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Why is Richmond the worst polluter?

June 1, 2006 12:00 AM
By Vincent Cable MP in Informer

This week, environment pressure groups, led by Friends of the Earth, organised a successful public event at York House on climate change. One question the speakers, including me, had to answer is why our supposedly 'green' borough produces more CO2 - the main greenhouse gas - per head than any other in London.

It is difficult to relate climate change to our own daily lives. The scientific arguments are complex. Most serious scientists however now believe that the earth is warming due to CO2 emissions from burning oil, coal and gas. Twenty years ago I helped to prepare one of the first major studies on the likely consequences: sea level rise (hence more flooding from storm surges), and more extreme weather including intense hurricanes. We now see the evidence.

Although Britain now produces only 2% of global CO2 emissions, a treaty obliges us to play our part. Also, as the first country to industrialise based on coal, we helped to create the problem. In the 1990's Britain cut back on CO2 by switching from coal to gas power stations but that has largely run its course. Tony Blair wants more nuclear power but nuclear presents big problems of waste disposal and is probably uneconomic without subsidy.

The future lies instead with conserving energy; using various new renewables including: biomass, solar, wind, tidal and other sources; and absorbing CO2 through, for example, tree growth.

Locally, the large number of big detached, energy inefficient, houses is one factor creating CO2. Another is the prevalence of two car households and the daily school run. A mixture of incentives and taxes will be needed to change behaviour. Fully insulated homes could qualify for a stamp duty rebate. And planning rules could be relaxed to encourage solar panels and wind turbines on roofs.