Last updated at 22:14pm on 31st March 2007
It is one of the timeless rituals of the new globally-warmed great British summer: firing up the barbecue and slinging on a steak.
But people who choose to burn charcoal may have to think twice – as councils now have swinging new powers to force homeowners to buy ‘carbon offsets’ before they light up or face a £50 fine.
The measures, which have been approved by the Climate Change Unit of the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs, are likely to severely curtail the number of barbecues Britons enjoy this summer.
Last summer an estimated 800,000 tonnes of charcoal were burned in British gardens.
According to Greenwood, a climate change pressure group, that amount would have created 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide – comparable to the amount given off by all British cars for one month.
“It may seem petty but when put together the amount of CO2 produced is really significant,’ said Greenwood spokesman Luke Fairweather.
“People are beginning to understand that they must curb the use of their cars in order to save the planet from catastrophe but they also need to consider other areas of their lives.
“And thinking before you barbecue is part of being a responsible human being.”
Councils will approve barbecues only if the householder has bought a so-called carbon offset.
These should cost no more than £5 each and will allow sufficient barbecuing – as long as the cook is proficient – to create 20 steaks, or 40 if you like them rare.
The carbon offsets will be bought from Gases R Us, a carbon trading company based in Glastonbury, Somerset. They will use the money to contribute to carbon-offset projects around the world.
These programmes, such as reforestation, wind farming and solar panels, effectively balance out the CO2 emissions of the barbecue.
Gases R Us spokeswoman Mindy Stevens said: “A carbon offset for barbecuing a steak will equate to a banana tree sapling in Indonesia. One for barbecuing half a dozen sausages would buy a third of a wind turbine for a peasant in Peru.”
Councils will appoint barbecue inspectors who will have the power to enter residents’ gardens and check whether any charcoal has been burnt.
The smell of burning, the remains of cooked burgers or a charred kebab stick will all be sufficient for them to apply on-the-spot fines of up to £50.
Campaigners reacted with horror at yet another intrusion into personal lives.
“We already have council snoopers inspecting our views, our conservatories and our energy efficiency,’ said Andrew Freeman of the pressure group No Limits.
“Now these inspectors will have the right to burst into our gardens on a lovely summer’s afternoon and force us to drop our barbecuing tongs.”
The new rules are likely to seriously affect sales of charcoal barbecues.
But those who already use butane gas grills will also be required to buy carbon offsets, as the grills, too, produce significant amounts of CO2.
A spokesman for B&Q; said they were looking at producing new ‘green’ barbecues to cut down CO2 emissions.
One idea is to harness the warmth created by rotting compost, but these would require a chef to start cooking days in advance.
So-called ‘friction barbecues’ powered by a guest on a stationary exercise bike are also being examined.
Keen barbecue chef Ron Staines from Chislehurst, Kent, reacted with horror. “I think it’s disgraceful. Having a barbecue is one of my human rights,’ he said. “And I just don’t believe I produce that much CO2, mainly because I usually can’t get the thing alight.”
But a spokesman for Defra was unrepentant. “Some people may think destroying the planet is a trivial matter but we must limit the selfish activities for the sake of our children,’ he said.
The new regulations take force today.