24 Jul 2015

The death of zero carbon

Since their somewhat surprising election win in May, the Tory government has been getting stuck into some of its bete noirs, or should that be bete verts. They have taken the axe to feed-in-tariffs, to solar farms and on-shore wind, to the Green Deal, to the 2016 zero carbon targets and to any uprating of Part L, the energy efficiency regulations.

Their all too brief explanation is that they consider green subsidies to be too great a burden on consumers and tax payers and that it is good for business and the economy if they are reduced or abandoned altogether. Whilst they are too smart to go on record as saying that climate change is not important, and they are making very supportive noises about the forthcoming Paris Climate Convention, their actions speak otherwise.

For whilst all these green subsidies have their faults, and their critics (I count myself as one), they are all about promoting change in the way we supply and use energy. They are not being improved or refined: they are, bit by bit, being dumped and they are not being replaced. Just about the only coherent energy policy being promoted by the Tories is that we should all get behind fracking.

There are lots of problems with fracking, not least that the people in the shires seem to have even less appetite for it that they do windfarms. Yet the Tories have pandered to the anti-windfarm brigade by withdrawing support for onshore windfarms (the most cost-effective renewable technology), whilst showing no such considerations for similar folk who oppose fracking.

This tells us that the current moves are clearly ideological. The subsidies required to kick start a clean energy revolution are peanuts compared to other areas of government spending and in withdrawing them the government is clearly saying these things don't matter. Their actions would do the Republican Tea Party or Tony Abbott's Australian Liberal government proud. Stick it to the Greens!

So how did we get here? How come the British Conservative response is so different to other European countries, notably Germany which also has a conservative-led administration but one which could hardly have a more different climate policy in place? And what of the Climate Change Act of 2008 which sets out the UK's carbon budgets? Will that soon be repealed?

I've longed nursed a suspicion that the Treasury is a hot bed of sceptics and that Osborne is happy to play along with them. His father-in-law, Lord Howell, is a noted fracking supporter and doesn't appear to like the push for renewables. What do they talk about at the dinner table? And with noted Tory supporters like Lord Lawson, Matt Ridley and the proprietors of the Telegraph, Mail and Times all champing at the bit to dismantle the green subsidies, it was perhaps inevitable that the plug would be pulled.

The Conservative manifesto makes interesting reading here.  It promised to "cut emissions as cost effectively as possible" and not to "support additional and distorting expensive power sector targets." I think "cost-effectively" used here is a smoke-screen for "get fracking" and the "power sector targets" are those set out in the Climate Change Act.

What still appears strange to me is that the whole issue of climate change has become so politicised and that the Right should have come down so strongly against action. There's nothing particularly left or right about environmental protection - it's surely something most civilised countries would wish for. No one is campaigning to re-introduce lead in petrol or asbestos, or for scrapping the Clean Air Act. Admittedly, environmental action is expensive, but then so are pensions and health care and education. What is a state for but to serve our best interests and can it really be in our best interests to do nothing about climate change, to leave it to chance?

The Right questions that the evidence that climate change is dangerous. Whilst this is possible, it is just as likely that the effects will be rather worse than mainstream science predicts. We simply don't know what we are doing to the climate and how it will behave as a result of our using it as a waste dump. But rather than address the issue, the Conservatives seem happy to do nothing at all, hoping that economic growth will sort matters out before too long — for which there is no evidence at all. British climate change policies have never been particularly coherent or logical, but at least we have had some. No longer. It seems we might just as well have elected UKIP as far as climate change policies are concerned.


  1. There was a massive boost in confidence in the housing market when the Tories won a majority, I wonder how all these cuts to the green and economical factors will affect that confidence.

  2. Spot on, Mark.
    There is no way that Osborne can be the next prime minister.

    Bob Matthews

  3. It does seem that the conservatives really don't understand the size of the problem. We've already left things very late indeed because infrastructure change in inherently slow, but anything that slows things down is very stupid at this point.

    Reducing house-building standards so that we can build more mediocre housing to last another 100 years is really stupid. Making it hard to build the cheapest renewables (onshore wind) is pretty stupid (we are nowhere near maximum penetration of that.

    Being hopelessly half-hearted about refurb is stupid too. It's got to be one of the best ways of addressing the really large fraction of our energy use which is gas space-heating.

    At least they are still trying to get some nuclear power built and haven't actually repealed the Climate Change Act (yet), but the impression given really is of people with no sense of urgency.