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Miliband’s webchat on 10 Downing Street

by mel starrs on March 1, 2007

in Uncategorized

Following a tip-off from WorkinProperty (another new kid on the construction blogging block) I followed the proceedings here.  Not sure how long the chat will stick around so I’ve cut and paste it below the break for reference.  It was hard to determine how many of the questions were pre-picked and how many were ‘live’.  Some of the answers seemed fairly polished with links peppered through them but others were definitely more on the hoof.  It’s a good way to guage the government’s perspective of what puplic opinion is on various issues – as the discussion was moderated, those questions which were more relevant (or answerable) will probably have been chosen (they had a few hundred to choose from and only an hour to answer them).

Topics covered include recycling (I covered recent figures on Leeds here),  lightbulbs, plastic bags, food, carbon allowances (DEFRA’s rough guide available here (pdf, 41pages) and the RSA’s working paper came out today (pdf, 7 pages)) and nuclear energy.

Moderator says: This webchat will start at 1030 GMT on Thursday 1 March 2007.We look forward to seeing your questions.Moderator says: Good morning and welcome to our webchat.  We’ve had a few hundred questions but we’ll try and get as many answered as we can in the hour that Mr Miliband has available.

Moderator says: We hope to be underway in a moment or two

David says: Good morning.  I have just come from a Cabinet meeting where amongst other things we talked about climate change so I hope I can reflect back some of the discussion in answering your questions this morning.

Martin Maloney: We are asked to recycle more yet my local authority (Kirklees) only collects my green recycling bin every 4 weeks against the weekly collection of my grey rubbish bin, what will be done to address this imbalance and thus make recycling far easier for the british people?

David replies:  That’s interesting because recyclying rates haave gone up four fold in the last 7 or 8 years.  I don’t know the figures for Kirklees but I would be surprised if they have not risen a lot.  I agree with you we need tomake recycling easy – that’s why we have curbside collection for 90% of households.  Each local authority has its own contract so that explains the different approach in different parts of the country.More details on this can be found on DirectgovSam Parry: I have heard you speak in the past about personal carbon allowances and personal carbon trading. I think this could have huge potential. Are there any plans for such a scheme to be implemented in the UK?

David replies: Thanks.  You can see details of the debate at my blog  Households are responsible for 44% of UK emissions.  The idea of personal allowances is that people who are environmentally thrifty would benefit financially and there would be a cost for the highest emitters.  There is a lot of work to be done on the details of the scheme but the Royal Society of Arts have launched a pilot to see if it works.

Andrew Candish: Dear DavidI see that Australia has banned tungsten light bulbs in favour of energy efficient ones. Would it be possible to do the same in the UK?Best wishes
David replies: We are seeking a Europe wide shift to lower energy lightbulbs and are discussing with industry whether there is scope for a voluntary agreement for the UK to move faster.

Julie: When will we finally ban plastic bags? People in general know the implications but still insist on taking them as they are free. I believe 250-300 supermarket bags alone are used per person per year. The poor whale that died in the Thames had bags in it’s stomach!!! Alternatives are available

David replies:  Yesterday we announced an agreement with the retailers to cut by 25% plastic bag use.  One has to look at the details because it turns out that the environmental footrprint  of a lot of paper bags is greater than the plastic bags.Read about what happens to plastics and plastic bagsBeth Hewis: Why are more wind farms rejected in the U.K by local councils than are approved and why do so many have to go to appeal before they can start being built?

David replies: Good question.  The short answer is that the planning system allows people to object.  My view is that wind turbines actually look nice and need to play a big part in raising our renewable electricity supply to 20% of the total.
Gill Rhodes: Have the government considered insisting that all new houses built have some form of alternative energy source-like solar panels? This would not only reduce our use of non renewable energy but the increase in demand would help to reduce the cost of solar panels so they were more affordable for everyone.

David replies: We have comitted that between now and 2016 we will ratchet up the building regulations so that from 2016 every new home must be zero carbon.  I think it is better to mandate a zero carbon outcome rather than insisting on particular technologies.

Carolyn: Does the House of Commons currently have energy saving devices in place? and, if so, in which areas (lighting, heating etc.) and to what extent?

David replies: Jack Straw, the Leader of the House of Commons, is pushing hard on this.  Obviously it is difficult in a building parts of which date back to the 12th century.  But at least every office now has a recycling bin – at least mine does so I assume others do.

Beth Hewis: Why is the government set on increasing incineration targets to 25% when it will simply mean less recycling and that more precious resources are lost forever, not to mention more CO2 being released as well as toxins into the atmosphere?

David replies: Our targets are for diversion from landfill – because landfill creates methane which is 20 times more toxic than carbon dioxide.  We talk about a waste hierachy – re-use where possible, then recycyle, then produce energy from waste and only as a last resort send waste to landfill.

astrojoeuk: With reference to the first question about recycling, my council (Herefordshire) refuses to recycle plastics… even those marked with the swirling recycle logo. Can Mr Milliband contact councils to ensure that they are aware of what they should be doing?

