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Environmental Criminals and Green Film Festivals

I’m not the first person to spot behaviours that we have taken for granted but that are environmentally damaging will become criminal offences in the not too distant future. History is littered with examples from slavery to the Clean Air Acts.

The latest example is environmentally inefficient buildings. From April 2018 it will be an offence to let a building (commercial or residential) which doesn’t have an energy performance certificate rating higher than E following an announcement by the fast moving Chris Huhne.

This is big news and marks the next step in the suite of behaviour change moves the Government is making. We have discussed this here before and have advocated going a bit further by setting out the next set of milestones (which are inevitable) to take us through to a stock that is EPC A rated.

I’m not a politician so I bow to others on the political judgements in this but from a practical point of view the lack of future targets means that it is difficult to make decisions on how much work to do to properties. Usually once you start it is better to get it all done at once rather than have to come back a number of times to gradually upgrade efficiency but if there is no certainty that landlords will ever have to go further there will be a lot of wasted time and energy (and carbon).

There will also be a huge number of difficulties in the details of this policy. It will be problematic for the fuel poor, for listed buildings and for buildings planned for demolition in the period after 2018. It could also cause a loss of building stock which will raise rents for small businesses for example and reduce the supply of housing.

I suspect this can all be solved by detailed policy development but Government will have to consult widely and there will be a significant risk of the Clarkson brigade blowing this one off course.

The carrot in this mix is the Green Deal. The idea is that the works required to get inefficient buildings up to EPC E or above can be met by a fixed charge applied to the utility bill over 25 years and subject to the ‘Golden Rule’ that all investments must result in a saving on the energy bill.

Now I would be reasonably certain that there will be some, though not many, buildings that cannot get to EPC E within the Golden Rule. There is also the difficulty that some of these works will not be able to be undertaken with the occupier in the building. The consensus is that energy efficiency works to existing buildings will mainly be done when buildings change hands or when some other works are being commissioned so the application of a fixed deadline that is not far beyond the average lease length for commercial property means that there are going to have to be arrangements (or exemptions) made eg for leases that are in place today that go beyond the date. Dealing effectively with these situations will be critcal to avoding the kind of public backlash against the policy that brought down the Australian Prime Minister. I know British politicians are well aware of this risk!

This risk is mitigated if the public understand the need for the legislation. Government publicity programmes are notoriously bad at influencing behaviour in the desired direction. There has been some fascinating work done for the Channel Four Britdoc Foundation into the impact of the film The End of the Line. The evidence is that films like this have massive impacts on behaviour.

This week sees the first UK Green Film Festival (http://ukgreenfilmfestival.org/) which is part of an upsurge of similar festivals around the world. It seems that the films are there and that people want to watch them. Maybe this is the antidote to Top Gear. It is almost certainly better than Government campaigns but it will need to grow some from its current small beginings in London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Leeds and Leicester over the weekend of May 20th – 22nd. If by 2018 the festival is a week long and in every cinema in the country we will have a chance of making the changes we need to. But a bit of well designed regulation will certainly help this along the way.


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