By Ed King
The UK’s credibility as a climate change leader is in danger of being tarnished by Conservative ‘political game playing’, shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint has warned.
Yesterday London Mayor Boris Johnson called on climate scientists to be thrown “in the deep end” of a swimming pool, while earlier in June Environment Secretary Owen Paterson questioned whether warming was influenced by manmade activity.
And critics claim Chancellor George Osborne’s preference for gas rather than renewables and opposition to a 2030 decarbonisation target may have jeopardised the country’s green economy.
Speaking on the sidelines of an IPPR Energy 2030 event in London, Flint told RTCC squabbles at the top of government were affecting the confidence of Britain’s low carbon energy sector, and could potentially impact on UN talks focused on a global climate deal in 2015.
“It is a distraction from the main debate, when we have Conservatives like Boris Johnson saying ‘ditch our climate change targets’ – or that’s what they seem to be saying – because it doesn’t take us forward,” she said.
“What we’re clear about is that if you had a Labour government today you’d have a commitment to decarbonise our electricity by 2030, which would have allowed us to have some clarity about the way ahead.
“I think it is important for reasons of credibility on the international stage, for a developed country we not only talk the talk and walk the walk,” she added.
Despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to lead the ‘Greenest Government Ever’ in 2010, critics say the Conservative side of the UK’s coalition government has not shown enough commitment to this promise.
They cite the Treasury’s support for the gas industry at the expense of renewable energy, the blocking of climate change from the main G8 agenda and the sabotage of EU emission trading rescue efforts by a coalition of conservative MEPs.
The last action led to EU climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard calling on British Conservatives at the EU Parliament to “get their act together”.
Low carbon pioneer
The UK is seen as a climate policy leader around the world, meeting finance pledges to developing countries, calling for the EU to adopt a high carbon reduction target for 2030 and introducing the concept of climate security at the UN Security Council.
The 2008 Climate Change Act won cross-party support when it was adopted, and has been hailed internationally as a template for other countries to follow.
But Flint says domestic ambition has been lacking, citing a lacklustre take-up of the government’s flagship Green Deal ‘energy efficiency’ scheme, which offers loans to households keen to invest in insulation or new boilers.
Reports at the weekend suggested only 10 Green Deal financing packages have been recorded, although the Department for Energy and Climate Change says those figures are “not up to date”.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey says the scheme needs time to settle in, and argues it is “inspiring consumers to take action to keep their homes warm and bills down”, but Flint told RTCC she remains unconvinced.
“The Green Deal should be a good deal, and Labour initiated discussion of a pay as you use scheme, but the truth is people have to realise it is a good deal, and we have said all along if the interest rates are too high, if there are penalty clauses and people can’t pay back early, that’s a disincentive to people taking part, and I think the latest figures will sadly prove that to be the case,” she said.
“You have to have the framework to sell it well. In these difficult times when people are facing huge rises in their cost of living, to fork out for a deal that is asking 7, 8, 9% interest rates is asking a lot of money.
“That’s why we said we should have worked better to get those interest rates down and look at other countries where low interest rates have been set up, and you can sell the message stronger.”