On 3 March 2015 - the first day of Ecobuild - the sustainable design, construction and energy event (for new build, refurb, commercial and domestic buildings) opened with an early General Election showdown on energy efficiency. Liberal Democrats vs. Labour vs. the Conservatives vs. The Green Party, with a UCL professor sprinkled in and the debate facilitated by Cathy Newman, journalist and presenter of Channel 4 News.
Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, started off the discussion by claiming that, from 2018/2019 onwards, the Lib Dems will spend an extra £2 billion a year on energy efficency, while making the point that climate change can only be tackled on the EU/international level.
Baroness Worthington (Labour) agreed with Mr. Davey that we should tackle the problem at EU level, but disagreed with pretty much all other Conservative/Lib Dem policies, from how to get rid of coal to fracking. Her three-step energy solution:
- Decarbonise the electricity system
- Set up an advisory agency
- Ensure affordability for customers
Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party, pointed out that, as a builder’s daughter, she was still shocked by the poor housing stock in the UK, with many houses needing to be retrofitted almost immediately upon completion.
Peter Lilley MP (Conservatives) admitted that he was probably not the best person to represent his party’s energy policy as he had been amongst the five Conservative MPs who had voted against the Climate Change Act in 2008 giving the reason that the benefits would mostly be felt abroad while the costs would be paid for by the UK tax payer.
Professor Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy, University College London, made the point that there is an overwhelming academic and scientific case for investing in energy efficency at, comparatively, minimal costs now for maximum benefits in the future.
Cathy Newman, presenter of Channel 4 News, then went on to probe the panel on their positions with the highlight being her question to Mr. Davey, asking the Secretary of State whether he would go to bed with the Conservative Party again or with the Labour Party on energy policy. Put on the spot, Mr. Davey was unwilling to choose between Mr. Lilley and Baroness Worthington, opting to stick with his wife and Lib Dem policies instead.
In summary, there still appears to be a large divide between the major political parties in the UK about what the best solutions are when it comes to addressing the challenge of energy efficiency. However, all political actors involved see huge potential for the British building and manufacturing industry to carve out a niche for itself in the global marketplace by leading the debate and providing a range of future-proof energy efficient solutions.