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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.


Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

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