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Breakthrough ideas for sustainability

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 6 July 2009 at 10:26 am

Energy efficiency and renewable energy ideas featured heavily in the 19 breakthrough ways to transform the UK into a sustainable society launched by the Sustainable Development Commission last week. In the normal deluge of doom and gloom (and Andy Murray being knocked out of Wimbledon) it made a nice change to read a booklet full of exciting and inspiring ideas for the future.

The SDC set out to identify the ideas that could make the biggest impact on Britain’s efforts to tackle climate change, rapidly dwindling resources and inequality. It received nearly 300 ideas from a wide range of sources, and has whittled them down to the 19 with most potential.

One of the ones that jumped off the page for me was the idea to transform RBS into the Royal Bank of Sustainability. It is the bank most closely associated with the oil and gas industry. But given that we, the taxpayer, now hold such a large stake in it, wouldn’t it be delicious to use it to invest in achieving the step change to renewable energy; to establish a comprehensive sustainable transport system, and transform the UK housing stock with a dramatic upgrade in energy efficiency. Proposed by social and ecological justice group Platform, which describes it as “making lemonade out of lemons: taking a bitter situation and making something sweet out of it”.

Improving the energy efficiency of our housing stock featured in several of the proposals. Dr Brenda Boardman of Oxford University Centre for the Environment proposes every local authority sets up low carbon zones, where all homes in the zone are brought up to the best efficiency standard by 2012. The zone must contain at least 50% of the fuel poor households.

Retrofitting also features in the idea from the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities for a Greater Manchester retrofit plus. They would set up a company to offer residents and businesses a choice of off the shelf low carbon retrofit packages, backed by financing deals to cover the up-front cost. It would also own and operate low and zero-carbon energy generation at a community scale.

Financing ideas (that could well work for the above project) were put forward by David Adams of Knauf Insulation, who suggests moving from pre-pay to pay-as-you-save. Third party financing of the up-front costs of retrofitting a home would be repaid via a charge on the property, rather than the individual. The cost can then be spread over a long enough period that the cost of repayment is less than the amount saved on energy bills.

Of course, raising capital for all these projects is a major challenge (even if we do have a Royal Bank of Sustainability), which is where the Green Bonds idea from Climate Change Capital comes in. They propose the Government issue green bonds through the usual bond market, with funds managed by a new government-backed Green Investment Bank.

"We've been talking about it for long enough," says SDC chairman Jonathan Porritt. "What we've got to do now is make it happen." This is just a taster, a few of the ideas that I particularly like. You can download Breakthroughs for the Twenty-first Century from the Sustainable Development Commission to find out what the others are.

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