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Energy Gap

With the global population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, how can we provide energy to meet d

With the global population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, how can we provide energy to meet demand, where will this energy be sourced from and what challenges must be overcome to achieve this?

The human race has experienced an explosion in urban living over the past half-century - and there is no sign of it slowing down. Indeed, experts predict that three-quarters of the world's nine billion people will live in cities by 2050. But what will this future world look like, and how will it be powered?

One effect of global capitalism is more polarised societies, with extremes of wealth and poverty. This can be seen both on a worldwide scale and within cities. In line with this trend, it is estimated that as many as half of the new urban populations could be living in slums, with limited access to power for light and heat. How we will provide the energy required to take these people out of poor living conditions is a crucial consideration.

However, it is not simply a matter of supplying more energy, but also of providing the right kind of energy. As the problem of climate change becomes increasingly pressing, lower CO2 emissions must become a priority for us all, raising important questions about city planning and how we allocate investment.

If development is chaotic, we can expect cities to have sprawling mobility needs and inefficient energy consumption. Ideally, they will be more compact, with high population density and energy-efficient combined heat and power systems. The challenge is in achieving this smarter development while also accommodating the day-to-day demands of business and populations in cities that are growing quickly and organically.

The new urban growth is most notable in the rapidly expanding economies of the east. As such, special attention must be paid to how the Asian countries develop low-carbon or energy-efficient technologies.

It is clear that there are huge opportunities for industry in the development of big cities, yet there are also great risks. But, given the potential human and social costs of an urban population multiplying before technology and infrastructure catch up, energy should be a top priority for business and governments alike.


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David Cameron’s starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the government dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up to £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it, while reducing the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.