“It’s total, utter nonsense”: Cameron slams climate policy critics

Prime Minister David Cameron "couldn't disagree more" with all of the green groups, industry associations, opposition parties and other political figureheads who have said there is a disconnect between the UK Government's high-level engagement on climate change at the Paris climate conference and domestic energy policy.

Appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee – composed of the chairs from various committees in Parliament – last night (12 January), Cameron hit back at disapproval of the Conservative Government’s approach to energy and climate change following a succession of green policy changes that have rocked investor confidence and led to thousands of job losses in the renewables sector.

One particularly heated exchange saw the Prime Minister wholeheartedly reject criticism put forward by the then-CBI boss John Cridland and former US Vice President Al Gore as “total, utter nonsense”, before completely dismissing a recent report from consultancy firm EY which demonstrates the fall in investor confidence in Britain’s renewable energy market.

“I couldn’t disagree more fundamentally with all of those people,” Cameron said. “I totally disagree with anyone who says that on the one hand Britain has helped to pioneer the climate change agreement and on the other hand is somehow backsliding on its green commitments.

“On any reasonable assessment, you would say that Britain is more than fulfilling its green commitments. Whether it’s the development of the world’s first Green Investment Bank; the massive investment we made to climate finance or the legislation and the action we’ve taken here in our own country – I think we’ve got a very good record to speak of.

“That’s why, in the past year, UK greenhouse gases fell by 15% – the biggest reduction ever in a single parliament.”

On the withdrawal of renewable energy subsidies and scrappage of key energy efficiency schemes, Cameron echoed sentiments previously put forward by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd and Under-Secretary Lord Nick Bourne, that such changes were necessary to curb consumers’ energy bills and ensure a balanced supply of energy.

“We’ve been good to what we said we’d do – we said we’d invest in these renewable technologies to give them a chance to get going,” Cameron added. “If you’re going to meet climate change targets you have got to have renewable energy; you have got to have nuclear because it is base-load, carbon-free electricity; and you’ve also got to have some gas. We’re well on the way to delivering that sort of energy mix.”

LISTEN: David Cameron’s views on energy & climate change

edie has summarised the entire Commons Liaison Committee session under the key headings below, with Cameron’s soundbites for each. Leave a comment below or tweet us @edie to let us know your thoughts on each of these key green policy topics.

COP21 Paris climate talks

After nearly two weeks of negotiations in Paris last month, history was made at the COP21 climate change conference as world leaders agreed to adopt an “ambitious and balanced” final deal, including a “legally-binding” agreement to keep global warming “well below 2C”.

In yesterday’s Commons session, Cameron said he was “always confident there would be a deal”, thanks to the support of China and America.

But the Prime Minister did admit that, in the weeks building up to the talks, “it was looking like two degrees would slip beyond our grasp and there would be no review mechanism”, so he was “pleasantly surprised” by the final outcome.

UK Flooding

With the UK currently suffering with numerous severe floods affecting much of the country. Several storms have wreaked havoc in the likes of Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire, while parts of Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland have also seen significant flooding and damage from a series of storms.

Cameron called for an attitudinal change towards the way Britain approaches flooding, admitting that “there’s no doubt we need to do more”.

“We need to build more flood defences, we need to get better at river management and we need to look at whole drainage systems work,” Cameron said.

Energy efficiency policy

The Conservatives have faced a barrage of criticism on its approach to energy efficiency, following the end of two key policies –Zero Carbon Homes and the Green Deal – without any replacement schemes. The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is also due to come to an end in March 2017, leaving the industry with a lot more questions than answers.

Cameron used his time in with the Liaison Committee to tout the success of the UK’s green economy and the Government’s investment in low-carbon energy.

“Britain has got one of the most advance systems of climate legislation and targets and carbon budgeting anywhere in the world,” he said. “In this Parliament, we are going to be doubling our investment in low-carbon energy to £11bn. We’ve got one of the largest solar installations for almost any country, and the largest offshore wind industry.”

Renewable heat and transport

Heat is one of three sectors that make up the UK’s binding commitment to decarbonize the energy industry by 2020. But, according to reports, the UK is on track to miss legally binding targets on low-carbon heat.

The target is for 12% of the UK’s heat to come from low-carbon or renewable sources. If this is unmet, the other two sectors – transport and electricity – must contribute more to meet the overall target.

Cameron said: “We’re over-performing in some sectors and other areas it’s less easy. Frankly, I wish renewable heat for housing was going a bit faster, and I wish that the price of electric cars was going down so that people on modest incomes could afford them.

“But what matters is the reduction in the carbon, not exactly where it comes from.”

Onshore wind

As part of Rudd’s drastic revisions of renewable energy policy, she recently announced that subsidy support for onshore win would be cut from April

Cameron gave his backing for this decision, claiming that costs had come down enough so that “it doesn’t need to have the expensive subsidy”.

He also reiterated that such changes were needed to drive down consumer bills. “All of these decisions are decisions that do put money on bill-payers’ bills. You have to ask: ‘What’s the cost and what’s the benefit?’”

Tidal power

When it comes to tidal and wave energy, the industry is calling for a more unified vision and better financial support from the UK Government to develop fully-commercialised industries. Earlier this week, the Renewable Energy Association’s Ocean Energy Group claimed  Britain’s wave and tidal energy sector is shackled by “detrimental” regulatory burdens that continue to inhibit industry growth.

Britain is set to be home to the world’s first ever tidal lagoon energy system in Swansea Bay – but that has been delayed by a year due to the extension of negotiations over Government funding for the project.

Cameron said: “Instinctively, I can see the strength of the argument for tidal power. The problem, simply put, is we haven’t seen any ideas come forward that can hit an attractive strike price. So right now, my enthusiasm is reduced by the fact that the cost would be quite high.”

Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

CCS has been described the Green Alliance as the only way to decarbonise British industry, while the Energy Technologies Institute claims it can help deliver negative emissions. The technology also appears to have cross-party support with Labour Lords backing an amendment to the Energy Bill, which would force oil and gas companies operating in the UK to pay to develop the technology.

But in November 2015, the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) controversially axed a £1bn fund to commercialise carbon capture & storage (CCS) in the UK.

On  that decision, Cameron said: “As Prime Minister, every penny I put into these technologies is a penny that goes onto someone’s electricity bill. It seemed to me that, with CCS, while I completely believe the idea, the economics at the moment really aren’t working.

“It seemed to me that the right decision was to not go ahead with the billion-pound project because that’s a billion pounds we could spend on other capital investment projects – including energy projects like energy storage or modular reactors.”

Later on yesterday evening, UK Energy Secretary Rudd spoke at an Aldersgate Group event where she pledged to “light the fire” of energy innovation in 2016, by ramping up investment in research, development and demonstration

Luke Nicholls

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