'We must be sustainable and stop funding Putin's war'

Solar panels on the roof of a property on a housing development in Basingstoke, Hampshire. PA Photo.

In South Wales, Newport City Council have installed 6,713 solar panels across 27 sites - Credit: PA

We are living in an age of emergencies. From the cost of living crisis and Covid at home, to overseas horrors such as wars in Ukraine and Yemen and the "dangerous and widespread disruption in nature" caused by human-induced climate change, according to a report last month by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

What’s less obvious is that we could tackle three of those emergencies (at least in the medium term) by radically changing the way we generate and use energy.  

Analysts at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimate that the EU has bought more than €9 billion (£7.5 billion) worth of fossil fuels from Russia since it invaded Ukraine on February 24 and this figure is rising by the day. This means UK customers are actually helping to fund Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vicious war, even though we get only 5-6% of our gas from Russia.  

It’s because we're tied into global energy markets controlled by the big oil and gas companies. To add insult to injury, Whitehall currently adds to these companies’ massive profits through tax breaks and subsidies for exploration, research and development to the tune of £10 billion a year. In contrast, the government’s “biggest ever renewables auction” is worth £285 million a year, less than 3% of the cash given to oil and gas. 

Dee Searle, Climate Emergency Camden

Dee Searle says Britain is inadvertently funding President Putin's war on the Ukraine by buying fuel from Russia - Credit: Dee Searle

Here’s a no brainer: if UK governments had reduced subsidies for fossil fuels and instead directed some of that money into renewable energy and home insulation, families would not now be facing massive increases in energy costs. Yes. It really is that simple. 

Britain clearly needs to become more self-sufficient in energy production but the government’s pet suggestions of fracking and new North Sea drilling are not the answers. For a start they’d take too long to come on stream and much of the oil and gas would end up abroad as companies sell to the highest bidder. 

The good news is we don’t have to wait for the government’s puny subsidies. Local authorities, such as Camden, can play a major role. For a start Camden should immediately transfer to 100% renewable energy suppliers across all council buildings, services, schools and street lighting. The council should also implement a wholesale retrofit programme across all housing estates to cut energy consumption through improved insulation and zero carbon energy sources such as ground-source heat pumps. 

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Real energy security involves bringing generation and ownership as close to home as possible. Councils across the UK are now introducing co-operative and community-based renewable energy schemes. Newport City Council’s collaboration with Egni Co-op, funds and manages installation of solar PV panels, aiming to become carbon neutral by 2030. So far 6,713 solar panels have been installed across 27 sites in Newport, with an estimated annual generation of over 1,900,000 kWh. 

Camden has Power Up North London (powerupnorthlondon.org), a community social business delivering renewable energy projects for local people. It could certainly expand its reach with support from the council. 

Rethinking our approach to energy supplies provides an opportunity to tackle the cost of living crisis, protect the climate and stop funding multinationals and dodgy governments. We need to learn from others and work together locally.  

Dee Searle is from Climate Emergency Camden