Tim Farron writes … Zero carbon Britain put at risk by Conservatives


You might have missed it if you weren’t looking, but on Friday the Conservatives threw a bit more of our green policy out of the window, by scrapping a technical (but crucial) part of Zero Carbon Homes – allowable solutions. This measure essentially meant that developers would still be required to offset carbon emissions by paying into a green pot –  even if they couldn’t build new homes to Zero Carbon standards.  I wrote about it here, when the measure was previously announced by Stephen Williams:

“Where it would be all nigh impossible to build a carbon-tight home “on site”, developers aren’t let off the hook. Instead they contribute to a central pot of money which will go straight back into locking up any remaining carbon leakage in other “off-setting” schemes and carbon reducing initiatives. The net result is, as Lib Dem minister Stephen Williams describes, “No Carbon. None. Nil. Nought. Zip. Zilch.” Now that is not the case.

I still amazed when the Tories try to tell us that we can’t afford to green the UK economy. The truth is, we can’t afford not to. The UK’s low carbon business sector grew rapidly in the last parliament and is now five times larger than the aerospace industry and twice as large as the chemicals sector. The sector is well placed to capitalise on new global low carbon markets, which are now worth more than £3 trillion. We want to seize this opportunity, not throw it away.

Liberal Democrats should all be proud that, during our time in Government, we set the UK on the path to a low carbon economy. We made sure that ambitious targets were adopted under the fourth carbon budget. We put in place the world’s first low carbon energy market. We created the Green Investment Bank.

With Britain’s low carbon economy at a crossroads, our work must continue. But my fear is that the Tories will blow it. Already, they are taking away support for onshore wind, the cheapest form of renewable energy. In his “Summer Budget”, George Osborne stepped up his attack by raising taxes for renewable energy projects. And now the Tories are scrapping Zero Carbon standards for new homes.

Let’s be honest though: Liberal Democrats have not always made a powerful enough case that investment in low-carbon and resource-efficient industries will give a Britain a stronger economy, more jobs and greater prosperity.

That’s why the top priority in my personal manifesto is active, ambitious, liberal government to create a new economy – low-carbon, high- skill, innovative, enterprising and resource-efficient.

There are three things we must do. First, we need to keep pressing ministers to work with their European partners to secure a new global treaty on climate change. And we need to remind David Cameron and his colleagues that if they don’t take strong action for a low carbon economy here in the UK, they won’t be credible at the big UN climate summit in Paris at the end of the year.

Second, we must keep pressing for a legally binding decarbonisation target for 2030, which can largely be achieved by expanding renewables, for a deadline to retire the UK’s most polluting coal stations and for carbon budgets that will help to meet our long-term targets to cut emissions. Developers of clean energy technologies need a policy roadmap they can count on.

The third task is to renew our call for a comprehensive energy efficiency retrofit for existing homes and for zero carbon new build to be made a national infrastructure priority. With cold homes estimated to cost the NHS around £1.3bn a year, improving home energy efficiency would significantly reduce the burden on NHS budgets. It would also give the UK greater energy security.

Above all, I am determined that the Liberal Democrat version of a zero carbon Britain will be at the forefront of our efforts to re-establish ourselves as a popular and credible force.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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  • Eddie Sammon 13th Jul '15 - 9:10pm

    The Eurozone has basically just ended and Tim is talking about zero carbon Britain. Everything the Lib Dems stood for, European federalism, the Euro, has just been dealt a serious blow and so to has the strategy of saying “spikey” things that Tim wants to adopt.

  • Very sad I know, but if this article was in the Daily Mail very few would even read it. Less and less people seem to be bothered.

  • @Eddie. Although I am a strong Tim supporter I tend to agree with you in this case. If we are to have any chance of making an impact again we need to have a sort of ‘concentric circle’ attitude to policy, initially focusing on the key issues at the centre of the policy circle – i.e. the economy, business, jobs, health, education, housing and, possibly, foreign policy. These are the things which matter most to people at the moment. Only after developing consistent and coherent policies in these areas should we focus on things which, although still important, are, sadly, of less immediate concern to most people – things like the environment and the Snooper’s Charter etc.

    To have any chance of winning, and therefore making a difference, we must reach out beyond our core voters and develop fair-minded policies which appeal to a broader cohort. That is what Alan Milburn said recently about what the Labour Party needs to do now – and I think the same applies to the Lib Dems.

    If we do not prioritise the issues that the electorate care about most, we cannot make much progress Yes, this is a pragmatic view, but I think it’s where we are right now.

