There are few politicians more brazenly bold in selling party management as acting in the national interest than David Cameron, and this morning he threw his backbenchers some more red meat. This announcement on removing onshore wind from the Renewables Obligation scheme one year early is bad for business, bad for jobs and investment, and will ultimately cost consumers.
Whatever the issue, David Cameron remains unable to separate long-term interests from momentary goals. Onshore wind is the cheapest large-scale renewable energy technology, and therefore this announcement will simply lead to higher consumer bills. Companies that have invested in good faith under an agreed framework can no longer be sure that their investments are protected. But this decision not only threatens our attractiveness to investors and our energy security, it whittles further away at the UK’s claims to global leadership on climate change.
The United Nations climate change conference in Paris is less than six months away. The UK can only show leadership abroad if walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Stunting the development of a clean and mature form of technology for generating electricity now could have serious implications for meeting future emissions reduction targets. These may not be as ambitious as they should be though – the Conservative manifesto also explicitly ruled out a 2030 power sector decarbonisation target that both investors and the Committee on Climate Change have been calling for.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report provided overwhelming and compelling scientific evidence that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity and that it will have disastrous consequences if urgent action is not taken to cut our carbon emissions and invest in mitigation. Despite that, when we used part of our first Opposition Day of this Parliament to debate climate change, the loudest heckling from Tory benches was when I spoke about climate science. That they felt unable to vote for our motion says it all.
I’m proud that the last Labour Government passed the world-leading 2008 Climate Change Act, which cleared the House of Commons with just five MPs voting against. It is with regret that we are now forced to watch that consensus be rocked by a few recalcitrant Conservative backbenchers, and then rewarded with major concessions by a Government protecting a wafer-thin majority.
Two of the most important issues facing us at the moment, our position in the European Union and climate change, are closely connected. Climate change, like so many of the challenges that we are set to face this century, does not respect national boundaries and can only be tackled by nations with common interests working together to achieve their aims. Our own emissions reductions targets are currently tougher than those that the EU has submitted ahead of the Paris conference. It would be good for Britain, good for the EU and good for the environment if we could convince our European partners to toughen their targets, but we don’t seem to have the influence to do it.
Amber Rudd, the Energy Secretary, told the Sunday Times that she didn’t think that wind turbines were “an eyesore at all. I personally quite enjoy seeing them”, but has now moved to try and stop them. She has also spoken about her plans to convince Nigel Lawson that climate change is a reality, and there’s no evidence of a conversion yet. As a nation, we must hope that her negotiating skills improve by the time we get to Paris this December, or we will fail in one of the great tasks facing Britain, the EU and indeed the entire international community – combatting catastrophic climate change.