Wind turbines in Boulogne-sur-mer, France. Photo: Getty Images
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The UK is one of the worst nations in the EU for renewable energy

The latest figures on the progress EU nations are making towards reducing their use of non-renewable energy show the UK scraping in near the bottom of the class.

The United Kingdom is doing piss-poorly in increasing its use of renewable energy in comparison to its European counterparts, according to figures released this week. The UK is the farthest, by considerable distance, from in reaching its Europe 2020 target for reducing emissions, relative to other EU nations.

According to Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, the 26-member block broke past 15 per cent of energy coming from renewable sources in 2013, up from 14.3 per cent in 2012. The EU already seems to be well on its way to reach its target of the gross share of renewable energy consumption being 20 per cent by 2020. That "gross share" is defined by the Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC as the total amount of renewable energy supplied to industry, transport, households, services, agriculture, forestry and fisheries - and every EU Member States has its own Europe 2020 target, many of which are much higher than 20 per cent. It means that the EU needs an average rise of 0.7 per cent a year to reach a 19.9 per cent by 2020.

Looking through the status for different EU nations, however, shows that some countries are much, much better than others at getting on with the task. Although by no means a competition, Sweden is miles ahead - it produced 52.1 per cent of its energy from renewable sources in 2013, beating contenders Latvia (37.1 per cent), Finland (36.8 per cent) and Austria (32.6 per cent) by some distance. The UK, by contrast, only managed a renewable share of 5.1 per cent, putting it in the bottom four with the Netherlands (4.5 per cent), Malta (3.8 per cent) and Luxembourg (3.6 per cent).

Bulgaria, Estonia and Sweden have already reached their 2020 target, and nearly at the finish line as well are Lithuania, Romania and Italy, each less than 0.5 percentage points from their targets. Not only does the UK have one of the most unambitious targets - 15 per cent, compared to 30 for Denmark, for example, or 67.5 for Norway - but it's also the farthest away of any EU nation. The EU may appear on course to meet the 2020 goal, but some nations are pulling their weight more than others.

Tosin Thompson writes about science and was the New Statesman's 2015 Wellcome Trust Scholar. 

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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