Article by Guest Contributor: Elizabeth Anderson
This week on UNFCCC Young and Future Generations Day in Cancun, young people across Britain set out a demand that their needs should be reflected in energy policy for the UK, by the prioritisation of renewable energy plants in capital investment. A report to the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change, written by the department’s Youth Advisory Panel, demonstrated 94% of young people surveyed by the Panel believe that renewable energy is the ‘fairest’ means of providing for the country’s energy needs. The report also set out the vital need to ensure that young people continue to be consulted on energy issues – as those who will live with the consequences of decisions implemented now, we must be involved in that decision-making process.
As a 25 year old member of the Panel, made up of sixteen 16-25 year olds, I, like the other panel members, recognised the need to maintain an open mind on all forms of energy. Formed at the request of young people but with the need for such input recognised by the government, the Panel set out to learn about each the main types of energy provision available within the UK and Europe, in order to weigh up the potential costs and benefits of each. With organisations represented including the UK Youth Climate Coalition (my own), UNICEF and Friends of the Earth, the Panel undertook a unique learning process – visiting a range of supply and demand outlets. Visits included coal and nuclear power stations, energy conferences, low-energy housing options and construction projects.
The role of the Panel is to provide a coherent and representative voice of youth within the UK, offering a window of intergenerational dialogue between government and young people. Through regular consultation, the Panel has been able to engage with hundreds of other young people throughout the country in order to act as a check on our work.
Linking with the DECC Energy Calculator, the report set out practical and realistic recommendations for action to be taken by the UK Government. A key task highlighted by the report was the continuing development of the National Grid to ensure the most efficient delivery of new technology, as well as pushing ahead with the SMART Grid. Further than this, the report stated the need for the UK to take a lead in developing the European SuperGrid to ensure that the potential for export of British energy – powered by renewables – can be realised. Renewables offer a huge opportunity for the development of industry and skills within the UK.
Offshore wind presents a massive opportunity, and further research and development into floating turbine technology is essential. The report calls for regulation of the industry in order to provide clear guidance and certainty to those wishing to invest in the industry, in order to mitigate concerns on risk.
Biomass must continue to be carefully regulated, with minimum FSC certification. Biofuel should form a minimal part in the energy mix to prevent the rise in deforestation across the globe.
Unabated coal fired power stations should be phased out by 2015, with urgent investment in CCS to establish its feasibility within the next two years. In terms of new power stations, gas should be given priority over other fossil fuels, but the development of gas or nuclear stations should not detract from investment in cleaner and fairer renewable technology. Clear legacy planning must be set out now for the decommissioning of nuclear plants – looking ahead to at least 150 years, rather than the end of the current Parliament.
Hugely important is to reduce the level of energy demand – both by domestic users and industry. Construction planning must be carbon efficient, with priority given for housing developments meeting PassiveHaus standards. In addition, incentivisation should be given to those wishing to retrofit, with zero-VAT rating on home improvements meeting suitable energy efficiency criteria. Support must be provided in order to increase micro-generation on a house by house basis.
Above all, the report provides a basis for the continuing work of the Youth Panel, in order to maintain the intergenerational connection between the youth of today – the energy users of 2050 – and Government. The Panel hopes to continue the debate and complete further work on other areas of climate change and energy use.