Slipping away?

13th October 2011


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  • Central government ,
  • Mitigation

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IEMA

Paul Suff asks what happened to the UK's ambition to lead the world in transitioning to a low-carbon economy

Over the past decade, government ministers have, by and large, championed the UK taking a leading role in tackling climate change and been critical of countries that have not signed up to international agreements to keep global temperature rise within acceptable limits. The Climate Change Act, with its legally binding carbon budgets, is testament to this. We may now be witnessing a shift, however.

The chancellor told his party’s conference that the UK must no longer aspire to leadership by reducing its emissions faster than other EU member states. George Osborne claimed to have insisted on a review of the targets in 2014 before signing off on the 2023–27 carbon budget, which commits the UK to halving its emissions against 1990 levels by 2025. The chancellor’s stance suggests that the targets might be watered down if they are seen to hinder the economy.

We already know that the government’s definition of sustainable development is one that puts economic growth ahead of environmental safeguards – although there are signs that it may alter the proposed national planning policy framework for England following protests.

There are other worrying signs that support for action on climate change from the so-called greenest government may be wavering. Reports have emerged that talks between the government and ScottishPower over funding for the energy company’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at its Longannet power station are near to collapse, putting at risk the development in the UK of an industry that could support growth and jobs.

What is puzzling about the chancellor’s remarks is that one of the coalition’s flagship policies, the Green Investment Bank, could provide the spark for an economic renaissance while at the same time supporting its previously stated environmental ambitions.

Given the freedom to borrow – something the Treasury refuses to sanction until at least 2015 – the Green Investment Bank could fund desperately needed low-carbon infrastructure, including CCS, creating thousands of jobs.

Do you agree? Why not start a discussion in the IEMA LinkedIn Group and have your say?

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