    I also think we need to be able to admit it when other parties have a good idea. I actually think raising the minimum wage was absolutely necessary and most people think so too. If we just criticise everything, as a party, we lose credibility. We need to be more subtle.

  • Sammy O'Neill 13th Jul '15 - 11:19pm


    Not all of us were Euro lovers.

    As for Tim’s views here, I find it quite incredible that he is moaning about this when we need to desperately be encouraging house building. Making house building even more expensive is not going to help sort out the housing crisis.

    Worse still is the obsession with renewables without any credible explanation of how it would be funded without resorting to making the billpayers pick up the tab. I feel incredibly uncomfortable seeing measures that will force people already in fuel poverty into an even worse position advocated, with absolutely no recognition of something needing to be done to avoid that.

    I’m sorry to say, but Tim doesn’t seem to understand that the costs of all the measures he advocates cannot easily be borne by the end user. If we want to be a “popular and credible force” then understanding that the average person cannot really afford to pay substantially more in bills or a premium on housing is a pretty basic first step. This is all so dispiriting.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Jul '15 - 11:25pm

    Thanks Judy, I very much agree. Although things like green spaces are very important to people. I don’t care about some green spaces, but other ones, that I grew up playing in, I would fight tooth and nail to protect.

    Recently at a hustings Tim was asked what the Lib Dems could do to stand out and one of the things was “support the European Union”. I think that strategy is over. I couldn’t stand up proud to the “European anthem” anymore. EU solidarity, as it is presently constructed, is over.

    Of course there is a path back to the Lib Dems, but as recently as 2010 the Lib Dem position was to join the Euro.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Jul '15 - 11:28pm

    Sorry, I meant to say: “of course there is a path back for the Lib Dems”.

    I agree Sammy. I actually have a lot of faith in the Lib Dem membership, but some boat rocking needs to happen.

  • It makes sense for the country that homes are energy efficient and it is right that Tim picks up on this issue. Developers can ignore this and simply drive up the demand for fuel as a result. Until we deal with other issues related to the allocation of economic rent (which is a long way off ) these kind of measures are necessary. I suspect the Conservatives will reverse this if energy prices rise to a high level but it is good that we raise the issue now.

  • “It makes sense for the country that homes are energy efficient”

    Yes however, lets not forget that the Coalition oversaw the watering down of the proposed 2016 Building Regulations, which will have significant ramifications both on the construction of energy efficient new homes and their on-going energy consumption for decades to come…

  • I can’t believe the comments on this thread are by Lib Dems. Climate change is the biggest threat the human race faces and you’re treating it like a side issue. It is also a major economic threat and opportunity which will ultimately affect everything else including wars and poverty levels. There’s no point in building thousands of new homes if the people in them can’t afford to heat them. That’s the kind of short term thinking that got us into this mess in the first place!

  • I am far from understanding all of the minute details and costs and benefits here and happy to stand corrected . But the political focus will be on building more homes – why would we not want to build them with massive energy efficiency. If they can be built well and especially quickly enough, will not the increased supply also ease pressure on house prices?
    If they can be built with power/heat generation features will that not aid in the cost of home ownership too as well as providing greater “insulation” from oil and gas prices rises and threats to supply. Who’s for Nuclear power or fracking. Some strategic thinking is needed surely.
    Much of the costs would or should mean greater employment and profits for UK companies and and increase in skills and knowledge base – these things help UK plc through taxes, benefits and hopefully exports. I am assuming that if large percentages of new homes are customarily being built to high standards, ideally with generation features that the cost differences will become ever more modest.
    An unemployed family I know LOVE the insulation improvements and power generation features in their home – it makes a real difference, granted they are in social housing.
    We cannot afford to think only short term. Maybe as a party it will leave us on the fringes for a while but we must be putting forward the right ideas and messages for today’s young people and future generations. Not just what wins votes in middle england.
    Of course its best if we can do both !!!
    Tim is right on this, but he’ll need all the best ideas and help on how to win the arguments, any thoughts on how to win the arguments?

  • Neil Sandison 14th Jul '15 - 1:16pm

    I am sure the Conservatives will get another hefty donation from the construction industry and consumers will get another hefty bill as we import energy from abroad to meet the demand for energy supply for all these new homes which we know generate high levels of carbon . On shore wind and anaerobic digesters might have helped in terms of renewables but we know Cameron hates all this green crap now he has given up hugging the odd Husky.

  • @Tim P “There’s no point in building thousands of new homes if the people in them can’t afford to heat them. ”

    The issue isn’t whether the people can or cannot afford to heat them, but whether, given the constraints of climate change, whether we can permit them to use any energy that contributes to CO2 emissions etc.

