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Galvanising the public sector into action

By Mike Pope - posted Thursday, 5 February 2009

Can governments be trusted to ensure the public sector acts responsibly by doing all it can to reduce CO2 emissions? What should we be expecting governments to do in this regard? Is the public sector willing to do anything or will it simply pass on higher operating costs to end-users - you and me?

The public sector and most of its many publicly owned businesses are monopolistic in character. They are not renowned for being either efficient or keenly competitive. They can and do pass on higher operating costs to their customers rather than explore and adopt ways of reducing overheads, such as energy costs.

There are a number of ways in which the public sector can - and sometimes does - act to reduce CO2 pollution and operating costs. The fact that governments refuse to tell the public what they are doing to achieve these outcomes is not conclusive evidence that they are doing little or nothing, but it is a pretty good indicator that this may be the case.


The most significant way of reducing emissions is to use less electricity generated from fossil fuels by using energy more efficiently and/or replacing it with energy generated from renewable sources. There are many ways in which the public sector can do this, and earn rather than spend money and encourage others to do likewise. Measures to achieve these desirable outcomes include the following:

1. Actively promote the use of solar hot water panels for all domestic, industrial and other purposes to replace water heating using electricity.

Many householders do not realise that by installing solar hot water (SHW) panels, their electricity bills can be reduced by 25-35 per cent. They are often not aware that government subsidies of as much as $1,000 are available to those who install SHW. They may not know that the purchase and installation costs can be recovered within five years or that installing a SHW panel adds value to their property.

Governments at all levels are well aware of these facts. Yet there is no explanation why so many publicly owned properties, such as housing commission homes, office blocks and other facilities using hot water, are not fitted with SHW. All levels of government operate or own businesses, many of them very large undertakings, most of which use electricity generated from fossil fuels to produce their hot water needs.

In most cases, public servants can not say how many of their properties are not fitted with SHW panels, let alone inform the public what programs are proposed to rectify this problem. They remain tight lipped when asked what installation targets have been set, what funding has been allocated or what potential savings in CO2 emissions and electricity use have been, or are expected to be, achieved.

The Opposition in Parliament rarely press for information or hold government accountable for the lack of progress in these areas. Local government councillors do not seek information from their mayors or bureaucrats. Calls for more information from the public are ignored, except by those councils which are making an effort to retro-fit panels and are proud of their efforts.


2. Reduce electricity consumption by using lighting more economically and more efficient light bulbs in all government offices, facilities and publicly owned businesses.

Save the world by changing the light globes in government offices? Highly unlikely! However the fact is there are millions of light globes in public sector offices and workplaces, the majority of which use electricity inefficiently. Implementing a program to replace them all with the most efficient globes available would certainly reduce consumption of electricity. This would lower CO2 emissions and the electricity bills which are paid out of the rates and taxes we pay.

Similar economies could be realised if the government questioned the extent and need for public lighting:

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About the Author

Mike Pope trained as an economist (Cambridge and UPNG) worked as a business planner (1966-2006), prepared and maintained business plan for the Olympic Coordinating Authority 1997-2000. He is now semi-retired with an interest in ways of ameliorating and dealing with climate change.

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