Huge investment is needed in energy efficiency if the UK is to cut its emissions without handing over huge areas of the countryside to wind turbines, solar panels and fuel crops, campaigners have warned.
A report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) published today has claimed there is a need for much more focus on conserving energy and reducing demand as part of efforts to tackle climate change emissions, rather than just making heat and power supplies cleaner.
Even “fairly ambitious” measures to give major efficiency make-overs to 65,000 homes a year – up from around 1,000 a year at the moment – which could cut emissions by 44 per cent from homes by 2050, would still leave a significant shortfall in meeting targets.
The CPRE’s senior energy campaigner, Nick Clack, said: “Our research intensifies calls for the new government to implement a much bolder national programme to reduce energy and carbon emissions from homes if we are to get anywhere near the 80 per cent emissions cuts required under the Climate Change Act.
“Unless there is effective government support for this work, we risk seeing large areas of the countryside lost to avoidable new energy infrastructure and even higher energy bills.”
Concerns have been voiced over the impact that wind turbines are having on the countryside communities in Yorkshire. East Yorkshire has the highest density of turbines in the country and campaigners last year marched on East Riding Council to say “enough is enough”. According to figures last year, the area had 223 turbines over 160ft high built, approved or pending consideration.
Ministers have promised that projects not granted planning permission before the General Election will not get funds as the UK will already have enough wind power to meet 2020 EU targets.
The UK has an overall legally-binding target to cut greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050, and meeting the target without reducing energy use further from homes would need more renewables and low-carbon power, and lead to higher bills, the CPRE report said.
One scenario suggests 3,500 new wind turbines, including 800 onshore, and 20,000 acres of new solar panels would be needed, while half of England would also need to be planted with crops that can be used to produce energy. The report calls for a much bolder national programme to reduce energy and carbon emissions from homes and community buildings, and for the implementation of stronger zero-carbon standards for new homes.
Rural communities, which often face worse energy efficiency and higher fuel bills, particularly if they are off the gas grid, must also get a fairer share of funding for home improvements, the report urged. Almost a fifth of the population lives in rural areas but those areas receive less than one per cent of funding for energy efficiency improvements, the CPRE said.
Mr Clack claimed existing national energy saving schemes had failed to sufficiently reduce energy use, and called for a focus on community-led retrofit initiatives to target fuel-poor homes and more “persuasive and understandable” cash incentives for all households.
Meanwhile, the Woodland Trust has claimed climate change could be affecting the quality of acorn crops from the UK’s oak trees. A survey found that warmer years lead to less synchronised flowering of oak trees, resulting smaller crops.
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