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Climate change is a great challenge. In the last thirty years, world temperature has increased by almost half a degree centigrade. We cannot predict with total certainty what will happen in future decades. But the risk of abrupt climate change is very real.
A recent report for the Pentagon states that "with over 400 million people living in drier, subtropical, often over populated and economically poor regions today, climate change and its follow on effects pose a severe risk to political, economic and social stability". Climate change has happened in the past through a variety of natural causes but human activity seems a major factor in the changes we see today.
The current government has squandered the chance to do something about this issue and really press the United States to curb its CO² emissions into the atmosphere.
Renewable energy is the future. We must continue to search for and develop more cost effective ways to tap into this almost infinite energy reserve.
I am not against onshore wind in principle but I believe that the Government’s current policy is ill thought out. Planning concerns about a huge number of onshore wind farms are well founded. Many conservationists in Suffolk are very exercised about the skyline of Suffolk being altered for the worse by a big expansion of wind farms. I do not believe that the Government’s decision to alter the planning guidance shifting power away from local communities to the regions addresses the problem identified by local conservationists.
But I believe that offshore wind farms could have a bright future. The Government have failed to concentrate enough research on offshore wind, biomass and the technologies of solar, wave and tidal power.
With the right incentives the twenty first century will be the age of renewable and recoverable energy, just as the nineteenth century was the age of the steam engine and the twentieth the age of the internal combustion and jet engines. Man's ingenuity is almost limitless, and clean energy will secure our future well before the end of the century we live in today.
If finding new sources of clean energy is one part of the equation, conserving energy is the other. Energy efficiency may not be as exciting as renewable energy - its effects are gradual and unseen. But there are huge gains to be made.
Household energy accounts for more than a quarter of all our CO2 emissions. We must face up to the challenge of Britain's ageing, inefficient housing stock. At least two thirds of it has yet to benefit from any energy efficiency measures at all. It is estimated that insulating the walls of a quarter of a million homes would result in annual carbon savings of around 500,000 tonnes.
Only radical measures will ensure that we make serious progress in this area. Fiscal incentives have been used in the past to make real progress. They worked, for example, when we introduced differential fuel duty to promote the use of unleaded petrol. They exist at the moment with varying rates of vehicle excise duty. That’s why the Conservative Opposition are looking at a similar approach to encourage homeowners to become more energy efficient.
For example, we are consulting on a proposal that all houses which meet a specific energy efficiency target, benefit from a reduction in stamp duty – much in the way that energy efficient cars benefit from reduced road tax.
Conservatives want consultation on the most practical timetable to achieve zero emissions from new houses. That must be the ambition and we must strive to make progress towards it.
We must be more active in removing the causes of harmful emissions where we are able to. The Conservative Opposition is firmly committed to phasing out the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, between 2008 and 2014.
HFCs contribute to global warming. Their impact is some thousands of times greater than CO2. HFCs currently account for two per cent of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions and that will have doubled by the end of the first decade of the twenty first century.
Unless this issue is addressed as a matter of some urgency, and government gives a clear lead, then the situation will only worsen. That is why a future Conservative Government will work with our European partners to phase out the use of HFCs over the next decade.
The state of our environment is often the subject of vigorous debate but what we need is action. I am fully committed to a Green agenda that will help preserve our environment for the generations to come.
However, the urgency of global warming means that fine words are no longer enough. We need action.
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