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- Author or Editor: Carolyn Snell x
Increased awareness of, and alarm about, climate change gained momentum during the 1980s in tandem with the growth of green politics, political parties and policy agendas that emerged in the 1960s, which, among other things, conceptualised the world as a single ecosystem (Snell and Haq, 2013). While concerns about a changing climate were in part related to broader claims about the inherent value of the natural world, they were also increasingly related to a realisation about detrimental human impacts. As a policy problem, climate change is understood throughout the academic and policy community as being both global in scope and unprecedented in scale (UN, 2020). It is described by the United Nations (UN) as ‘the defining issue of our time’ (UN, 2020), with multiple risks to human life, including: ‘shifting weather patterns that threaten food production [and] rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding’ (UN, 2020). The most recent evidence on climate change from the fifth report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (IPCC, 2018a, pp 6–8) highlights current and future risks to human life, occurring globally, with ‘severe, pervasive, and irreversible’ impacts that will occur without ‘substantial and sustained’ policy action.
Given these issues, climate change has been characterised as a ‘wicked’ policy problem (Cahill, 2001) that is ‘truly complex and diabolical’ (Steffen, 2011, cited in Gough, 2011) and ‘big, global, long term, persistent and uncertain’ (Stern, 2007, p 25). While most nations agree in principle that there is a need for global collective action (cf UNFCCC, 2020a), beyond this, there is far less agreement of what sort of action is needed, with much controversy over the action each nation should be required to take.
Since the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the issue of climate change has been central to policy agendas. In the UK, policy on climate change occurs at a range of policy levels, and falls under the remit of a number of governmental departments. This chapter discusses a distinctly new focus of policy development, that of environmental policy. It is an area that has had a profound impact on the range of social policy concerns, for example poverty, economic and social globalisation, transport and housing. This chapter outlines some of the key international, European and domestic climate change targets. It also discusses the developments in 2006–07, focusing on recent policy changes. The most notable areas of policy development are the 2006 Climate Change Programme, which sets out the overall government climate change strategy, and contains the main elements such as the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS); the 2007 Energy White Paper Meeting the Energy Challenge, and the 2007 Climate Change Bill. An assessment of the key areas of policy direction is also offered in this chapter including an assessment of the current UK progress which evaluates the capability of the recent policy proposals in addressing climate change.
This chapter explores claims made by policy makers in the UK that, despite having no control over global energy markets, existing policy protects households vulnerable to fuel poverty through the regulation of commercial energy suppliers and specific policies that provide cash transfers and energy-efficiency measures. Keeping energy prices low is an essential part of the UK government’s approach to fuel poverty alleviation, but this task is a complex one in which the steering capacity of the nation-state often seems weak and its capacity hollowed out. This is exacerbated by a neoliberal policy direction that funds environmental and social policy measures through charges on energy bills rather than through tax-funded programmes. The chapter then argues that existing policy has been somewhat contradictory in its view of the government’s power to steer energy markets. While the Department for Energy and Climate Change suggested that the UK has no control over the global energy market, this does not match political rhetoric, which has emphasised the importance of increasing domestic energy security in order to spread risk and reduce dependence on politically unstable fossil fuel-producing states, and has also seen political pressure placed on the six main energy companies to lower energy charges to consumers.
Carolyn Snell and Harriet Thomson, authors of Chapter Two, discuss the Coalition government’s attempt to reconcile two key dimensions of its energy policy: climate change and fuel poverty. Climate change relates to the ‘use of non-renewable forms of energy’, and fuel poverty is ‘often associated with the underuse or excessive cost of household energy’. As part of their analysis, Snell and Thomson discuss the Energy Act 2011 and its flagship policy, ‘The Green Deal’. For reasons that are explained in the chapter, the authors argue that attempts to deal with climate change can have the undesirable effect of increasing fuel poverty. In their words, ‘one policy outcome may damage the progress of the other’.
The causes and effects of environmental degradation and pollution are complex and multifaceted within a developing world context. There are four main issues: first, poverty and environmental degradation; second, development and environmental degradation; third, structural inequalities, development and the environment; and fourth, the unequal effects of environmental degradation. We start by looking at each of these in turn.
The dominant view has been that environmental degradation is caused by poverty (WCED, 1987; Duraiappah, 1998; Gray and Moseley, 2005). It has been argued that poverty causes people, by necessity, to act in a selfish manner when it comes to the environment, putting short-term needs above the long-term sustainable use of resources. The Brundtland Report states this most clearly when it says, ‘[m]any parts of the world are caught in a vicious downward spiral: poor people are forced to overuse environmental resources to survive from day to day, and their impoverishment of their environment further impoverishes them, making their survival ever more uncertain and difficult’ (WCED, 1987: 27). The outcome is a vicious downward spiral of poverty and environmental degradation. Rising populations push agriculture onto marginal land, and weak state institutions fail to prevent clearance and the use of protected areas. At the same time, low agricultural production from impoverished soils and increased exposure to climate variability, that is, drought, limits the opportunities of people to improve their livelihoods (Lufumpa, 2005).
However, this dominant view is disputed as simplistic and the relationship between poverty and the environment is considered to be more complex (Leach and Mearns, 1995; Duraiappah, 1998).
There is limited evidence that explicitly considers the relationship between fuel poverty and disabled people. Additionally, within English policy, disabled people are treated as a single group with homogenous needs, despite both highly varied needs and eligibility for fuel poverty or welfare support. Given this gap in knowledge the paper investigates the relationship between fuel poverty and disabled people in the context of policy change. The paper reports research on: the extent of fuel poverty among households containing disabled people; the relationship between tenure, disability and fuel poverty; and the relationship between fuel poverty policy support and disabled people.
This paper explores the popular idea of a ‘heat or eat’ dilemma existing for some households. The mixed-methods research finds that there is a relationship between not being able to heat the home and not being able to eat well. However, it appears that households struggle to do either, and there is considerable nuance in household decisions around energy use. Qualitative data analysis indicates the importance of energy billing periods, household composition and social and familial networks in terms of shaping household experiences and responses. The findings challenge the established idea that food and fuel are elastic household expenditures.
Climate change is both global in scope and unprecedented in scale and has been described by the UN as ‘the defining issue of our time’. There has been scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change for some time, with the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirming that it is ‘unequivocal’ that human activity has warmed the atmosphere, land and oceans. There is also substantial evidence surrounding the impacts of climate change, with evidence of it already ‘disrupting national economies and affecting lives’. Climate change threatens food, water and energy security and poses acute risks to lives and livelihoods through extreme weather events, especially heatwaves, droughts, cyclones and sea level rise.