Subsidies for coal, oil and gas are not falling despite EU pledges to tackle climate change.

The UK leads the EU in giving subsidies to fossil fuels according to a report from the European Commission. It found there was €12 billion a year in support for fossil fuels in the UK, significantly more than the €8.3 billion spent on renewable energy.

The report warned that the total subsidies for coal, oil and gas across the EU remained at the same level as 2008. This is despite both the EU and G20 having long pledged to phase out the subsidies, which hamper the rapid transition to clean energy needed to fight climate change.

Germany provided the biggest energy subsidies, with €27 billion for renewable energy, almost three times the €9.5 billion given to fossil fuels. Spain and Italy also gave more subsidies to renewable energy than fossil fuels.

As well as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Ireland all gave more to fossil fuels. The report is based on 2015 Eurostat data, the latest available, and found that across the EU renewable energy received 45% of subsidies and fossil fuels 33%.

The report said policies were being pursued to cut carbon emissions and meet the Paris climate agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2C about pre-industrial levels. Despite this and international commitments, the report stated that fossil fuels subsidies in the EU have not decreased.

The total fossil fuels subsidies in the EU were €55 billion in 2016. Experts have stated this is a very high number, given the approaching deadlines for some phase out promises.

A significant part of the UK fossil fuel subsidies identified by the commission is the 5% rate of VAT on domestic gas and electricity, cut from the standard 20%. The UK Government did not dispute the data but denied that it provided any subsidies for fossil fuels under its own definition and that of the International Energy Agency.

A Government spokeswoman commented that the UK do not subsidise fossil fuels: "We're firmly committed to tackling climate change by using renewables, storage, interconnectors, new nuclear and more to deliver a secure and dynamic energy market at the least possible cost for consumers".

Shelagh Whitley from Overseas Development Institute (ODI) was dismissive of the Government's claim to provide no fossil fuel subsidies. Stating the Government were lying, she said: "It's absurd. They are playing games and continuing to prop up a centuries old energy system".

She said the definition of subsidies, accepted by the UK and 163 other nations includes "government revenue that is otherwise due, foregone or not collected" such as reduced tax rates. Other countries, such as Germany and Italy, call such tax breaks subsidies, and the UK also gave tax breaks for oil and gas operators in the North Sea. Whitley said that rather than arguing about definitions, the UK should use its tax system to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

In September, Chancellor Philip Hammond said the Government had "forgone" billions of pounds by choosing not to implement a scheduled rise in duty on petrol and diesel. "The fuel duty freezes since 2011 have meant that the exchequer has foregone around £46bn in revenues through to 2018-19".

Labour Shadow Business and Energy Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey said: "the balance of the UK's energy subsidies are all wrong. Denmark and Germany won big by investing early-on in what is now a hugely profitable offshore wind industry. The UK must not miss out on the opportunity to lead the world on the next generation of renewables, and support should be geared towards these technologies of the future".

Friends of the Earth CEO, Craig Bennett added: "Spiralling climate change is going to cost people and our economy huge sums of money, through the damage, disruption and instability it causes. So it's astonishing that the UK government is still throwing taxpayers' money at some of the world's largest oil and gas companies. Ministers must switch funding to rapidly boost energy efficiency and renewables"

On 7 January 2019 the Environmental Protection (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England and Wales) Regulations SI 2018/1227 began to come into force.

They make various amendments, including changes to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to insert provisions giving power to certain authorities in England to serve notices offering a person the opportunity of discharging any liability to conviction under the new household duty of care for waste.

It is now an offence to fail to take measures to make sure that the transfer of household waste is only to certain authorised persons.

They also amend various provisions of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations SI 2016/1154, including amendments relating to:

  • new conditions for environmental permits authorising certain waste operations;
  • flood risk activities; and
  • radioactive substances activities.

These will come fully into force on 7 April 2019, and aim to strengthen the assessment and enforcement of operator competence by requiring the operator to periodically supply the regulator with information that demonstrates that they comply with recognised competence standards. So as a result, Competence Management Systems (CMS) are a recognised alternative to WAMITAB.

The standard is now UKAS accredited through LRQA and is recognised by the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales as a method of demonstrating technical compliance on permitted sites where a technically competent person needs to be present as part of the permitted operational requirements.