    The LibDem green and housing building agenda’s are text box examples of the left hand not knowing (or wanting to know) what the right hand is doing.

  • peter tyzack 14th Jul '15 - 2:31pm

    so, then, why is it not our policy to have an end-date for the use of any fossil fuels..? It is entirely possible..

  • Richard Stallard 14th Jul '15 - 3:22pm

    “The issue isn’t whether the people can or cannot afford to heat them, but whether…. we can permit them to use any energy that contributes to CO2 emissions etc.”

    Permit them… PERMIT THEM! What sort of an authoritarian response is that? I will continue to use whatever method I choose to heat my home, ‘green’ or not, and woe betide anyone who tries to tell me otherwise. Educate me, by all means. Encourage me, yes.; but try ti impose your values on me – no. I am a free man and can make up my own mind, thanks.

  • David Allen 14th Jul '15 - 5:00pm

    “As for Tim’s views here, I find it quite incredible that he is moaning about this when we need to desperately be encouraging house building. Making house building even more expensive is not going to help sort out the housing crisis.”

    Textbook anti-green campaign tactics:

    (1). Always be arrogantly dismissive of proposals you don’t like. Bombastic arrogance impresses the credulous. Shout loudly, in order to cover up the weaknesses in what you are shouting about.

    (2). Find something bad to which you can conceivably link the proposals you don’t like, and then claim that the proposals you don’t like would cause the something bad. There is no need for this to be a valid claim. Just speak with total confidence, and plenty of people will believe you.

    (3). Avoid telling a direct untruth. If you say “The reason houses are not being built is the cost of energy efficiency measures”, then housing experts will pile in to explain why this is not actually one of the real reasons. However, if you say “Making house building even more expensive is not going to help sort out the housing crisis”, you have said something which appears to have meaning, but doesn’t. Since the statement means nothing, it can’t be attacked as an untruth.

    Result! (if you are an anti-green propagandist, that is).

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '15 - 5:52pm

    Frank Little, I was being a bit dramatic, but still, I would have liked to hear something on the greek crisis.

  • Of course tackling climate change is important – as well as protecting biodiversity and our green spaces. But we can only achieve our goals on these issues if we can present ourselves as a party confident on the economy, business, health, education and housing. Otherwise we won’t get the votes we need to have a greater chance of implementing our policies. We had great and well-researched green policies in our last manifesto -e.g. our five Green Laws – but nothing to show for it.

    A zero carbon UK is a really worthwhile goal to aim for and greater use of renewables – great to see more solar farms around now – but we have to get more MPs elected to make a real difference. Also, if we frame the debate more in terms of economics than emotion we will get much further.

    PS I used to work for the European Environmental Bureau and the Native Forest Action Council in Australia so I can promise you I am a ‘greenie’.

  • Tsar Nicholas 14th Jul '15 - 9:11pm

    Judy Abel

    I don’t see how anybody can talk about protecting biodiversity when the species extinction rate is at least 150 per day, much higher even than the Permian Mass extinction of 232 million years ago when 90% of all life went extinct.

    It may well be that this year, as a result of the major El Nino event in the Pacific that global average temperature rise above pre-industrial base will reach one degree centigrade. that is halfway to the two degrees deemed dangerous (although the IPCC or its predecessor in 1990 initially said that 1 degree C was dangerous and changed the target for political reasons).

    Honestly, people have been saying for decades that they are ‘green but’ it is about not destroying the economy and it is a problem for the grandchildren. When they started saying that I was a grandchild and now I have four of my own. We are bequeathing a dead planet to them – which naturally means they are dead too since humanity is not distinct from the biosphere.

  • @Richard stallard – Re: “PERMIT THEM!”
    Well spotted!

    In two words you have got to the real sticking point with respect to the UK’s international green commitments; namely at some point a government is going to have to make a tough decision: hold to the green commitments and thus effectively tell people what they can or can’t do, or ignore them and let the next administration sort the problem out…

    However, with housing things are slightly different. We in broad terms know:
    1. How much energy a ‘household’ uses for statistical purposes,
    2. We know that many of our green commitments are based on the 1998 population and levels of economic activity,
    3. We know the energy savings etc. that have been made todate and can make reasonable assumptions about future energy savings etc.
    Hence we can calculate the room (if any!) for increases in domestic consumption and thus the actual number of new homes (and population growth) that can be built and stay within our green commitments….

