Natalie Bennett and Ed Davey: Brexit would be an ‘environmental disaster’ under this UK Government

EXCLUSIVE: Exiting the European Union (EU) would create yet more uncertainty for Britain's energy and environment policy, which has already fallen into a state of "disaster" after a series of "dreadful" decisions from the Conservative Government, according to Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett and former Energy Secretary Sir Ed Davey.

Speaking to edie in separate interviews about the environmental implications of Thursday’s EU Referendum, both Bennett and Davey lambasted the UK’s recent raft of energy policy changes– from punitive renewable energy subsidy cuts and the abandonment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) funding, through to the axing of key efficiency schemes and the relentless pursuit of a “fracking fantasy”.

And if Britain votes to leave the EU this week, even more control would be placed into the hands of a Government that has “done a huge amount of damage” to investor confidence – a move that could therefore spell “environmental disaster” for the nation, Bennett and Davey agreed.

Unpopular opinion

Bennett – who last month announced that she will stand down as leader of the Green Party this August – said: “Dreadful is probably the appropriate word to be used [to sum up the Conservatives’ green policy changes]. We’ve seen policies torn away. They’ve pulled the rug out from under thousands of solar businesses up and down the country, and pulled the rug out from community energy schemes at various stages of development.

“The unarguable point is that the cheapest, greenest energy you can possibly have is the energy that you don’t use. But on energy conservation, this Government is so close to doing nothing that it might as well be nothing.

Public opposition to fracking is enormous. Public support for onshore wind, offshore wind and solar is very high. Yet, this Government is positioning itself on the unpopular side. By any objective measure – even ignoring ideology and the issue of climate change – their energy policy is a mess.”

Current Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd has defended the Government’s controversial green policy approach, insisting that changes have been made to keep bills low and maintain energy security. “We have to pace ourselves so that energy bills remain affordable for households, business remains competitive, and the economy remains secure,” Rudd said at an insurance industry event last year.

But Rudd’s predecessor Davey – who now chairs community energy firm Mongoose Energy and recently launched his own energy consultancy, Energy Destinations – believes many of the Tories’ decisions have been “completely irrational”, and largely driven by a misguided Treasury.

He said: “Applying a green tax to renewables is economic madness and illogical. Getting rid of the zero-carbon homes standard is nutty. Ending the [funding for] CCS pilots is verging on the negligent and criminal – they’re just three of their worst decisions, but there are many others too.

“I actually don’t blame Rudd – I think she’s following the bidding of [Chancellor] George Osborne. When I was Energy Secretary, I had arguments about those policies with people like Osborne and [former Communities Secretary] Eric Pickles, who don’t understand or care enough about the agenda.

“It’s extraordinary how ignorant some people within the Conservative Party are about the basic facts – they’re making policy on the basis of ignorance. DECC has to stand up to the Treasury and has to demand that Number 10 backs the Department against this nonsense.

“We’ve seen some great advances and developments – such as the vital Climate Change Act, and the fantastic Paris Agreement. We just have to make sure that political developments in Britain – whether we ‘Brexit’ or not – do not get in the way of these improvements.”

Problem after problem

Bennett and Davey – who were speaking to edie for a special episode of the Sustainable Business Covered podcast – were equally as emphatic about the risks associated with Britain’s EU Referendum vote, with both insisting that the environmental benefits of remaining in the Union massively outweigh the risks of leaving.

“Anyone who’s still undecided about their vote should think about what would happen if we decide to leave the EU,” said Bennett, whose Green Party MP Caroline Lucas last week labelled the EU vote a ‘climate referendum’

“We’ve got pressing environmental, social and political problems, whether it’s cutting our carbon emissions or creating a sustainable energy policy – not the Government’s current policy which is based on a fracking fantasy, and the extremely wobbly basis of the Hinkley C nuclear plant. We’ve got all of those existing problems. But by voting to leave, we would be adding a whole extra layer of things we’d need to sort out.”

Davey added: “Before we joined the EU, Britain was seen as the dirty man of Europe – and we were also seen as the sick man of the EU because our economy was in a mess. In the period that we’ve been in the EU, our economy has strengthened and our environment has improved.

“Whilst I wouldn’t say it’s only down to the EU, I think that if we pulled out, we would see our environment worsen. Lib Dem MEPs and myself as Secretary of State did an awful lot at an EU level to ensure that Britain’s environment is improved – from air pollution, to the state of our beaches; the quality of our water, and so on.

“Britain has been hugely influential within the EU to take on the climate debate – we’ve learnt a lot by working with other countries about how best we can tackle climate change, which is an international problem that we cannot solve alone.”

The majority of UK energy and climate ministers also hold a pro-EU stance, with Energy Secretary Rudd, Energy Ministers Matthew Hancock and Lord Nick Bourne, Environment Secretary Liz Truss and Environment Minister Rory Stewart all supporting calls for the UK to remain an EU Member State. Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom and Minister for Food, Farming and the Marine Environment George Eustice are among the Tory ministers that have declared their support for leaving the bloc.

Stay tuned to edie for live coverage of the EU Referendum, and view all of our articles about the in/out debate here.

Natalie Bennett and Ed Davey in the Sustainable Business Covered podcast

The full, exclusive interviews with Bennett and Davey will be available to listen to for free in this week’s episode of the Sustainable Business Covered podcast, which will provide sustainability professionals with everything they need to know about the EU Referendum. (All episodes listed here).

The podcast will be live on the edie website later this week and is available to subscribe to on iTunes here.

Luke Nicholls

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