By Ed King
The UK’s cross party consensus on climate change cannot be taken for granted according to a member of Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.
Currently the three leaders of Britain’s major parties all agree that rising carbon emissions need to be tackled as a matter of urgency – a unity that helped the progression of the 2008 Climate Change Act.
But while UK Chancellor George Osborne spoke of his support for ‘clean energy’ and ‘renewables’ during Wednesday’s 2012 Budget speech, many commentators feel he failed to deliver policies that would incentivise green growth and clamp down on rising emissions.
And speaking to RTCC, Dr Phillip Lee, Conservative MP for Bracknell and Select Committee member since 2010, said there is a “healthy ignorance” of science in Parliament that is leaving many concerned with the potential effects of climate change frustrated.
“The problem is that the majority of colleagues don’t really understand the science, to be blunt” he said.
“As a consequence, particularly at times of economic recession and difficulties throughout the globe, it’s rather difficult to sell policies which actually add costs to business and consumers.
“This is a frustration for me. There is a particular problem with the British Parliament – that I think less than 3% have science degrees, so it’s not just in climate change – you will it find in other issues as well – there seems to be a pretty healthy ignorance of scientific principles.
“Consequently I’m not so sure enough has been done to sell the science to the wider populace of this institution here in Westminster – but also the wider public.
“I do think there is work to be done in persuading political colleagues across the spectrum – mainly I would suggest within my own party, that it is happening and we need to do something about it.”
Perhaps the key to winning the low-carbon argument is to present a compelling economic case for green energy, something Chris Huhne attempted on a regular basis while Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
Yet many remain unconvinced. In February 100 of Lee’s Conservative colleagues wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for him to slash subsidies for wind power.
This followed a decision in December by DECC to cut subsidies for certain solar PV installations – and comes as the clamour of natural and shale gas as a cheap alternative to coal and renewables grow increasingly louder.
Dr Lee was not a signatory to the wind letter, but he does believe that at a time when the economy is struggling – and when various lobbies are claiming climate change should be taken off the agenda – government has to choose carefully who and what it backs financially.
“It has to be realistic how you implement policies, particularly at a time of economic distress,” he said.
“That’s personally why I get somewhat frustrated with subsidies on solar panels and things like this because it does give the whole area of climate change a bad name.
“Government intervention has got to be economically realistic, and actually, its got to work. And I’m not sure all of the policies that have been implemented in the past qualify in those two ways.”