David replies: Interesting.  The problem relates to the high volume/low weight of plastic bottles.  We are certainly in contact with local authorities to see how we can overcome the problem and will be setting out proposals in our new waste strategy soon.

miss Clare bell: Instead of aiming at households to reduce their energy usage why don’t you target businesses, especially electrical retailers who have all their televisions and computers on all day every day. Why can they not just have a selection console that lets the customers switch on which product they want for a specified amount of time? All companies can reduce the amount of energy they use and pressure should be put on them to cut energy consumption.

David replies:  I think we need to do both!  Government has to get its own house in order, business has to play its part.  I think individuals want to be part of it too.Read more on what individuals can do on the Energy Saving Trust website r: We are Primary 6 at the Edinburgh Academy Junior school and we are currently studying the rainforest.We would like to have your thoughts on how long the rainforest will last if we keep using it the way we are.David replies: This is a really important problem.  De-forestation acounts for nearly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.  I met the coaltion of rainforest nations last year and we are now working to find an international solution that delivers resources to poorer countries to combat the problem of illegal logging.

Mr Fergus Munro: I fully support the construction of new nuclear power stations in the UK. I think we should have done this 5 years ago. Please maintain your plans for the Energy Review, I have not yet read the Sullivan judgement but please keep any reconsultation focussed on resolving any procedural issues. If private industry is building and running the stations, why is cost an issue for the public?

David replies: I have a pragmatic approach to this.  Nuclear is currently 20% of our electricity supply which is the equivalent saving of 150 million tons of carbon compared to coal fired supply.  Nuclear is not a quick fix but I think it has to remain an important part of the electricity mix.

Mrs Jill Dowling: I was very disappointed to hear David Milibands uninformed views on organic produce today. Organic produce is not just a food choice, it is an environmental necessity. The production of nitrogen fertiliser releases a compound into the atmosphere which is 3oo times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Conventional farmers rely on this, organic farmers would not touch it.

David replies: I am sorry you were disapointed.  I think the growth of organics to about 4-5% of food supply is a very exciting development and I think it will continue.  However, when I was asked about the scientific consensus on health benefits, I gave the best advice from the Food Standards Agency which is that they are not yet proven.  In respect of the environmental impact there is a very interesting “shopping trolley” report on the DEFRA website which looks at different produce and different methods of production.  I think you will find it interesting.

Mr Richard Billingham: To encourage use of public transport why not make public transport free for children going to school. This will relieve early morning congestion caused by parents taking their children to school.

David replies: I went to secondary school in Leeds and remember my blue free bus pass.  In London it is free now and in my consitituency in the north east there is special provision for young people.  I will ask my friend, Douglas Alexander, the Transport Secretary, what the rules are.

Harriet Crosthwaite: Will the Government use the forthcoming White Paper to mandate smart meters?

David replies: Smart meters allow electricity companies to read your meter without having to visit and in some versions – what are called “real time displays” – allow households to see their electricity use minute by minute.  We are running some pilots at the moment which are encouraging and will certainly report back in the Energy White Paper.

Rowena Moore: I too would like to see firm steps toward personal and business carbon emissions allowances… why is it the Royal Society of Arts who are doing a pilot… seems a strange place for it to happen.. can you expand the governments position on it more please

David replies: Government is running some studies on this but I think the RSA are in quite a good position to run a pilot.  Details of our work are on the DEFRA website.

Alan Covel: We are told that britain produces 2% of the worlds polution and that china`s will increase by 12% per year. so what is the point in taxing us when any reduction we make is whiped out by china, not to mention the USA and India.

David replies: Good question.  There are two reasons for us to take a lead – first, because it is in our economic interest to becoem a low carbon economy and second because we have not got a cat in hell’s chance of persuading developing countries to make responsible decisions if we do not do the right thing ourselves.

Jon Doyle: How does the Minister believe the majority of Britain’s Energy will be generated in a hundred years time?

David replies: Hard question.  I think we will have a mix of low carbon sources – tidal, solar, wind, nuclear and probably continued gas.

rowena moore: why is more pressure not being put on supermarkets directly to reduce food air miles and packaging waste. We seem to take a very hands off attitude to this and they do what will gross them the biggest profit – which is not necessarily best for the environment or for our agricultural economy.

David replies:  We have agreed with the supermarkets to develop an environmental labelling scheme that allows shoppers to see the envrionmental impact of what they are buying.  But don’t forget that Kenyan roses flown to Britain have a much lower environmental footprint than roses grown in Europe in non-renewable energy sourced greenhouses.For more details on the Government’s plans you can read a speech I gave on Mondayjohn furniss: why did you lie about the turkey flu NOT coming from Hungary…before the facts were investigated, what or who were you trying to protect?

