Britain could save £85bn a year if it meets its carbon targets, according to a study commissioned by the government’s climate advisers.
As well as tackling global warming, a switch away from fossil fuels and an increase in energy efficiency would result in improved air quality, lower human health costs, lower energy bills, noise reduction, wildlife benefits, better quality water, less waste, less traffic congestion and fewer road accidents, the report by environmental consultancy Ricardo AEA said. It is published alongside the the review of the UK’s fourth carbon budget by the Committee on Climate Change, which said ministers should stick to plans to cut emissions by half in the mid-2020s.
The study, which weighs up the options given to government by the committee, finds some of the biggest benefits coming from people walking and cycling instead of driving, and from switching to electric and hybrid cars. The health benefits of more walking and cycling are estimated as £2.3bn a year by 2030 with the benefit of less congestion put at £8.4bn and noise reduction nearly £1bn a year. Limiting road speeds would reduce transport emissions considerably, but would also reduce accidents.
“The significant co-benefit of avoided congestion costs should provide a further impetus for policy-makers to focus on promoting smarter transport choices, and should justify higher levels of investment in these options. These benefits can be maximised by focusing support measures (such as construction of safe cycle paths) in highly congested areas. It is likely that this would also maximise the opportunity to reduce accident risks,” says the study.
Equally, measures like reducing shipping speed and improving aviation fuels, would not only reduce emissions considerably, but would greatly reduce noise and air pollution around ports and airports. “Substantial co-benefits arise from the air quality impacts of avoided fuel combustion. The benefits are large for shipping because of the high sulphur content of marine fuels. Significant benefits could also arise around UK airports, especially at Heathrow where air quality limits for oxides of nitrogen are regularly exceeded.”
Some of the most significant benefits would come from reducing the amount of heat needed in homes and businesses. The financial benefits of millions of households draught-proofing, installing double glazing, and using less heat would be worth several billion pounds a year by 2030, the report suggests.
Significant benefits would also be seen in the countryside, the authors suggest. If farmers were to adapt to climate change by generating energy from cattle waste and biomass, and by using less oil-based fertiliser, the improved air and water quality benefits could be dramatic.
In addition to the monetary benefits, reducing fossil fuel use could increase public support for action on climate change, the report says. “The benefits [of decarbonising], such as air quality improvements, are often immediate and local, whereas climate benefits may occur on longer time-scales and mainly in a distant region, as well as being harder to demonstrate. Dissemination of the benefits could therefore strengthen public support for climate policy,” it says.
The report, seen as preliminary and incomplete by its authors, accepts that there are significant additional costs linked to an ambitious switch away from fossil fuels. These include the landscape impacts of wind and solar farms, the extra solvent production and waste generation needed for carbon capture and storage technologies, the risks of nuclear proliferation, and the impact of increased electricity generation for electric vehicles.
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