Climate change protests should not be wasted

climate change, Rupert Redesdale
Lord Rupert Redesdale

Protesting about climate change should be encouraged, although sticking yourself (or parts of your anatomy) to the CEO’s door, window or car is not. The immediacy and importance of the debate could help you change your organisation’s policy in this area.

Many companies do not have a specific climate change policy and therefore to get a specific budget to mitigate climate change risk through energy efficiency is difficult. If you had a policy, it could be used in a submission to the Board to increase spending on energy efficiency.

This year at EMEX, on 27 and 28 November at ExCeL in London, we will run a series of free-to-attend seminars on how to develop policy and more importantly your strategy, to mitigate climate change risks.

There is a plan to stop irreversible change which is the agreed Paris targets on carbon emissions reduction. These targets, whilst set by Governments, can only be achieved if the necessary carbon reductions are made by organisations such as yours.

The responsibility of companies to promote energy management is obvious, but how companies make the goal of reducing energy use part of their core strategy is often not. The new Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) requirements will help by requiring companies to have energy reduction policies, but building carbon into Boards’ thinking to the levels achieved in the 1990s is the real goal.

In the 1990s Climate Change became a globally accepted issue, the argument that it is manmade was accepted by almost the entire scientific community and targets to reduce the effects were enshrined in law in the 2008 Climate Change Act. This was followed by the formation of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in 2008. However, the issue of climate change as a political imperative steadily lost political focus in wider society over the next ten years.

The scale of climate change protests has therefore taken the political establishment by surprise. Whilst the country has been fixated on Brexit, the concern around the environment, climate change, plastic pollution, the crash in insect numbers and extinction of species has been steadily growing. There is a consensus that something needs to be done and there is growing pressure on politicians to act.

Whilst the Government has paid lip service to concerns over climate change, the actual policy initiatives enacted in the last four years have all been going in the wrong direction. The present Government has cancelled subsidies on renewable energy and FIT, ROCs and the RHI are all gone. Targets on zero carbon homes have been abandoned and protection of the environment has been weakened through changes in the planning law (mostly to promote new house building). Following Theresa May's appointment as Prime Minister in July 2016, DECC was disbanded and merged with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills into the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The problem here is that BEIS is consumed by Brexit, and Climate Change is not seen as a major priority.

Meanwhile, millions of young people around the globe protested on 20 September in a bid to ask politicians take more action on the climate crisis. These Climate Strikes won’t solve the climate crisis alone but they demonstrate that people are no longer willing to continue with business as usual.

How can you as energy professionals harness this sentiment? Energy management has always been a hard sell. If energy is cheap and plentiful why not waste it? How many buildings are lit up like Christmas trees for no real reason and why do a quarter of car purchasers surveyed this year aspire to buy a Chelsea tractor (a big 4x4), because they feel it makes them look good? The answer is that since the dawn of time society has mostly favoured conspicuous displays of wealth. However, there are times when the pendulum swings the other way, the climate change protests have proved that there is a growing awareness that we are using too much, unsustainably.

Companies can make major energy efficiency savings but as most energy professionals know, there are rarely quick fix solutions that are the magic silver bullet. Real savings need a holistic long term approach that needs adequate and long term funding commitments. This is a constant problem for energy managers. I do not think I have been to a meeting when this has not been raised.

The best solution to this conundrum is through a Board strategy that is dissipated throughout all levels of the organisation. A lesson can be learnt from HSE; the change in the law that created the offence of Corporate Manslaughter meant that members of Boards needed to take HSE really seriously, or risk long periods behind bars. This meant that all aspects of the work place needed to be covered, down to how people walk down stairs.

With pressure mounting on businesses to address climate emergency, continuing technological progress and some important policy changes, 2019 could be one of the most significant years to move up your carbon and energy reduction projects at the top of you organisation’s agenda.

Heading to EMEX on 27 and 28 November, can help your business to tackle all of these issues. It is a unique opportunity to learn how other professionals across diverse industry sectors are meeting their challenges to reduce their energy consumption and save money too.

Rupert Redesdale, CEO of the Energy Managers Association

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