David replies:  I did not lie.  I explained clearly to the House of Commons that the turkeys were not Hungarian chicks (February 5th).  At that stage all avenues were being explored but the most likely source was wild birds – the source of every outbreak in Europe.  When the leading hypothesis of wild bird transmission became less likely, as a result of scientific investigation,  we immediately said so.For more information see these responses to the recent outbreak of avian influenza in Suffolk Tim Duke: Now consumers are starting to recycle, what plans does the government have to get businesses to recycle more, especially as the commercial sector produces vast amounts more waste than householders?

David replies: The figures show higher levels of recycyling by the commercial sector but we obviously want to push further and are looking at how we can make most progress on some of the biggest waste streams.

John Berry: Will the government support measures to faclitate a more dispersed model of energy generation? Should the UK’s farmers be looking to diversify into the production of energy for their local communities?

David replies: Yes.  Distributed energy, including combined heat and power and micro-generation, are important parts of the Energy White Paper.  As for farmers, I said in my speech to the National Farmer’s Union conference on Monday that we wanted to support the use of anaerobic digestion technology as a source of energy.

Chris Preist: Please could you say a bit more about some of the promising options being discussed in your meeting with the coalition of rainforest nations, you mentioned in your reply to Primary 6? Thankyou.

David replies: The essential deal is to get resources from the richer north to support sustainable forest management in the south.  The German presidency of the G8 are taking this forward.  The key is obviously to combat illegal logging by creating alternative income flows.

rlemmy: If the government is so concerned with climate change,why have you given the go ahead for the expansion of major airports in the uk,eg Heathrow when it takes the average 747 series boeing 3000 gallons just to take off,and over 30000 gallons over a ten hour flight. With hundreds of flights per day from each airport, why are`nt you chasing big business with the same gusto as the motorist.

David replies:  Who said all these were easy questions!  Aviation represents about 5% of UK greenhouse gases but is rising faster than any other.  We believe aviation must play its part in beating cimate change.  All future developments, following the statement by the Transport secretary in December, will be subject to an emissions test. The key in the end is for overall emissions to come down.For more information about our work on climate change read my speech to the Green Alliance on Tuesdaymr andrew pick: i work as at pat engineer (electrical testing) , and i work out of hours quite often in offices. as im working in these offices at night, or on weekends the amount of pc’s i find that are left on locked, just so people can save a few minutes logging on in a morning, is obsene. if you clamped down on this the amount of electricity saved would be enormous, thus reducing carbon emmisions.
just thought you might be interested to know how big this problem really was, there are after all thousands of offices in the country, work with the electricity companys and fine the wasters.

David replies: This is a really good point.  The legislation we are promoting at European level on standby switches will help tackle this problem.

Michelle Slater: As Honda launch their new “green” livery for the 2007 F1 season, how important do you think getting sport involved in environmental issues is? It seems logical from a motor racing perspective, but would it be a good idea to encourage other sports to spread the word on saving our planet?Thanks
David replies: That is an interesting idea.  Some of the new stadiums – I’m an Arsenal fan – have got high environmental standards.  Let me think how we can rope them in.

David Norman: How will your Climate Change Bill influence the behaviour of any future UK government that’s less committed to tackling climate change than the current government?

David replies: It will create a legislative requirement on all future governments. I think it will be an international landmark when it is published in a couple of weeks time – the first country in the world to establish a clear emissions reduction path between now and 2050.

Tanya: We are asked to ‘do our bit’ but it is a fight all the way – not enough recycling collections, planning decisions against renewable energy – I would like to put a solar panel on my property but have had a battle with planning and now discover that the DTI grant runs out of funds each month within an hour! Why is it that when we try to follow governments advice and do our bit other departments know us back? when will all the departments work together so that we can make some headway?

David replies: We are trying to take on the problems you highlight, for example form October 1st the planning rules will changed to make it as easy to install a wind turbine as a satellite dish and to be fair, recycyling is rising fast.  One thing that will help will be a “carbon calculator” which will be launched in the next couple of months and allow people to see their own carbon footprints and give practical reduce it.

George Percy: I’m doing a university dissertation on the perceptions of woody biomass energy and its promotion by the government and would like to know if the government plans to promote biomass more actively (in line with the rest of Europe), and if so, how?

David replies: Short answer yes.  We have a biomass strategy and will be updating it in the next few months.  Sound like your PhD might help us!

Miss Rosie Harper: My name is Rosie Harper and I am 11 years old.I am writing to tell you that me and my friend Sophie that we feel strongly about the Global warming.If it is possable we would like to have a meeting with you to say what we could do to help the world by saving animals and to get our school and other schools to help the world to be a better place and save living things.

David replies: I try to get around as many schools as possible.  The best thing for the school might be to join the Eco Schools Programme.  If you send me an email via the DEFRA website we can see if I am going to be in your area in the near future.

David says: I have really enjoyed doing this.  Thanks for your questions and I hope you liked some of the answers.

Moderator says:  Thanks for all the questions.Why not let us know what you think of our webchat service by completing this survey