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 was Director of Britain Stronger In Europe, the cross-party campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. 

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Leader: Trump's dangerous nation

From North Korea to Virginia, the US increasingly resembles a rogue state.

When Donald Trump was elected as US president, some optimistically suggested that the White House would have a civilising effect on the erratic tycoon. Under the influence of his more experienced colleagues, they argued, he would gradually absorb the norms of international diplomacy.

After seven months, these hopes have been exposed as delusional. On 8 August, he responded to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Three days later, he casually floated possible military action against Venezuela. Finally, on 12 August, he responded to a white supremacist rally in Virginia by condemning violence on “many sides” (only criticising the far right specifically after two days of outrage).

Even by Mr Trump’s low standards, it was an embarrassing week. Rather than normalising the president, elected office has merely inflated his self-regard. The consequences for the US and the world could be momentous.

North Korea’s reported acquisition of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile (and potentially reach the US) demanded a serious response. Mr Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric was not it. His off-the-cuff remarks implied that the US could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, leading various officials to “clarify” the US position. Kim Jong-un’s regime is rational enough to avoid a pre-emptive strike that would invite a devastating retaliation. However, there remains a risk that it misreads Mr Trump’s intentions and rushes to action.

Although the US should uphold the principle of nuclear deterrence, it must also, in good faith, pursue a diplomatic solution. The week before Mr Trump’s remarks, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, rightly ruled out “regime change” and held out the possibility of “a dialogue”.

The North Korean regime is typically depicted as crazed, but its pursuit of nuclear weapons rests on rational foundations. The project is designed to guarantee its survival and to strengthen its bargaining hand. As such, it must be given incentives to pursue a different path.

Mr Trump’s bellicose language overshadowed the successful agreement of new UN sanctions against North Korea (targeting a third of its $3bn exports). Should these prove insufficient, the US should resume the six-party talks of the mid-2000s and even consider direct negotiations.

A failure of diplomacy could be fatal. In his recent book Destined for War, the Harvard historian Graham Allison warns that the US and China could fall prey to “Thucydides’s trap”. According to this rule, dating from the clash between Athens and Sparta, war typically results when a dominant power is challenged by an ascendent rival. North Korea, Mr Bew writes, could provide the spark for a new “great power conflict” between the US and China.

Nuclear standoffs require immense patience, resourcefulness and tact – all qualities in which Mr Trump is lacking. Though the thought likely never passed his mind, his threats to North Korea and Venezuela provide those countries with a new justification for internal repression.

Under Mr Trump’s leadership, the US is becoming an ever more fraught, polarised nation. It was no accident that the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer, took place under his presidency. Mr Trump’s victory empowered every racist, misogynist and bigot in the land. It was doubtless this intimate connection that prevented him from immediately condemning the white supremacists. To denounce them is, in effect, to denounce himself.

The US hardly has an unblemished history. It has been guilty of reckless, immoral interventions in Vietnam, Latin America and Iraq. But never has it been led by a man so heedless of international and domestic norms. Those Republicans who enabled Mr Trump’s rise and preserve him in office must do so no longer. There is a heightened responsibility, too, on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, the president. The Brexiteers have allowed dreams of a future US-UK trade deal to impair their morality.

Under Mr Trump, the US increasingly resembles a breed it once denounced: a rogue state. His former rival Hillary Clinton’s past warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” now appears alarmingly prescient.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear