Should the Lib Dems be supporting the ban on patio heaters?

by Stephen Tall on January 31, 2008

It’s a big day for patio heater manufacturers, as the European Parliament looks set to approve a Lib Dem-inspired measure which would see the faddish appliances phased out, along with electrical stand-by modes, and minimum standards set for energy efficiency on air-conditioning, television “decoder” boxes and light bulbs.

Lib Dem MEP Fiona Hall is behind the initiative (which has no legal force). You can read her report in full here. Here’s an extract:

Latest scientific evidence suggests that the world has as little as eight years to tackle global warming. If global temperatures rise more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, climate change is predicted to spiral out of control.
Energy efficiency is the most cost effective and immediately available tool in the battle to cap greenhouse gas emissions. A wide range of energy efficient technology already exists and can be introduced with a much shorter lead-in time than is required for major new construction projects.
Energy efficiency is also a crucial tool in the EU’s efforts to secure adequate supplies of energy, particularly for those Member States currently dependent on Russian gas. Nor should the importance of energy efficiency in supplier countries be overlooked: the IEA estimates that energy equivalent to a fifth of Russian exports to European OECD countries could be saved through the use of enhanced technology and energy efficiency in Russia.
In addition, energy efficiency has an important role to play in delivering the Lisbon agenda: energy efficiency equates to economic efficiency. The energy efficiency industry is a high growth sector for employment, with building renovation at the forefront of job creation. …
Strategic regulation on energy efficiency is absolutely necessary. Although energy intensity has improved in the EU since 1990 it has not improved enough to counter the year on year rise in GDP, with the result that final energy consumption has nevertheless risen. Trading of carbon emissions now offers a key global tool in tackling climate change but there is no evidence or precedent for market mechanisms alone delivering to a short deadline. To achieve energy saving on the timescale necessary to control climate change requires consumer choice to be exercised within a restricted range of options which are increasingly energy efficient.
[…]
Both the Commission and Member State governments have been guilty of a serious dereliction of duty over the implementation of energy efficiency legislation. The Commission has failed to put in place the number of staff necessary to ensure full and timely implementation of the Buildings Directive and National Energy Efficiency Action Plans, the cornerstones on which the current EU Action Plan rests. Member States are culpable for failing to grasp the strategic importance of energy efficiency and the need to make it a political priority.
It falls now to the European Parliament to give the political leadership that has been lacking in the other two institutions. EU elected representatives need to keep the fullest glare of scrutiny on the Action Plan, both through the European Parliament and through national parliaments and watchdogs such as Energy Watch, to make sure that the Plan is implemented in full and on schedule.

The Guardian meanwhile quotes climate change expert, Dr Eric Johnson, a national expert reviewer for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who argues:

The overall impact of outdoor heaters on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions is very minimal, and once you look at the domestic models used in homes, the impact is almost non-existent. Once comparisons start with well-known offenders such as airplanes, outdoor heaters dwarf in comparison. In actual fact, plasma TVs produce far more CO2 than patio heaters when you compare normal usage patterns. What constitutes a waste of energy is always going to be open to debate but it is important that the public is properly educated about environmental impacts in order to make informed decisions on their everyday activities.”

So, is this a case of Europe and the Lib Dems calling for unnecessary ‘hairshirt’ regulation which will have little real impact? Or is it a case of our party being the only one willing to put its head above the parapet to urge practical measures which will address global warming?