Our Co-ordinator, Andy Durling, recently lobbied Gregory Barker, the MP for Bexhill & Battle (a constituency that Andy lives in), and the UK’s Minister for Energy and Climate Change, about the concerns that Friends of the Earth and many other organisations have about the Energy Bill currently going through Parliament. Following up on that lobby meeting, Andy sent a letter yesterday to Greg Barker, addressing issues raised by that meeting. The text of that letter is given below:
Date: 10th February 2013
I wish to personally thank you for your time last week when I, Barabara and Nick visited you to discuss our concerns about the Energy Bill. We found your willingness to engage with us in a lively discussion about Britain’s energy future most encouraging and informative. We felt we were able to express our conviction that a strict 2030 decarbonisation target for the electricity power sector needs to be enshrined in the Energy Bill currently going through Parliament if the UK is to keep within the carbon budget specified by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and thereby keep the UK on track along the most cost-effective route identified by the CCC for achieving the target of 80% reduction of carbon emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2050, as mandated by the Climate Change Act. However, you did not share our concerns regarding the urgency of the 2030 target and you did not commit to voting for the 2030 target to be included in the Bill. Indeed, you have already voted against the 2030 target in the Committee stage of the Energy Bill. But there is still an opportunity for you to vote for the 2030 target, as the MPs Tim Yeo and Mark Gardiner have tabled an amendment to the Bill which would ensure that the target does make it into the Bill if enough MPs voted for it. I urge you to change your mind and to vote for this amendment, not only because it would send a clear message to investors that the UK is serious about a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy based on clean renewable energy, but also that it would demonstrate to the world that the UK is serious about dealing with climate change, which, on present trajectories, is heading towards a catastrophic 4 to 6 degrees Centigrade average global warming by 2100. The Arctic sea ice is now clearly in a “death spiral”, and we are heading for an ice-free Arctic in summer by 2020, with potentially disastrous consequences for our climate here in the UK, which has already had record-breaking droughts and floods in recent years. I am passionate about this for many reasons, not least the fact that I have a 19 year old daughter, and I fear for the kind of world she and perhaps her children will have to try and make a living in over the next few decades. I urge you for the sake of our children and grandchildren to use your influential position as Minister for Climate Change to send out the strongest possible signals that we in the UK are serious about dealing with the greatest existential threat of our time.
Given the urgency of this threat, it is especially worrying for me that you share the enthusiasm of other members of the government for shale gas fracking to commence on a large scale in the UK, and that you think it is useful as a ‘transition fuel’ helping us towards a low-carbon society. Gas is a fossil fuel, and the urgency of climate change is such that we need to transition away from ALL fossil fuels (the primary source of greenhouse gases) as quickly as possible, not search for more ways of extracting and consuming them. And extracting shale gas from onshore sites in the UK will be enormously damaging to the environment and poses great risks of contamination to the air, soils, and water of many local communities throughout the land, especially here in Sussex. No amount of strict regulation by UK statutory authorities will prevent accidents and mistakes from occurring within a drilling industry that is inherently risky and which has an appalling record of accidents, spills, and contamination as evidenced by real-life examples in the US, Canada, and Australia in particular; I am happy to provide documentation about this if you wish (there is no shortage of evidence!). The ‘precautionary principle’ should be applied in a strict way to ensure that the air, water, and soils of Sussex should never even be exposed in the first place to the risk of contamination. In Sussex there are simply too many people living within too small an area, and too dependent on already overstretched local water resources for fracking to be a realistic proposition here. As we discussed, and which you did not seem to disagree with, the opposition from local residents in Sussex, as throughout the UK, to the very invasive, highly industrial fracking activity in our green and pleasant land is likely to trigger off the mother of all protests against the whole fracking process. I myself am already working alongside many other Friends of the Earth activists and people from all sorts of other organisations (many of them local, grass-roots organisations with no pre-existing ties to environmental NGOs) to mobilise against fracking and I can assure you that the groundswell of opposition to fracking is deep, broad, well-informed, and growing by the day. My plea is that you undertake to become as informed as possible about the actual destruction to people’s lives and environment caused by fracking and also to understand that we simply have no time left in which to tolerate an increase in gas production given the terrible urgency of climate change and the need to get carbon emissions on a downward trajectory as soon as possible. Yes, gas is not as polluting as coal (although it can be if fugitive methane leaks are too high), but still polluting enough, and certainly many times more polluting than the truly clean, green energy that we need such as wind, tidal and solar. You only have to witness the examples of Denmark and Germany to see how it is possible for countries to transition rapidly to an economy dominated by these renewable technologies without any need for shale gas drilling. I urge you to turn away from promoting shale gas as an answer to the UK’s energy needs and instead to use your influence within government to set the UK on the path to the fastest possible transition to a truly low-carbon, clean energy society, preferably one in which many of those new energy sources are promoted and owned by local communities, something I was very glad to hear you express support and enthusiasm for in our meeting.
Once again, I thank you for your time and for the very stimulating debate we had, notwithstanding our profound disagreement on certain crucial points, and I wish you and your colleagues every success in the rolling out of the Green Deal. I also look forward to meeting you again at the ‘Energy We Can All Afford?’ photo exhibition and public debate you have kindly agreed to open on Saturday 9th March at Centre Stage, London Road, Bexhill.