Osborne encircled on green targets

Businesses join the call for the government to adopt a 2030 decarbonisation target.

Two groups of businesses have joined calls today for the government to adopt a target to decarbonise the power sector by 2030. It leaves George Osborne with few friends for his pro-gas, anti-green approach a year to the day after he warned the Conservative party conference that, "We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business."

Two letters to Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, calling for a 2030 target have been published today. A letter coordinated by the Aldersgate Group was signed by Asda, Aviva, Alliance Boots, BT, British American Tobacco, Cisco, EDF, Eurostar, Marks & Spencer, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Philips, Reed Elsevier, Sky, The Co-operative and Tridos Bank among others. It says:

"The government's perceived commitment to the low carbon transition is being undermined by recent statements calling for unabated gas in the power sector beyond 2030 and the absence of a specific carbon intensity target."

A second letter, leaked to the Times, is signed by Siemens, Alstom UK, Mitsubishi Power Systems, Areva, Doosan, Gamesa and Vestas. It says:

"Historically the UK has benefited from being known as a country with low political risk for energy investments. Undermining that reputation would have damaging consequences for the scale of future investments in the UK energy sector. It is important to protect that reputation carefully...

"We consider that a binding 2030 target for power sector decarbonisation would help to reduce the political risk currently associated with long term UK industrial investment."

Over the summer, two senior Tories joined the call for a 2030 decarbonisation target. Tim Yeo, Chair of the Energy and Climate Change select committee, published pre-legislative scrutiny of the energy bill calling for a 2030 target. In the FT, Yeo called for the government "[to] set a clear target to largely decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030, giving investors certainty about the direction of energy policy."

Lord Deben, formerly John Gummer, a minister in John Major's government, has recently become chair of the Committee on Climate Change. He wrote a letter to Ed Davey endorsing a 2030 target on the grounds that it would help bring forward the necessary investments “at least cost to the consumers.”

In recent weeks, the Labour Party and the Lib Dems have added their support to demands for a 2030 decarbonisation target. It leaves Osborne isolated in his view, captured in a letter earlier this summer to Davey, which called for, "agreement that we will not set any further decarbonisation or deployment targets beyond those we already have, for example 2030 targets for electricity emissions or renewable deployment."

The business community will be hoping that the Chancellor changes his mind today.

Recently installed wind turbines generate electricty in the shadow of Drax, Europe's biggest coal fired power station. Photograph: Getty Images.

Will Straw was Director of Britain Stronger In Europe, the cross-party campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. 

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.