Fuel poverty and climate change

Image Copyright 2013 Martin LeSanto-Smith

Tackling fuel poverty goes hand in hand with tackling climate change. Both have common root causes and both share the same solutions.

Climate change is already happening, affecting people’s lives across the world. This includes the UK, where climate change is a key factor behind rising food prices and flooding, both of which are hitting people with the most precarious lives the hardest. This year, the arctic melted more than ever before in recorded history. Things are getting incredibly serious.

Climate change happens because of the polluting impact of burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas. The crucial link to fuel poverty is that as well as being dirty, fossil fuels are also increasing in cost. Do not believe the lie spread by the media and the energy companies that the costs of renewable energy are the reason why bills are rising. The main reason why energy bills are rising is the increased cost of fossil fuels.

The dash for gas

In the UK, we generate a lot of our energy from gas, which is becoming more and more expensive. According to Ofgem, £100 of last year’s £150 rise in the average household’s energy bill was due to the rising cost of gas. The government’s own research suggests that gas prices will continue to rise.

At the same time, gas spells disaster for the climate. The Chair of the government’s own Committee on Climate Change recently wrote to George Osborne to say that increasing our dependence on gas would be illegal because of existing climate change legislation.

Despite the impact of gas on our energy bills and environment, the government, under the sway of hard lobbying by the Big Six energy companies, are planning a new ‘dash for gas’ which will see a new round of up to forty gas power stations built.

This is senseless. Renewables are cheaper and cleaner. While the cost of gas is going up, the cost of renewable energy generated from sun, wind and tide is going down. The most recent government research showed that investing in renewables over gas would save the average household hundreds of pounds on their average fuel bills: while the dash for gas could add up to £600 to the average annual bill by 2050, an alternative scenario based on renewable energy would see bills rise by just £100 by 2020 and then start to fall in 2030.

What about ‘fracking’ – a controversial new way of extracting gas that involves pumping toxic chemicals into holes drilled deep in the ground (sometimes referred to as ‘shale gas’, sometimes ‘unconventional gas’)? Despite being touted by those who stand to profit from it as a solution to rising energy costs, none of the evidence supports the view that fracking has the potential to bring down energy bills in the UK. Not to mention the fact that fracking has been linked to earthquakes and poisoned drinking water.

Renewable energy – not gas – is what the public want: while almost eight in ten people in the UK support clean energy, just four per cent oppose it.

Why, then, is the dash for gas going ahead? The answer: it is easier to make a quick profit from fossil fuels like gas than it is from renewables. The real obstacle to action on fuel poverty and climate change is the fact that our energy system, as part of our broader economic model, is driven by profit at all costs. Even though lives and livelihoods are at stake from fuel poverty and climate change, the profit-driven drive for fossil fuels is continuing.

To fight high energy bills and fight climate change, we need to do away with business as usual and reclaim power with renewable energy controlled by communities, produced for their benefit.

For more on the dash for gas and how to fight it, see http://www.nodashforgas.org.uk.

gp gasInfographic, Credit: Greenpeace

Energy efficiency

Another important link to make between fuel poverty and climate change is that both are exacerbated by the UK’s poorly insulated and energy-inefficient housing stock. Even though they experience far harsher winters, fuel poverty is much less of a problem in Scandinavian countries than the UK. This is because our homes leak the heat we produce. This problem worsens climate change as energy-inefficient homes mean more energy has to be produced.

It is a disgrace that the government is cutting all existing grants available to help fund insulation and energy efficiency. These grants – which, although not enough, did provide vital help for some – are being scrapped and replaced by a market-based scheme called the Green Deal which will see loans offered at exorbitant interest rates, ensuring that those who need help the most will be unable to afford it.



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