Climate change is everybody’s problem and everyone should be concerned. It is easy for me to say. It is also easier for David Cameron to believe man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that UK and this world faces. But delivering the change, the real action on operational level to reduce the energy use and to cut the carbon emission seems a bit of extra hassle to everyone.
Recently I got a chance to see a tool developed by a City Council for the purpose of allocating money to the upgrade of all 12,800 houses to meet Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) by 2020. The Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) is a mandatory standard for Social Landlords to meet by 2020 which aims to improve the energy efficiency of social housing and reduce energy consumption, fuel poverty and the emission of greenhouse gases. Meeting this standard is supposed to help to achieve the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 target of reducing carbon emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. Now, it is fantastic; the Government sets a standard for social housing as tool to reduce CO2 emissions and the city council jumps into action to deliver the operation.
So, as a research student and a so called ‘environmentalist’, I thought the tool was a great thing to see first-hand before it was actually going to action. It was a fantastic tool. It will tell you exactly how much money it needs to upgrade the property to EESSH with various upgrading options. The details were recorded, from the make of the house to the date of construction to the location and fuel type and everything you were looking for. But as I looked at the spread sheet, it became clearer that something was missing. There was no mention of climate change. And that’s fine because you are not supposed to chant the mantra of ‘climate change’ all the time, it’s more important to do something to tackle this problem rather than just chanting the mantra. I looked again and something was still missing. This time I was looking for social justice in the spread sheet. I thought, since it is the tool of a city council, it’s officially the work for the people who are living in the homes owned by the council so it’s all right not to mention social justice as all the people are treated equally. Yet again I looked for something. I was looking for ‘carbon emission reduction’ at this time. And it was not missing this time, it was there in a diminished form. In weighting section of the tool, they have given 2 for the energy saving while giving 10 to the cost. Now, I started to really think, is it still all right?
Although the tool developed by the city council was able to design decision support tool for allocating money to the upgrade of all 12,800 houses to meet Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) by 2020 very perfectly, it was completely missing the point. First of all, why was the upgrading needed? Secondly, why was the EESSH set by the government? The answers are simple; upgrading was needed to meet the mandatory EESSH standard set by the Scottish government. EESSH was set by the government to reduce greenhouse gases emissions (and tackle climate change problem) and to help people get rid of fuel poverty. So it is not just important but also necessary to mention and understand the energy efficient homes were needed to tackle the problem of climate change, not to show the government that you have job done. And to serve the second aim the EESSH, it is also necessary to understand the need of social justice in policy making to eradicate fuel poverty because it is the product of previous socially unjust fuel/energy policies.
Now it is worthwhile to look for the reason why the council never mentioned about the climate change and social justice. Firstly, climate change is not their business. As a social landlord, city council is there to provide housing for the never ending queue of desperate, homeless and poor city dwellers who are produced by the ‘Right to buy’ scheme. Secondly, if the council is to seek social justice, if they are there to look after the needs of poor, old, elderly, disabled while upgrading their properties, they will need more budget that they don’t have. The job of the council therefore is to upgrade all of its properties to EESSH by 2020. Council has nothing to do with the climate change; it also has nothing to do with the social justice in its energy policy because it cannot afford to be concerned about those issues.
And finally the story can be summed up like this: Climate scientists are warning governments and people of earth about the change in our planet’s climate and possible consequences with strong evidence and passion. Environmentalists, NGOs, and other advocates are pressing the government and making people aware about the climate change in their own style. Some also have made good money from the business. Politicians like David Cameron who run the government make political speeches such as famous “Greenest government ever” speech of 2010 to show public that how much concerned they are about the environment and the people and the next generation and so on and on. Although the politicians these days are so busy as they have so many work to do such as check the opposition, fight ‘terrorism’, ask some rich king or dictator for loan to keep running their parliament, make sure that the banks don’t go bust, answer questions of journalists, go holiday with wife/husband, point out the threat posed by some left-wing government in some corner of the world, tackle the problem of the immigrants that have been taking away all job in the country.. And list goes on. However it is amazing that they still have time to show interest in the climate change issue and make commitments, make law, launch program such as making houses energy efficient, or EESSH in this case. Finally the program comes as an unexpected trouble to the people on operational level or the city council in this case. The programme becomes ‘a task’ that the council has to do, but the soul of the program here twists itself from ‘one of the program trying to reduce greenhouse gases emission’ to ‘the program that the city council has to finish by 2020 to keep its licence as social landlord’. Why is this happening? The answer is simple, money. Council is left with some budget and ‘some’ budget has to be arranged by the council from some ‘source’ as the properties belongs to the council.
So this tale of a program shows me how climate change policy becomes indifferent to climate change. Since everyone has their own business, whose business is climate change? The polar bears whose habitat is melting? Or the people of Maldives whose home is drowning? Or the people of Himalayan foothill who can be swept away by avalanche anytime? Or is it mine business too?