Ed Balls accuses UK government of ‘undermining’ green growth

Labour would back 2030 decarbonisation target and give Green Investment Bank more powers says Balls

Labour’s Ed Balls says Chancellor George Osborne needs to reconsider his support for fracking in the UK

By Ed King

Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls has accused the UK government of ‘actively undermining’ low carbon growth in the country and failing to show global leadership on climate change.

In the clearest sign yet the Labour Party wants to frame itself as the natural home of green business ahead of the 2015 UK General Election, Balls says he would ‘unlock major investment’ and ‘secure our energy future’.

Writing in the New Statesman, he calls on the government to commit to a 2030 energy decarbonisation target, which it recently rejected in Parliament.

“Delaying any decision on a commitment until 2016 is a huge missed opportunity,” he says.

“And because the UK should be leading and not following on the global stage, the government should be working with our EU partners to set clear goals and lead from the front in the run up to the Paris 2015 global talks, as we did in the run-up to Kyoto and Copenhagen.”

Targeting his great rival, Chancellor George Osborne, Balls says the Treasury’s obsession with what he terms an “implausible shale gas bonanza” has dented the confidence of the UK’s low carbon sector.

Specifically, Balls says a Labour government would do more to back the nascent Green Investment Bank, which committed £635 million to 11 environmental projects in the past year, according to its annual report.

“The business view is clear: we can and should unlock major investment, huge numbers of jobs and secure our energy future over the next few years,” he says.

“Major firms tell us they are poised to make significant investments here in the UK that would generate vital domestic expertise and supply chains as well as the exports and jobs of the future. And the UK has a potentially world leading position in offshore wind, wave and tidal power.

“My fear is that the UK currently risks snatching defeat from the jaws of potential victory. At the heart of this failure is Chancellor George Osborne’s unholy alliance with his troublesome backbenchers.

“Faced with the choice between short-termist nods to hard-line Tory opinion or the strategic leadership that Britain needs, the Chancellor has chosen the politically easy but economically reckless path.”

Mixed support

Historically climate change has been a cross-party issue in the UK. The 2008 Climate Change Act was signed off by all major party leaders, and endorsed by current Prime Minister David Cameron.

Despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to lead the Greenest Government Ever, splits have started to emerge within his own party over the level of support renewable technologies receive, and over the perceived threat of climate change.

Predictions that the UK could be sitting on major shale gas reserves, which have caused US energy prices and emissions to fall, have also spurred some conservative MPs into attacking what they see as an economically damaging green agenda.

“What Britain really needs is leadership, policy certainty and a cross-party consensus to match the one that exists in industry to deliver an economy with strong and sustained prosperity,” says Balls.

“We need a clear plan for the future of energy generation, energy efficiency in the home, nuclear, gas, renewables and carbon capture and storage.”

He adds: “Getting energy policy right for the next 20 years is one of the biggest challenges – and the biggest opportunity – our economy faces in this generation.

“Nobody seriously questions that in the coming decades all countries will have to generate much more energy using renewable sources. The alternative is devastating climate change, ever rising prices and energy insecurity.”

Balls’ comments met with a stiff response from energy and climate minister Greg Barker, who opened the 630MW London Array offshore wind farm off the Kent coast last week.

“The coalition is unleashing an unprecedented investment in clean energy and low carbon infrastructure,” he said. “Investment certainly is key but now, as our ambitious electricity market reforms near the finish of their progress through Parliament, we have that in spades.

“As the Prime Minister made crystal clear last week when he personally inaugurated the world’s largest offshore wind project, low carbon growth is a triple win for the UK.”

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