Given how our politics has been divided on one major issue for more than three years, it’s not surprising that other matters may struggle to gain much attention during the current General Election campaign.
However, surveys suggest that leave or remain will not be the only dilemma front of mind for UK voters when they decide where to put their cross on the ballot paper come polling day.
Recent research undertaken by YouGov has shown that the environment is a top priority for the adult population and is a particular concern for younger voters, with 45% of 18-24 year olds stating that it was their second biggest concern after Brexit.
Whoever wins, it seems likely that it won’t be long before we hear boasts of being the ‘greenest government ever’
A separate study on behalf of the environmental law firm ClientEarth has revealed that 63% of people support large-scale, long-term investment in green infrastructure and jobs, while more than half of those polled (54%) said climate change would affect how they would vote.
The same survey also showed support for fossil fuel divestment, with 60% of respondents thinking banks and financial institutions should ditch their investment in coal, oil and gas.
These opinion polls were taken before the November floods that have devastated large parts of Derbyshire and Yorkshire, which surely would only have increased the level of concern that people feel about the growing climate crisis.
It’s no wonder then that our major political parties have been falling over themselves to demonstrate their ‘green’ credentials.
So what are some of the big ideas that could become government policy in the near future?
As part of its pledge to ensure that 60% of the UK’s energy comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030, Labour has revealed a scheme that includes the installation of over 6 million heat pumps and 7 million solar panel systems. The Lib Dems have pledged to upgrade every house to band ‘B’ in the energy performance certificate ratings system and spend £15 billion on insulation projects over five years, while the Conservatives have issued a moratorium on fracking and promised to end the burning of coal to produce electricity by 2025.
With domestic heating widely accepted as contributing more than 10% of the nation’s carbon footprint, the fuels we use to provide heat in our homes have rightly been viewed as core to any policy designed to improve the environment.
It is also estimated that 80% of the country’s building stock will still be around in 2050, so plans to reduce carbon emissions cannot be restricted to regulating future housing developments.
Whatever the relative merits of the various proposals, politicians on all sides of the political spectrum need to accept that a policy to upgrade the country’s heating systems will not succeed by simply throwing money at the problem.
Any roll out of more energy efficient heating solutions will quickly flounder unless they are embraced by both users and the people tasked with installing them, so they will need to be persuaded that there are good reasons to abandon traditional heating solutions.
A recent government-backed survey of heating engineers and their views on low carbon technologies has revealed that 74% of installers do not rate themselves as ‘very confident’ when it comes to recommending and choosing the best low carbon options for their customers, while only 41% are happy to say that they know how low carbon heating will impact on their work.
If the nation’s heating experts feel that they are in the dark when it comes renewable energy options, then homeowners are unlikely to feel any more confident in switching over to an unfamiliar system.
Whoever picks up the keys to number 10, it seems likely that it won’t be long before we hear boasts of being the ‘greenest government ever’, but given the lackluster performance of previous administrations most people would agree that it’s not exactly a high bar to aim for.