Osborne encircled on green targets

Businesses join the call for the government to adopt a 2030 decarbonisation target.

Two groups of businesses have joined calls today for the government to adopt a target to decarbonise the power sector by 2030. It leaves George Osborne with few friends for his pro-gas, anti-green approach a year to the day after he warned the Conservative party conference that, "We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business."

Two letters to Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, calling for a 2030 target have been published today. A letter coordinated by the Aldersgate Group was signed by Asda, Aviva, Alliance Boots, BT, British American Tobacco, Cisco, EDF, Eurostar, Marks & Spencer, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Philips, Reed Elsevier, Sky, The Co-operative and Tridos Bank among others. It says:

"The government's perceived commitment to the low carbon transition is being undermined by recent statements calling for unabated gas in the power sector beyond 2030 and the absence of a specific carbon intensity target."

A second letter, leaked to the Times, is signed by Siemens, Alstom UK, Mitsubishi Power Systems, Areva, Doosan, Gamesa and Vestas. It says:

"Historically the UK has benefited from being known as a country with low political risk for energy investments. Undermining that reputation would have damaging consequences for the scale of future investments in the UK energy sector. It is important to protect that reputation carefully...

"We consider that a binding 2030 target for power sector decarbonisation would help to reduce the political risk currently associated with long term UK industrial investment."

Over the summer, two senior Tories joined the call for a 2030 decarbonisation target. Tim Yeo, Chair of the Energy and Climate Change select committee, published pre-legislative scrutiny of the energy bill calling for a 2030 target. In the FT, Yeo called for the government "[to] set a clear target to largely decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030, giving investors certainty about the direction of energy policy."

Lord Deben, formerly John Gummer, a minister in John Major's government, has recently become chair of the Committee on Climate Change. He wrote a letter to Ed Davey endorsing a 2030 target on the grounds that it would help bring forward the necessary investments “at least cost to the consumers.”

In recent weeks, the Labour Party and the Lib Dems have added their support to demands for a 2030 decarbonisation target. It leaves Osborne isolated in his view, captured in a letter earlier this summer to Davey, which called for, "agreement that we will not set any further decarbonisation or deployment targets beyond those we already have, for example 2030 targets for electricity emissions or renewable deployment."

The business community will be hoping that the Chancellor changes his mind today.

Recently installed wind turbines generate electricty in the shadow of Drax, Europe's biggest coal fired power station. Photograph: Getty Images.

Will Straw is Associate Director at IPPR.

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Google’s tax worries, Oxford’s race dilemma and the left-wing case for leaving Europe

The truth is that many black students looking at the white, middle-class Oxford would justifiably conclude that they don’t belong.

As a Gmail user and a Google searcher, am I morally compromised by using the services of a serial tax avoider? Surely not. Google gets roughly 95 per cent of its revenues from advertising and much of that from clicks on the ads that surround its offerings. I have long observed a rule never to click on any of these, even when they advertise something that I need urgently. Instead, I check the seller’s website address and type it directly into my browser.

Taking full advantage of its services without contributing to its profits strikes me as a very good way of damaging the company. More problematic are pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca (zero UK corporation tax in 2014) and GlaxoSmithKline (UK corporation tax undisclosed but it has subsidiaries in tax havens), which makes many prescription drugs and consumer products such as toothpaste – I chew it to stop me smoking. To boycott all such companies, as well as those that underpay their workers or pollute the planet, one would need, more or less, to drop out from the modern world. Consumer boycotts, though they have a certain feel-good factor, aren’t a substitute for electing governments that will make a concerted effort to tax and regulate big corporations.

 

After EU

David Cameron is finding it hard to get changes to EU rules that he can credibly present as concessions. But the talks that would follow a vote for Brexit would be a hundred times more difficult. Ministers would need to negotiate access to the single market, renegotiate trade deals with 60 other countries and make a deal on the status of Britons living in the EU, as well as EU citizens living here. All this would create immense uncertainty for a fragile economy.

With a current-account trade deficit of 4 per cent, the dangers of a run on sterling would be considerable. (This apocalyptic scenario is not mine; I draw on the wisdom of the Financial Times economics editor, Chris Giles.) But here’s the question. If the UK got into the same pickle as Greece – and George Osborne had to do a Norman Lamont, popping out of No 11 periodically to announce interest-rate rises – Jeremy Corbyn would walk the 2020 election. Should we lefties therefore vote Out?

 

University blues

Hardly a Sunday now passes without David Cameron announcing an “initiative”, either on TV or in the newspapers. The latest concerns the under-representation of black Britons at top universities, notably Oxford, which accepted just 27 black students in 2014 out of an intake of more than 2,500. As usual, Cameron’s proposed “action” is risibly inadequate: a requirement that universities publish “transparent” data on admissions and acceptances, much of which is already available, and a call for schools to teach “character”, whatever that means.

The truth is that many black students looking at the white, middle-class Oxford – with its disproportionate numbers from a handful of fee-charging schools, such as Eton – would justifiably conclude that they don’t belong. Cameron rules out quotas as “politically correct, contrived and unfair”. But quotas in some form may be what is needed if young people from poor white, as well as black, homes are ever to feel that they would be more than interlopers.

In the meantime, Cameron could tell elite universities to stop setting ever-higher barriers to entry. As well as demanding two A*s and an A at A-level, Oxford and Cambridge are introducing tests for “thinking skills” and subject-specific “aptitude”. Whatever the developers of such tests claim, it is possible to coach students for them. State schools don’t have the resources to do so or even to research the complex requirements of the various colleges and subjects. Oxbridge admissions tutors must know this but evidently they don’t care.

 

A fine balance

The latest government figures show that, despite the former education secretary Michael Gove introducing £60 fines for parents who take their children on term-time breaks, the days lost to unsanctioned holidays are up by 50 per cent to three million in four years. This was a predictable result. Previously, the sense of an obligation to respect the law and set their children an example of doing so persuaded most parents to confine absences to school holidays. Now a modest price has been placed on term-time holidays. Parents do the sums and note that they save far more than £60 on cheaper flights and hotels.

A similar outcome emerged in Israel when daycare centres introduced fines for parents who arrived late. Previously, most preferred to avoid the embarrassment of apologising to a carer and explaining why they had been delayed. Once it became just a monetary transaction, many more happily arrived late and paid the price.

 

Minority report

Here in Loughton, Essex, where I live quietly and unfashionably, we are dancing in the streets. Well, not quite, but perhaps we ought to be. According to an analysis by the Policy Exchange think tank, Loughton is the third most integrated community in England and Wales, just behind Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands and Amersham, Buckinghamshire, but above 157 others that have significant minorities. We are well ahead of fashionable London boroughs such as Islington and Hackney, where residents obviously keep Muslims and eastern Europeans out of their vibrant dinner parties, whereas we have bearded imams, African chiefs in traditional dress and Romanian gypsies dropping in for tea all the time.

Again, not quite. I’m not sure that I have met that many non-indigenous folk around here, or even seen any, except in the local newsagents. Still, I am grateful to Policy Exchange for brushing up Loughton’s public image, which was in need of a facelift after the BNP won four seats on the council a few years ago and a TOWIE actor opened a shop on the high street.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war