    Given, I suspect that our current growth allowance has been predicated on the timely largescale deployment of nuclear, which is now questionable given events, it would not surprise me to discover that we could be rapidly veering away from any reasonable prospect of becoming green and carbon zero before you factor in 300,000 new homes and the associated population projections…

  • @Tsar Nicholas. I agree with much of what you say, but the Lib Dems now have only 8 MPs. Despite having a strong track record on promoting green issues, even in Coalition, where are we now? What good did it all do? At the end of the day voters have to vote for us for us to be able to change things. Isn’t that what we want? I want a green economy, clean air, lower carbon emissions, an end to waste, and we must argue for these things, but without getting more MPs and councillors elected we cannot achieve this – and as we have see, voters tend to vote for the Party they think will manage the economy best. I wish it were not so, but the environment is not – at the moment at least – a key priority for voters.

    The other alternative of course is for Lib Dems to work for pressure groups like FoE and Greenpeace, or to directly lobby the policy makers in Brussels, from where so much progressive environmental legislation has come in recent years.

  • Tsar Nicholas 14th Jul '15 - 11:27pm

    Very bad figures just in from the Japan Meteorological Agency.

    “According to Japan’s Meteorological Agency, June beat previous all-time hot temperatures of 0.68 C above the 20th Century average set just last year (2014) by 0.08 C. Coming in at 0.76 C above the global 20th Century average and about 0.96 C above 1880s values, this past June was the hottest since Japan began taking measures in 1891. By comparison, El Nino years 2010 and 1998 came in as tied for third hottest at 0.51 C above 20th Century average levels respectively.”


    Thanks for responding Judy – one thing we could do is to quit talking as if the climate situation was something to worry about only in the far future.

  • Sammy O'Neill 14th Jul '15 - 11:41pm

    @David Allen
    To take each of your bullet points in turn

    1) You’re guilty of doing exactly what you’re accusing others of doing. Rank hypocrisy.

    2) Just general ranting, nothing of substance or relevance to what I actually said.

    3) Conflating my argument is an argument flaw. Affordability of housing is a serious issue and a part of the housing crisis. It’s really glad you don’t mind first time buyers paying even more for their houses/flats than they currently do, but perhaps if you were in the real world with me you might understand that they don’t need “help” that drives UP prices, they need help that reduces it.

    @those making the point that houses become cheaper to run:

    The truth here is that’s not actually the case in some instances. Many of the district heating systems these green schemes have constructed as actually considerably more expensive to end users than traditional supplies. The Olympic Park is a wonderful example. The standing charges are about triple the normal monthly rates. The cost per unit is more than double. So great, everything is carbon neutral. But the cost of energy is now ridiculous. Sure you’ll use less units than you would in a normal property, but the reduction still isn’t enough that you’re not now paying way more than you otherwise would be.

  • Zero carbon Britain is an impossibility. Trotting out meaningless phrases like this may appeal to the ideologically motivated who are oblivious to reality but it does not instil confidence.

    It is not a coincidence that the National Grid today warned that the likelihood of power cuts this winter is greater than ever, but these may be avoided by DECC’s master plan to shut down industry.

    You couldn’t make this stuff up.

  • @Sara Scarlett “Zero Carbon is one of those things the LibDems talk about to avoid engaging with the Middle Classes.”

    I would have thought its exactly the sort of thing the middle classes are keen on 😉

  • The Lib Dems have a pit bull approach to policy. Once they have their jaws around something they lock on apparently convinced that tearing off a chunk represents a policy win irrespective of anything else. Specifically:

    1. A “legally binding target” is constitutional nonsense as any aspirant party leader should know. He may think that the public doesn’t know this and many probably don’t – but many certainly do. It’s the political equivalent of the playground “cross my heart and hope to die” way of bigging up a promise and equally unsuited to grown up debate..

    2. “Zero carbon” is a very debateable concept. It’s not my specialist subject but I would put money on the fact that the 80/20 rule applies – namely that 80% of the result can be obtained with 20% of the effort and cost. That implies that the remaining 80 of cost is malinvestment. Politicians really must resist committing to investment driven by sound bite.

    3. I strongly suspect that on a 10 year or so timescale the global energy market will be upended in one or more ways. Absent that context which includes both risks and opportunities this is merely posturing.

    Tim needs better advice.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jul '15 - 7:38pm

    The UK and particularly Scotland have a reduced future in oil at current prices and an increased future in generating electricity from tidal sources. North Sea gas is yesterdays story for Holland and the UK. North Sea oil is being extracted as increasingly high cost, if at all after recent redundancies.
    The timescales differ. Who knows how long Saudi Arabia will be flooding the world with cheap oil as a means of undermining the income terrorists have from captured oil fields in Iraq? The amount of economically recoverable oil and gas in the world depends on the current price, except that in Saudi Arabia they already have a lot of oil that can be extracted at low cost. Whether they have more would only be known when have a need to look.

