There's certainly no shortage of good intentions and ambitious targets. Former Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council Sir Michael Lyons signed the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change in 2000, and in 2002 former Deputy Leader Stewart Stacey followed suit. In signing the Declaration the City Council recognised that Climate Change is likely to be one of the key drivers of change within our community this century; that evidence continues to mount that climate change is occurring; and that climate change will have far reaching effects on the UK's economy, society and environment.
As a signatory to the Declaration, Birmingham acknowledges the "social, economic and environmental benefits which will come from combating climate change", welcomes emissions targets agreed by central government and the programme for delivering change as set out in the 'Climate Change – UK Programme', and embraces the opportunity for local government to lead action on reducing household and business energy costs, cutting congestion, improving the local environment and dealing with fuel poverty.
The West Midlands Regional Energy Strategy commits the region to a range of carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets by sector, for example, 18 per cent by 2010 for industry and 36 per cent for the commercial and public sector. Domestic emissions are to be reduced by 19 per cent and transport emissions should be stabilised by 2010.
Many local authorities have responded to the sustainable energy challenge by setting their own targets for reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. Leicester City Council has aims to reduce building energy consumption by 50 per cent from 1990 levels by 2025. Newcastle City Council is targeting a 30 per cent reduction by 2010, while Leeds City Council plans a 15 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2008. Nottinghamshire County Council has already reduced its carbon dioxide emissions from buildings by 25 per cent between 1990 and 2003. Birmingham has itself set a target of a 20 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2010.
The Local Government Act requires the preparation of community strategies to promote well-being. Climate change may be included if identified as a local priority and the Government has identified it as an appropriate area to be addressed through this new duty. Many local authorities' Community Strategies, including Birmingham's, contain a priority based on protecting the environment and securing sustainable development for the future.
Earlier this year, work began on the development of a five-year Climate Change Strategy for Birmingham, in line with the Nottingham Declaration and other policy drivers. Birmingham Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan has been commissioned by Birmingham Strategic Partnership and will be developed by a partnership of organisations including Birmingham Sustainable Energy Partnership (BSEP), the City Council, the Environment Agency, Hestia, and Groundwork Birmingham.
Reducing energy consumption saves money as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Around half the total carbon savings required by 2020 are anticipated to come from energy efficiency, with households accounting for half of these savings.
The 2003 Energy White Paper encourages local authorities to develop energy efficiency initiatives and strategies. It also states that the Government is relying on local authorities and regional bodies, working with the private sector and voluntary groups, to help to deliver real change on the ground, reflecting the needs of their different communities.
Businesses account for more than a third of carbon dioxide emissions, so a credible climate change strategy will need to make engaging with and supporting business a key priority. Support is available to businesses of all sizes to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions through a variety of practical and financial mechanisms.
If the energy-saving carrot proves not to be enticing enough for local authorities, domestic and EU legislation will provide the stick. By 2010 the Renewables Obligation (RO) will require all electricity suppliers to either purchase 10.4 per cent of their supply from renewable sources (up from 3 per cent in 2002), or buy out their Obligation at the end of the year. The Sustainable Energy Act 2003 enables the government to set targets for those local authorities falling short of their obligations under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995.
European legislation is moving towards mandatory targets for improving energy efficiency in public and government buildings. The European Commission is proposing a mandatory target for the annual energy savings in the public sector. The EU Building Directive 2003 sets new energy standards for the construction and the refurbishment of buildings and also require Energy Performance Certificates to be made available to tenants or prospective owners of the building.
Finally, by capping carbon emissions from electricity generation and other industrial sectors, new EU carbon emissions trading scheme is expected to lead to increases in electricity prices of 3 per cent and 6 per cent for domestic and industrial users, respectively.