Nick Clegg to say he won’t allow government U-turn on environment
Lib Dem leader to warn Tories not to abandon green policies as Treasury pushes for cutting carbon budget against expert advice
Nick Clegg will inflame coalition tensions on Thursday when he calls on David Cameron to hold his nerve on climate change, describing the prime minister’s recent scepticism about renewable energy as “economic myopia of the worst kind”.
He will also accuse some senior Conservatives of acting as “climate change deniers”.
The deputy prime minister’s criticism of his coalition partners comes as the Committee on Climate Change, the statutory body that advises ministers on the level of carbon cuts, says it has concluded there should be no change to the carbon budgets.
The report will put pressure on George Osborne who wants to row back on the UK’s green commitments, saying the government should go no further or faster than other countries on cutting carbon. The chancellor has insisted on a review of the UK’s “carbon budgets”, which set climate commitments to 2027.
But the committee will say Britain is not moving faster on climate change than other developed countries, particularly those in the EU and there are no grounds to change current targets under the 2008 Climate Change Act.
If Osborne wishes to challenge this, he will have to institute a separate review into the budgets and gain a parliamentary vote to contradict the committee’s findings. Even if that were done, any such contradiction of the committee’s advice would be subject to a judicial review. None of these steps are likely to be possible while holding the coalition intact, given Clegg’s renewed firmness on green issues.
More likely is that the Treasury could try to use delaying tactics to ensure that there is no official government endorsement of the committee’s findings before the end of this parliament.
However, the committee’s chief executive, David Kennedy, said any delay would harm much-needed investment in the UK’s energy sector. He said: “Such a delay would not help the investment climate. We already have very fragile investor confidence at the moment anyway, owing to factors such as the lack of clarity on electricity market reform, and any delay would only exacerbate the concerns of investors.”
Clegg, delivering the Green Alliance Leadership Lecture, will make clear that he has grave reservations about Osborne’s approach. He will call for the Tories to show the same discipline on climate change that the Liberal Democrats have shown on tackling the budget deficit.
He will say: “We stuck to our guns on the economic strategy and deficit reduction – despite endless calls to abandon it. We did that because it is right for the generations that will follow us. And in exactly the same way, for exactly the same reason, we must hold our nerve on the environment, too.”
The Lib Dem leader will say that he finds the attitude of his coalition partners surprising because Sir Mark Walport, the government’s chief scientific adviser, told the cabinet that the recent IPCC report was an exhaustive and authoritative study. “How much more hard science is needed to convince the climate change deniers they’ve got it wrong?” Clegg will say in remarks directed at the environment secretary Owen Paterson, an admirer of the climate change sceptic and former chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby.
The Lib Dems have been alarmed that Cameron is distancing himself from commitments on renewable energy after his recently pledge to tackle “green charges” on fuel bills. Clegg will note that China is planning to invest £286bn in renewables by 2015 as he mocks Cameron’s pledge to lead Britain in the “global race”.
Clegg will say: “If we want to keep up, our green industries need maximum political support. My coalition partners talk a lot about winning the global race: well this is one area where we are in pole position and it would be a huge mistake to take our foot off the pedal now: economic myopia of the worst kind.”
The climate change committee’s report comes days after senior Lib Dems including the energy secretary, Ed Davey, urged the party’s peers to vote against a dearly held policy to decarbonise the UK’s power generation by 2030.
Fiona Harvey and Damien Carrington the Guardian
This article first appeared on the Guardian
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