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'Doing nothing isn't an option - Britain's in the mood to go green'

01.01.70

Energy minister Malcolm Wicks says that the latest review will uphold the diversity of supply sources and help households become more fuel-efficient

Three months ago, I set out a stark "do nothing"' scenario - a picture of where we could be in just 15 years if we don't face up to our pressing energy challenges. A third of our current power stations will have closed, 60 per cent of our electricity will be generated from gas, most of it imported, and we'll have little chance of achieving our ambitious carbon-reduction targets. I called for a wide-ranging and informed debate.

Well I certainly got it. I've met with more than 500 experts in the fields of energy, the environment and finance, undertaken dozens of media interviews and phone-ins and received over 2,000 written respon- ses, most from individual members of the public.

There's still some way to go before I report to the Prime Minister in the summer, but two things are already clear to me.

First, there has been a surprising degree of consensus. Very few people have argued with our aims of securing supply, tackling climate change and ending the correlation between being old and being cold. Nor have many disagreed that a review now for the long term is the right decision.

Yes there are differences. We've seen anti-nuclear campaigners making their point aggressively, and Jeremy Clarkson and I haven't seen eye-to-eye on gas-guzzling 4x4s. But my call for fact over emotion has generally been heeded.

From business, I've heard the same messages over and over. There is an appetite to invest in the energy sector, but greater long-term certainty on the direction of policy is vital. As one person put it, given the sums of money and timescales involved: "We don't want a five-year signal for energy policy, we want a 50-year signal."

And diversity is critical. We currently get 40 per cent of our electricity from gas, 33 per cent from coal, 19 per cent from nuclear and some 4 per cent from renewables with the rest coming from oil or imports. So we must not pitch different energy sources as being at loggerheads. Equally, government should be in the game of setting the framework, not fixing the mix; "picking winners doesn't work".

The second thing that's now abundantly clear to me is that we, as individuals, need to re-evaluate our relationship with energy. In days gone by, we would fill our coal scuttle or collect wood for the fire. Now we just flick on a switch or turn the ignition key and expect everything to work. Increasingly, this is complacency we cannot afford.

I already detect a shift. Over the past six months the UK's 24 million households have faced gas price rises of 35 per cent, electricity of 25 per cent. Combine this with the dire warnings about the impact of climate change and it's not surprising that, probably for the first time in a generation, the global geopolitics of energy is the subject of discussion round the dining table and in the pub.

But falling victim to rising prices is too passive an involvement. If I've been surprised by anything during our consultation, it is the high level of concern about climate change. And that is a strong pointer to a greener future. This is not a matter solely for large institutions like the UN, the G8 and the EU - or for powerful individuals like presidents and prime ministers. It is a also matter for active citizens, who can take action in their own homes and their own transport and, yes, demand boldness from their elected representatives.

That's why I'm determined that the Energy Review outcomes should help the individual to make a real difference. Most immediately, this means knowing how to reduce energy use by being more efficient, perhaps with the help of "smart meters". It also means shopping around for greener electricity and vehicles powered by alternative fuels. And, with the help of our new 80m microgeneration programme, it will increasingly mean generating electricity on our roofs and in our basements.

The Energy Review is a defining moment - a chance to set ourselves on a path to an affordable and sustainable future. It's a challenge that none of us - government, business or individual - can afford to ignore.

Responses to the Energy Review consultation are published at www.dti.gov.uk

Expert opinion

Halter Marek

02.12.06

Halter Marek
Le College de France
Olivier Giscard dEstaing

02.12.06

Olivier Giscard dEstaing
COPAM, France
Mika Ohbayashi

02.12.06

Mika Ohbayashi
Institute for Sustainable Energy Poliy
Bill Pace

02.12.06

Bill Pace
World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
Peter I. Hajnal

01.12.06

Peter I. Hajnal
Toronto University, G8 Research Group