Thursday, 15 October 2009

Climate change Thursday #11

In a sense, of the three areas targeted by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), energy, residential, and transport, it is the latter that is politically most contentious. The Government starting moving in the direction of some road pricing, for example, a few years ago but then had to perform an about turn.

If the conversion to electric powered cars is to happen more rapidly and we are to limit use of petrol powered vehicles in the meantime then some road pricing will have to be considered. It could incentivise the move to electric also. Revenues from any road pricing could be used to build the infrastructure of charging points etc. for electric vehicles and could be used to subsidise the purchase of new electric vehicles.

The CCC refused to take this discussion off the table. To quote:
"There is good economic rationale to introduce road pricing and thereby reduce congestion. Evidence in this report suggests that road pricing would result in a significant emissions reduction (e.g. around 6 MtCO2 in 2020) if there were no offsetting reductions in other aspects of transport pricing (i.e. fuel duty, VED.)"
There is an equity issue. There are many people on lower incomes or whom are performing essential tasks who may find themselves hit hard by any introduction of road pricing. This particularly becomes the case if the journeys are unavoidable. Perhaps there is a simple way of deadening the impact (and there must be an impact if there is to be a disincentive) for people in such a position. The reality may be that it is only longer distance journeys, i.e. those over 30 miles or so, that would attract some sort of price.

What cannot happen is that we just bury equity issues when we consider new ways of incentivising lower carbon emitting behaviour. For example, just as we provide opportunity for shared ownership social housing for healthcare workers, we may wish to provide additional grants for the purchase of new electric cars so they could avoid road charges altogether (electric cars would not attract any charges.)

This is a controversial area but one that can not be ducked if the UK is to hit the most ambitious carbon reduction targets possible. There is an environmental necessity for the UK to be a world leader, a moral necessity (we kicked all this off after all...), but also potentially a huge economic gain as we become a world leader in the science of climate change, research, manufacturing, services etc; if we get this right, the UK would become a net exporter of environmental goods and services. Let's not leave this one to Germany, the US, China, and Japan.

Just returning to the infrastructure point for a moment, it was very pleasing to see that the Mayor of London has included consideration of on-road infrastructure needed to make electric vehicles work in the city in his new London Plan. One in five new parking spaces will need to have an electric power point. Not enough in my view but a good principle to embed in the planning system nonetheless.

***UPDATE***

Boris, I was nice but then you announce eye-popping public transport fare increases. Why? Because you are refusing to take the tough choices on the environment, bowing instead to the Chelsea tractor and big haulage brigade. As Simon Fletcher explains on LabourList:
"It is claimed - though we will have to see - that the higher fares will raise an extra £125million. Yet Boris Johnson’s own actions have cut millions from TfL’s budgets – £50m-£70million a year will go when the western extension is abolished; £50million a year has been lost through the cancellation of the £25 CO2 charge on gas guzzlers; millions are being wasted through the new Routemaster plan, the removal of bendy buses and the ending of the mutually beneficial agreement with Venezuela."
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Finally, I'd encourage you to have a quick read of The great BBC global warming swindle piece I posted a few days ago. One to watch....

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