CMS is a bespoke system designed to meet the requirements of a site's environmental permit. It can be incorporated into current environmental and quality management systems (ISO 14001 and 9001) and certificates a whole business as competent instead of an individual. This means that attendance hours for technically competent persons is no longer an issue, as the whole business is certified as competent.

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), the Civic Voice and the Bath Preservation Trust have raised concerns over the extension of permitted development rights.

Government proposals set out in their consultation on planning reform to support the high street and increase the delivery of new homes, seek to extend permitted development rights by allowing the upwards extension and conversion of non-domestic properties into dwellings.

The TCPA acknowledged that converting employment building to residential can be done to a good standard and deliver homes, however doing so through means of permitted development would result in very limited oversight and scrutiny of developments. They claimed that current permitted development has resulted in poor quality housing that in turn has adverse implications for the health and well-being of residents. The TCPA believe extending upwards to create new homes should be encouraged but subject to the full planning process.

Executive Director of the Civic Voice, Ian Harvey, said that the charity support the idea of encouraging a greater mix of high street use, however he raised concerns that: ''given the high visibility and prominence of upward extensions and potential impact on the street scene, local character and amenity, very careful consideration of such proposals must be required.'' They believe full consideration should be given to the design, external appearance and impact on amenity and character of the area for any proposal to extend up to the highest building in a street.

Chair of the Civic Voice, Joan Humble, commented: ''We may end up with poor-quality designed housing without consideration for the wider built environment, something we know is key to successful high streets.''

Worries have also been voiced by the Royal Town Planning Institute in relation to the Government's proposals over the potentially serious implications for local authorities who would not be able to collect planning fees and developer contributions if the developments were made under permitted development. They state that permitted development rights should be used for simple minor changes and not new developments on such a scale which they believe require scrutiny under a full local planning application.

For more information, see the:

  • Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order SI 1995/418;
  • Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order SI 2015/596.

Hitachi have suspended work on a new nuclear development project at Wylfa Newydd in Anglesey over rising costs.

The company have been in discussions with the Government since June 2018 about project funding but the two have failed to agree terms.

If the £13 billion plant would if scrapped, place thousands of jobs at risk. It was anticipated around 9,000 workers would be involved at the building of two nuclear reactors at the sire which were due to be operational by the mid-2020s.

Ken Skates, Wales Economy Secretary hopes that the plan won't be scrapped entirely, he said: ''If it is paused then work must begin immediately across governments and with local government and with the business community in ensuring that there are job opportunities in the short term whilst we find a new investor for the project.''

The site at Wylfa Newydd was identified as one of six sites for the most significant wave of new nuclear power construction globally. Only one of these sites is currently under construction, with another three abandoned.

Currently there are eight nuclear power sites in the UK that are generating power, and only one of those eight will be operational by 2030. The GMB Union have warned of ''the very real prospect of a UK energy crisis''.

Duncan Hawthorne, Chief Executive officer of Horizon Nuclear Power, the wholly owned Hitachi subsidiary behind the Anglesey scheme, said:

''We have been in close discussions with the UK Government, in cooperation with the government of Japan, on the financing and associated commercial arrangements for our project for some years now. I am very sorry to say that despite the best efforts of everyone involved we’ve not been able to reach an agreement to the satisfaction of all concerned.

"As a result we will be suspending the development of the Wylfa Newydd project until a solution can be found. In the meantime, we will take steps to reduce our presence but keep the option to resume development in future. Clearly this will have a significant impact for all involved with our project.

"We will also engage closely with the many international and UK-based stakeholders who have strongly supported the project’s development, especially our lead host community of Anglesey, represented by the Isle of Anglesey County Council and Welsh government.''

The CBI's chief UK policy director, Matthew Fell, said: ''The government has to demonstrate it is committed to meeting our climate change targets by supporting new low-carbon power supply. The loss of new nuclear projects could leave us more heavily dependent in the long run on fossil fuels, which could risk our legally binding climate targets.''

The Government have said they have a range of options available for meeting future energy demand, including renewables, storage, interconnectors, new nuclear and more.

A Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) spokesperson commented: ''As the Business Secretary (Greg Clark) set out in June, any deal needs to represent value for money and be the right one for UK consumers and taxpayers. Despite extensive negotiations and hard work by all sides, the government and Hitachi are unable to reach agreement to proceed at this stage.'' They also added that the land at the proposed site for the Wylfa Newydd project was owned by Hitachi, and they had indicated the company wished to retain ownership while it discussed future options with the government.

The Welsh Government has produced a Consultation as part of the Working with Communities: Geological Disposal of Higher Activity Radioactive Waste, which aims to widen the search for a willing host community and a suitable site for the development of a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) in Wales.

The document has been developed by Radioactive Waste Management Ltd to bring together the key relevant existing policy, legislative and regulatory requirements that will apply at various points during the Siting Process during the evaluation of sites which may be suitable to host a GDF.

Geological disposal involves placing higher activity radioactive waste deep underground to ensure that the hazardous materials that come from the nuclear energy industry as well as radioactive hospital waste, are kept away from people and the environment, by containing it in a suitable geological environment for many years.

The document provides an overview of the Siting Process, which could take up to around 20 years.

During the Siting Process, the Radioactive Waste Management Ltd will have to satisfy many legal requirements for the purpose of constructing and operating a GDF, in particular:

  • land use planning consent;
  • Environmental Impact Assessment;
  • Habitats Regulations Assessment;
  • obtain a Nuclear Site License under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965;
  • meet the nuclear industry security obligations; and
  • obtain environmental permits for operating such sites.

Responding to this consultation

The Consultation is open for responses from 16 January 2019 until 14 April 2019.

The form to be used for responses to the Consultation can be accessed on the Government's website.

For more information, see the:

Thames Water has been handed large fines over two sewage incidents that occurred in 2013 and 2015.

In October 2013 an underground sewer pipe in South East London became blocked with tree roots, fat, oil and other debris, a buildup of which caused an overflow of sewage above ground, flooding a field and two nearby streams, ultimately polluting the River Shuttle.

On investigation the Environment Agency found that raw sewage, which could have been flowing into the river for several days, killed around 20 stickleback fish and hundreds of invertebrates, and affected the river habitats and the quality of water over several miles.

Following this incident, Thames Water was ordered to pay £80,000 as a civil sanction to South East Rivers Trust to make improvements to a local river, and pay the Environment Agency's costs of nearly £20,000.

Land and water officer, Jamie Lloyd, commented: "Tree roots were allowed to grow into the sewer unchecked, resulting in fat and sewage solids causing a complete blockage. Sewage backed-up and was sent with some force through the manholes, triggering significant pollution. Thames Water compounded the pollution by failing to clear the sewer quickly after the Environment Agency reported the incident to them."

On a second occasion, Thames Water were fined £2 million and ordered to pay £80,000 in costs after raw sewage polluted two streams in Oxfordshire, killing around 150 fish and flooding a nearby garden. According to judge Peter Ross, it was a high-end, category three harm offence.

Between 8 and 9 August 2015, numerous failures in the management of a sewage pumping station led to sewage emptying into two brooks leading to the River Evenlode. A backlog of raw sewage was forced into the water from a sewer pipe that couldn't hold it. After reports of the incident by members of the public, the Environment Agency discovered that the entire local population of bullhead fish had been killed by the toxic waste along a 50-metre stretch of water.

Investigations discovered Thames Water were aware of the pumping station failure before the incident. Just before the incident, the company ignored more than 800 high-priority alarms needing attention within four hours, another 300 alarms were not properly investigated, all of which pointed out failures with the pumping station.

Lead investigator, Robert Davis said: "This incident was foreseeable and avoidable. Thames Water didn't recognise the increased risk to the environment, ignoring and failing to respond adequately to more than 1000 alarms. We hope this prosecution sends a loud and clear message that the Environment Agency will not accept poor operation, management and maintenance of sewage pumping stations. Where we have evidence of offending and serious pollution incidents like here, we will take appropriate action to bring polluters to justice."

Judge Ross commented that Thames Water was "reckless" by taking an unacceptable level of risk with the environment. It allowed the sewage pumping station to operate with no automatically available standby pump for around 10 months in the year prior to the pollution.

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