bright future. The Government have failed to concentrate enough research on offshore wind, biomass and the technologies of solar, wave and tidal power.
With the right incentives the twenty first century will be the age of renewable and recoverable energy, just as the nineteenth century was the age of the steam engine and the twentieth the age of the internal combustion and jet engines. Man's ingenuity is almost limitless, and clean energy will secure our future well before the end of the century we live in today.
Energy efficiency
If finding new sources of clean energy is one part of the equation, conserving energy is the other. Energy efficiency may not be as exciting as renewable energy - its effects are gradual and unseen. But there are huge gains to be made.
Household energy accounts for more than a quarter of all our CO2 emissions. We must face up to the challenge of Britain's ageing, inefficient housing stock. At least two thirds of it has yet to benefit from any energy efficiency measures at all. It is estimated that insulating the walls of a quarter of a million homes would result in annual carbon savings of around 500,000 tonnes.
Only radical measures will ensure that we make serious progress in this area. Fiscal incentives have been used in the past to make real progress. They worked, for example, when we introduced differential fuel duty to promote the use of unleaded petrol. They exist at the moment with varying rates of vehicle excise duty. That’s why the Conservative Opposition are looking at a similar approach to encourage homeowners to become more energy efficient.
For example, we are consulting on a proposal that all houses which meet a specific energy efficiency target, benefit from a reduction in stamp duty – much in the way that energy efficient cars benefit from reduced road tax.
A Conservative Government will consult on the most practical timetable to achieve zero emissions from new houses. That must be the ambition and we must strive to make progress towards it.
We must be more active in removing the causes of harmful emissions where we are able to. The Conservative Opposition is firmly committed to phasing out the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, between 2008 and 2014.
HFCs contribute to global warming. Their impact is some thousands of times greater than CO2. HFCs currently account for two per cent of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions and that will have doubled by the end of the first decade of the twenty first century.
Unless this issue is addressed as a matter of some urgency, and government gives a clear lead, then the situation will only worsen. That is why a future Conservative Government will work with our European partners to phase out the use of HFCs over the next decade.
Combined heat and power
We also want to make the most of a proven, but shamefully underused technology, which is more than twice as efficient as centrally-generated energy sources. If only we used CHP – combined heat and power – properly we could greatly expand the possibilities for household energy efficiency. For every 1000 megawatts of CHP energy operating in the UK, nearly one million tonnes of carbon are saved each year.
Unfortunately the Labour Government has neglected this form of energy. They have missed the CHP target, set by the previous Conservative Government, by four years and the reality is that CHP capacity is now in reverse as Ministers invent excuses for inaction or actively discouraging it. For example, the new electricity trading arrangements put CHP producers at a significant disadvantage.
CHP and micro CHP could be much more prominent, and they will be under the next Conservative Government. We will give the CHP industry the confidence it needs to invest for a successful future. We will work closely with local authorities to encourage them to implement more community CHP schemes, particularly in new housing developments.
And we will learn from examples of local success. We will look closely at schemes like that in Woking, whose town centre now largely runs on CHP. Britain needs more schemes like Woking's, an entirely achievable goal that would make an immense contribution to our climate change objectives.
The transformation of oilseed rape - raw material which is indigenous to the United Kingdom - into biodiesel is sadly almost non-existent in this country. Production plants currently in operation use the residues of cooking oil to produce biofuels. Some biofuels are produced, but given that British agriculture would benefit from a revolution in fuel production, we appear not to be taking advantage of opportunities to produce and develop a facility for biofuels in this country.
It is widely accepted that biofuels are the only source of renewable power currently suitable for road transport. Given the Government's understandable commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, I would say that the two naturally go together.
It is unfortunate that the Government's biofuels policy, to the extent that it has one, appears muddled and unfocused.
We now have the potential to use agricultural set-aside land productively, to do much to generate new activity in rural Britain, to safeguard companies such as British Sugar that wish to pioneer bioethanol production in this country, and to give a further boost to manufacturing jobs by virtue of producing our biofuels. At a time when we are considering important issues of energy security, we would have the potential for a further secure supply. When all that beckons, and when DEFRA produces arguments that are irrefutably in favour of this proposition, it is time for the Government to be bold, to take up these ideas—which might well not cost them anything—and to give biodiesel the chance to be developed for the benefit of us all.
Renewable heat
I am fully in favour of micro-generation and encouraging the production of energy close to demand. My Conservative colleagues and I supported an amendment to the Energy Act 2004 which requires the Government to prepare a strategy for encouraging all types of micro-generation. I am keenly awaiting the publication of this strategy.
I support the idea of a Renewable Heat Obligation which would bolster the development of biomass and combined heat and power (CHP). However, in order to minimise the burden on consumers, I believe that this should ideally be done within the framework of a reformed Renewables Obligation which should support both renewable electricity and renewable heat projects. My colleagues on the Shadow Environment and Energy teams are currently investigating how the Renewables Obligation could be expanded and their proposals will be announced in the coming months.
Furthermore, reforming the Renewables Obligation should only form part of a successful strategy in the fight against climate change. Efforts to encourage the energy efficiency of buildings by means of fiscal incentives, through a stamp duty rebate or council tax rebate for example - ideas which are currently being assessed by the Conservative Party - would make a great difference to energy demand. Additionally, encouraging greener cars and fuels through a more imaginative and responsive tax system would address the increasing emissions from transport.
The state of our environment is often the subject of vigorous debate but what we need is action. I am fully committed to a Green agenda that will help preserve our environment for the generations to come.
However, the urgency of global warming means that fine words are no longer enough. We need action.
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