Queen’s speech: Plastic bag levy, not-so-zero carbon homes, shale boon and climate change agreement

The last Queen’s speech of this parliament has confirmed a number of new environmental measures set to be introduced across the UK.

Fracking permissions  

The Queen confirmed government's commitment to developing a UK shale gas industry. As part of that, the government is proposing to simplify access to shale sites which will allow companies to drill for shale oil and gas in return for community payments. The new proposals would effectively mean that shale gas companies will be able to drill underneath UK properties without the owners’ permission.  

The Queen said: “The Bill will enhance the United Kingdom’s energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites and maximising North Sea resources.”

In response to the new bill, Greenpeace activists arrived at David Cameron’s home in West Oxfordshire to stage a mock shale gas drill underneath his house. Fielding questions outside Cameron’s home, Simon Clysedale of Greenpeace claimed that the oil and gas industry has been extensively lobbying government to introduce this bill. He said: “Cuadrilla boss Francis Egan threatened that if parliament doesn't change the law so firms like his can drill under our homes without permission, fracking in the UK could grind to a halt.”

Responding to the news, Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “Not only does this bill defy public opinion, it denies people a voice. To allow fracking companies to drill under people’s homes and land without their permission is to ignore public interest in pursuit of the vested interests of a few. 

“Three quarters of the general public oppose changes to the trespass law. But their legitimate concerns over the very real environmental and health risks of fracking are falling on deaf ears in government. We need a rapid shift to a zero carbon economy and that is not going to happen by pouring resources into creating a whole new fossil fuel industry. 

“The government’s stance goes against the evidence, against common sense and against the wishes of the public.” 

Plastic bag levy

The government also confirmed that it plans to introduce a 5p charge on plastic carrier bags in an attempt to reduce their impact on the environment.

The government claims that in 2012 alone, over 7 billion single-use plastic carrier bags were given out in England by supermarkets – a figure that has been rising since 2010.

The government notes that it will ‘expect’ retailers to donate the proceeds of the levy to good causes, and will work to develop a voluntary agreement to cover this.

Responding to the plans to introduce a plastic bag levy next October, London assembly member Jenny Jones said: “A charge on single use bags is desperately overdue and years behind other regions in the UK. However it should apply to all retailers, not just big supermarkets. Only a universal charge can achieve this clarity and consistency.

“In fact many trade bodies representing small retailers are opposed to the exemption as it is confusing for consumers”

Not-so-zero carbon homes

As previously reported, the government has confirmed that it will include offsite green energy shortcuts in order to help housing developers meet the ‘zero carbon standard’.

The government claims that ‘allowable solutions’ provide “optional, cost effective and flexible means for house builders to meet the zero carbon homes standard, as an alternative to increased on-site energy efficiency measures or renewable energy (such as solar panels).”

In addition, the government confirmed that small sites will be exempt from the standard, however, the definition of a small site has not yet been decided and will be “consulted on shortly”.

Reacting to the news, Stuart Elmes, chair of the STA’s Solar Thermal Working Group, said: “DCLG seem to be thinking far too much about housebuilders and far too little about the people who will buy these homes and about the wider benefits to the UK of a thriving new build solar industry. If we had joined-up policy making, Government would be using new build homes to drive a very cost-effective expansion of domestic solar power and heating, and much lower energy bills in new homes as well.”

Global agreement on climate change

Finally, the Queen said that the UK would prioritise a global agreement on climate change, she said: “My ministers will champion efforts to secure a global agreement on climate change”.

The government believes that the most cost effective way of limiting dangerous global temperature rises of over 2 degrees is the introduction of a legally binding global agreement.

The government claims that its action at home on addressing climate change will allow it to champion a global agreement.

The UK’s pledge falls hot on the heels of America’s commitment to curb the emissions from its coal-fuelled power stations by 30% by 2030 and a similar admission from China.

The next major UNFCCC talks are in Lima this December, with a new global deal set to be agreed in Paris in December 2015.