  • @ Tsar Nicholas. There was an article in the papers recently about how people are becoming immune to bad news, including on things like climate change,because they hear the same warnings so often. Maybe we need to try another tack. Apparently climate change is going to affect people’s health adversely. I think we need a new angle on this issue.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jul '15 - 10:34pm

    Bring back Tom Lehrer
    “Pollution, pollution, we’ve got smog and sewage and mud.
    Turn on your taps and get hot and cold running crud”

  • Wind turbines are currently supplying about 2% of the nation’s electricity demand. This has been a frequent occurrence in recent months as high pressure over the UK provides only light winds. This means that conventional power stations are needed to supply the other 98% otherwise our country shuts down.

    The grid must always balance supply and demand. This not just to ensure the lights stay on. Imbalance damages the grid causing expensive damage and loss of that part of the network. The grid was built to work with a near constant base load supply and a stable controllable supply. The latter could be adjusted to meet the variable demand.

    Powered by renewables we would have a variable demand supplied by an intermittent, unpredictable and variable supply. It is not possible to run a grid in that manner. It is very expensive to modify the grid to run with any element of renewable energy.

    For those who believe the optimistic green claims, just a few points.

    Electricity cannot be stored despite what you may hear. There are fuel cells and batteries which convert chemical energy to electricity. These are small scale, expensive and many bring other problems such as safety and toxicity and high cost. There are potential energy systems where water is pumped to a height then used to drive a turbine at a later time.

    Carbon sequestration does not exist. There are laboratory and pilot scale attempts but we are decades from commercially viable installations on an industrial scale.

    Renewable energy is not cheap. It is very expensive and would not exist without subsidies to make it attractive and taxes to overprice the alternatives.

    The taxes to overprice the alternatives are causing conventional generating companies to withdraw from the market. That is the purpose of the taxes. As explained above, without conventional power the grid cannot function. We are close to that point according to National Grid.

    This is why I find sweeping, glib statements from politicians to be very irritating.

  • Stephen Hesketh 16th Jul '15 - 1:30pm

    Peter16th Jul ’15 – 12:25pm
    “Wind turbines are currently supplying about 2% of the nation’s electricity demand. This has been a frequent occurrence in recent months as high pressure over the UK provides only light winds. This means that conventional power stations are needed to supply the other 98% otherwise our country shuts down.”

    Peter one thing I can safely say, you never let facts get in the way of your sweeping anti renewable power posts.

    During July, the Guardian reported Solar PV being predicted to produce a record 15% electricity. This is likely to mean that in the same recent months it must reglarly have exceeded 10%. Not to mention hydroelectric circa 2% and the huge potential in wave, tidal and barrage generation. The internet is full of positive stories regarding actual and potential schemes.

    I must wonder what you might have said about some of the energy generation and engineering achievements of our forefathers – they were afterall previously impossible.

    Wish I had more time but sadly work beckons.

  • David Allen 16th Jul '15 - 2:05pm

    Peter said:

    “Electricity cannot be stored …. Carbon sequestration does not exist. …. Renewable energy …. would not exist without subsidies… This is why I find sweeping, glib statements from politicians to be very irritating.”

    You clearly prefer your own!

  • My comment was relative to wind power. I did ignore solar because it does not produce any electricity at all during the hours of darkness, therefore none at night and very little on dark winter days. If you want to add solar into the mix then it means even more backup conventional power is required. At least wind turbines can work when it is dark.

    Hydroelectric power is currently delivering 1.15% of demand. Wave power is negligible. We are importing around 8% which is a costly and subject to availability.

    The huge potential in tidal, barrage, etc does not exist, may never exist, will be hugely expensive and will probably be blocked on environmental grounds.

    Our forefathers built excellent, high capacity, low cost power stations. It is a pity we are now closing them down.

  • Stephen, I recognise that generating clean, low cost power is very desirable. The best compromise we have today is probably gas. Other methods may make a contribution and should be evaluated in a fair way. This did not happen with solar or wind turbines which depend on having the energy market completely rigged by subsidies and taxes and the huge grid costs concealed. There should be more investment in other technologies but that is another debate.

    The point of today’s debate is the Dib Dem commitment to Zero Carbon Britain and why that aim is impossible.

  • David Allen – Fair comment. All sweeping, but also true!

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