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'Global issue of climate change must become a domestic one' - report says councils are in the front line of battle against global warming

Yesterday the Audit Commission moves the battle against climate change to the home front. It shows how councils can help shrink the domestic carbon footprint.

The new national report Lofty Ambitions - the role of councils in reducing domestic CO2 emissions proposes tackling homes - responsible for one third of England's greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon emissions from houses could be cut far more quickly and cheaply than those from industry or transport.

Lagging, insulating, re-glazing and modernising can make homes more energy efficient. These measures would also benefit the four million people who cannot afford to heat their homes adequately - half of whom are pensioners. Living in more energy-efficient homes would improve their health and reduce inequality, the report says. Investing in emissions-reducing measures can also bring a much-needed boost to local economies.

The Chairman of the Audit Commission, Michael O'Higgins, says: 'The global issue of climate change must now become a domestic one. There is a growing realisation that, unchecked, climate change will destroy the natural and built environments. Reducing emissions now will be far less costly than adapting our world to the consequences in the future. Cutting the power our homes consume by almost a third could come with a hefty £50 billion price tag, but this investment would be matched in only eight years as household fuel bills would tumble.'

The best councils have been good at greening homes, and have championed low carbon and renewable energy generation. They lead, oblige and subsidise social landlords and private sector homeowners to reduce domestic CO2 emissions, coordinate funding streams, and use their local knowledge to target help where it is most needed. Actions based on good quality house-by-house and street-by-street data deliver the best value for money.

But some councils say that the multiplicity of funding streams has created 'confusion for householders and duplication of effort' when energy suppliers and others approach the same households with competing offers.

Lofty Ambitions also brands the government's £2.7 billion a year winter fuel payments as a missed opportunity to both help keep people warm and to reduce CO2. The current system pays out to all older people despite three quarters of recipients not being classified as fuel poor, and provides no incentives to reduce CO2 emissions. The report says the payments fail to focus on those in the greatest need and do not provide a long-term solution - spending on heating today rather than reducing the need to heat in the future.

Under the Climate Change Act - the first of its kind in the world - we are legally bound to slash UK greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent of their 1990 level by 2050. The report calls on government to re-think winter fuel payments, and to check whether the voluntary approach to local targets for CO2 reduction can deliver the progress needed to meet national targets.

Michael O'Higgins adds: 'A one-off improvement in energy efficiency would cut household bills, giving householders lasting independence. Good for the planet and for their pockets. Surely this would be much better than pensioners needing continual government support to keep draughty houses warm every winter.'

'We need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. To do that we need to change the way we produce energy and cut how much we use. As we do that, we can cut household fuel bills and improve the lives of millions of people. All this will be achieved better and faster with the encouragement and support of our local elected representatives. Lofty Ambitions shows that councils are so often the catalyst, and that communities can look to them and to government to give a decisive lead in checking climate change.'

Notes to editors

Case studies

Carrick Housing Ltd, an arms length management organisation owned by Cornwall Council, doubled the average energy efficiency of its homes using standard insulation, double glazing, central heating and external cladding. It has also used small-scale renewable energy technologies to cut heating bills for fuel poor tenants in properties off the gas network - at a cost of around £1.6 million, it has installed over 280 ground source heat pumps and 3 solar photovoltaic systems.

Kirklees Council through its £3 million RE-Charge scheme provides interest-free loans to residents of up to £10,000 for renewable energy technologies. In its first year of operation the scheme received 260 applications and the council made 91 loan offers, and in year 2 the council has added a target for loans to ethnic minority households to the existing target for loans to fuel poor households.

Croydon Council residents can insulate cavity walls or lofts at a discounted price and receive a £100 credit toward next year's council tax bill. The rebate is part funded by the Council (£40) and part by British Gas (£60). To date nearly 1,300 households have taken up the offer, resulting in annual emissions savings of more than 210 tonnes of CO2.

Your own energy use

On average, each of us adds to the country's total CO2 emissions by 9,000 kg of CO2 every year.

For example:

  • 3,300 kg to drive a car 10,000 miles
  • 1,600 kg on an air flight equivalent to a return to Los Angeles
  • 1,000 kg to heat an average home and provide hot water for a year
  • 476 kg to light a house for a year (only a quarter of this if using energy-saving bulbs)
  • 137 kg a year if one TV is on for 2.5 hours a day
  • 125 kg average use of a washing machine for a year
Why not take the first steps towards cutting your household's footprint today?

There is a wealth of practical advice via:

Energy Saving Week

19 to 25 October 2009 is national Energy Saving week. This years theme is waste. The Energy Saving Trust (external link) will be helping people stop wasting their time, money and energy.

ACT on CO2 has begun a major TV campaign entitled 'Change how the story ends (external link)'.

About the Audit Commission

  • The Audit Commission is an independent watchdog, driving economy, efficiency and effectiveness in local public services to deliver better outcomes for everyone.
  • Our work across local government, health, housing, community safety and fire and rescue services means that we have a unique perspective. We promote value for money for taxpayers, auditing the £200 billion spent by 11,000 local public bodies.
  • As a force for improvement, we work in partnership to assess local public services and make practical recommendations for promoting a better quality of life for local people.
  • Further details about the role of the Audit Commission can be obtained from www.audit-commission.gov.uk.

For further information contact Mark Nicholson in the Audit Commission press office on 0844 798 2135 or out of hours on 0844 798 2128.

Creative social storytelling with NHS Digital & Doncaster Council