Mixed messages on the environment from UK Government

EnvironmentScientists tell us that climate change increases the risk of drought, flood and powerful storms which in turn will result in major problems of mass migration and conflict. They warn that if we continue with present policies, after 2035 the world’s temperature will be 2° above the pre-industrial level and stay at that level for several centuries. If we allow this to happen, it will mean that the whole of the Greenland ice-cap has melted and sea levels risen by 6 metres.

Over recent weeks there have been two major breakthroughs on avoiding this predicted disaster: firstly world leaders at the G7 meeting in Bavaria agreed to work together with other countries to increase the coordination and transparency of clean energy research and to highlight the importance of renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies; and then in December representatives of 196 countries across the world reached an agreement at the Paris Climate Change talks on a number of key measures to limit global temperature rises to less than 2°. The UK government was among the signatories to the agreement.

We all remember David Cameron’s 2010 pledge to lead the ‘greenest government ever’ but let us examine what the UK government is actually doing to contribute to these climate control measures. The UK was recognised as a world leader on climate control, a position which since May of this year it has forfeited after it introduced a raft of savage cuts to established green domestic policies. These resulted in:

  • a loss of 87% of our climate control programme which included subsidies for onshore wind and solar energy, energy efficiency programmes and community renewable schemes designed to make all new homes zero-carbon, the ‘green deal’ home efficiency scheme,
  • a cut of 65% in subsidies to householders who install rooftop solar panels,
  • the scrapping of a 10 year effort worth £1bn to make the UK a leader in carbon capture and storage and removal of tax exemptions for low-emission cars.

Plans have been introduced to privatise the green investment bank, which will destroy a crucial 10-year effort to reach the 2020 target for renewables.

These draconian cuts have led to a predicted 18,700 of job losses in the solar industry and have been much criticised by environmental groups such as
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. The Government has justified its cuts stating that their hand was forced due to a £1.5bn overspend on subsidies. Environmental groups have criticised the action, describing it as ‘odd given that progress was being made to achieving zero subsidy’ and claiming that subsidies have actually driven down costs.

According to the Solar Trades Association: ‘Closing the renewables obligation for solar is not in the interest of billpayers when solar is soon to become the
cheapest low-carbon energy source”. And it has subsequently been revealed that the planned cuts would only net between £40m and £100m by 2020,
considerably less than the costs of underwriting nuclear power projects and the £26bn given to the fossil fuel industry as highlighted by the IMF.
The Government has also backtracked on its pledge to ban fracking in national parks and sites of special scientific interest and has introduced measures to
positively encourage fracking. At the same time, in response to lobbying from the motor industry, the UK is pushing for a weakening of initiatives
recommended by the European Parliament’s environment committee designed to raise vehicle emisssion standards and air pollution limits – despite research
that shows that more than 50,000 people a year are dying prematurely as a result of air pollution in the UK.

EU figures released in November 2015 show that only Malta, Luxemburg and the Netherlands use less renewable energy than the UK as a proportion of total
consumption – only 51% of the energy consumed in the UK is from renewable sources uses. All in all this is a pretty shameful record – so much for the ‘greenest
government ever’! Actions really do speak louder than words.