Major energy U-turn needed to meet Paris targets, government warned
The government has been warned that a major U-turn in energy policy is required if it is to avoid charges of blatant hypocrisy following the commitments it made in the Paris climate deal this weekend.
Critics say that the first test for Amber Rudd, the energy and climate change secretary, will come later this week, when she announces whether or not she plans to go ahead with a proposed 90% cut in solar subsidies.
Business leaders, academics and environmentalists all believe that a series of attacks on wind, solar and other “clean” technologies since the general election have undermined Britain’s ability to meet new CO2 targets.
The warnings that urgent action is needed on energy policy came after 196 countries agreed a deal at a summit in Paris on Saturday evening aimed at limiting global temperature rises to less than 2C.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, the UK’s main employers’ organisation, demanded on Sunday that ministers take action at home as well as making their voice heard abroad. “The government must provide a stable environment that enables investment in cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy generation, including renewable technologies and new gas plants,” she said.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, agreed: “It will be outstanding hypocrisy for the government to trumpet the new climate change agreement unless it does a U-turn on energy policy. Tomorrow morning ministers need to write to our climate change committee asking for advice on how to introduce radical new policies. Clearly George Osborne and others needs to end their love affair with shale gas, diesel farms and trying to expand airport runways.”
Jeremy Leggett, the founder of world leading renewable energy company Solarcentury, spelled out the challenge for Rudd and George Osborne, the latter being seen as the real axeman of green policies. “The government has a huge credibility problem, having signed a treaty of historic importance, and yet [having] been pursuing a path of [energy policy] travel that is 180 degrees opposed to what is needed,” he said.
“To reach the Paris target of a well under 2C increase in emissions completely forbids the exploitation of shale gas and needs restoration of the green industrial policies talked about in the past. Anything else would be blatant hypocrisy,” he said.
Nick Mabey, a founder of the E3G consultancy and a former member of the prime minister’s strategy unit, agreed that current energy policies were a long way from delivering what was necessary. “To meet its Paris commitments, the government needs to do a lot more on energy efficiency and insulation of homes, on restoring commitments to carbon capture and storage (CCS), while providing a level playing field for renewables.”
But Rudd herself said the Paris agreement would act as a trigger for investors to come forward and build new low-carbon infrastructure. “We have witnessed an important step forward, with an unprecedented number of countries agreeing to a deal to limit global temperature rises and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. This is vital for our long-term economic and global security. This deal will ensure all countries are held to account for their climate commitments and gives a clear signal to business to invest in the low carbon transition.”
Since the May elections, the Conservatives have announced the scrapping of all subsidies for onshore windfarms and the end to a “green homes” programme while boosting financial aid for the most polluting diesel farms. Rudd and Osborne have also shelved plans to give £1bn for a CCS prototype, ripped up an incentive scheme to encourage motorists to buy “clean” electric cars, and announced plans to sell off the Green Investment Bank.
But in a major policy speech last month, Rudd said she would phase out coal-fired power stations and expressed her support for offshore windfarms. She also said she wanted to see a lot more gas-fired plants built alongside nuclear plants.
On Sunday, the energy secretary told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that the government would deliver energy change to the UK in a different way and by “providing better value for money for consumers”. Asked about the previous subsidy cuts, Rudd said there was “no point in having renewables” which were permanently expensive. “Subsidies isn’t a long-term plan,” she said. “The costs of solar have come down over the past 15 years by 80%. If the cost comes down, then the subsidy comes down.”
But Maria McCaffery, the chief executive of the lobby group, RenewableUK, said it was time for the government to increase its ambition and restore subsidies to onshore windfarms. “We hope that in the months to come we can see this [Paris] accord translated into the necessary policies at home to achieve these goals, with ministers returning from the talks fired up to put their weight fully behind the development of the UK’s plentiful renewable energy resources, including wind, wave and tidal power, without the government seeking to exclude successful and cost-effective technologies such as onshore wind from our energy mix”.
Geoffrey Maitland, professor of energy engineering at Imperial College in London, said ministers had been irresponsible to scrap the CCS prototypes. “The Paris CO2 reduction targets can still be met whilst continuing to use fossil fuels as long as we rapidly implement CCS on a massive global scale … This demanding target can still be met, driven by a realistic carbon price, but makes the recent UK government decision to scrap the £1bn Peterhead and White Rose CCS projects seem even more short-sighted and irresponsible.”
Cynicism about the government’s ability to meet its own rhetoric on climate change and environment issues was not helped by the leaking of documentswhich showed the UK pushing for both a weakening of air pollution limits and a delay to their introduction in response to lobbying from the motor industry.
In other developments, papers obtained by ClientEarth, a firm of environmental legal experts, and seen by the Guardian, showed the government calling for car makers to be allowed to far exceed the nitrogen oxides (NOx) limit of 80mg/km until 2021, and go 40% over the current limit after that.