Greg Barker: Time for ‘fresh thinking’ on UK energy policy

Former climate minister and envoy says he will advise new initiative to develop centre-right climate and energy policies, claiming greens are wedded to ‘same answers’

(Pic: DECC/Flickr)

(Pic: DECC/Flickr)

By Ed King

David Cameron’s former climate envoy Greg Barker has called for “fresh thinking” on UK energy policy, marking a push by Conservatives to appeal to green-minded voters.

“We need to refresh and rethink what is the right role for government and society to drive towards a low carbon economy and sustainable living – we need a new narrative,” he told Climate Home.

“A lot of people in the green movement are wedded to the same answers, and we have to make sure we are at the cutting edge.”

UK climate change minister from 2010 to 2014, Barker said the green economy had reached the “end of an important chapter”.

“We have a massive infrastructure spend over the next 20 years. We need to future-proof consumer goods. If I had to pick a theme – it’s the next big leap forward in innovation.”

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Barker and the centre right think tank Bright Blue plan to float a series of green policies in the coming year, with electric vehicles, international development and post-coal energy to feature.

The think tank claims credit for calling for the phase-out of all domestic coal-fired power plants by 2025, which became UK policy in late 2015, subject to consultation.

Former Conservative party leader Lord Howard, philosopher Roger Scruton and Bloomberg energy analyst Michael Liebreich have also been named as advisors of the campaign.

Nick Mabey from the E3G environmental think tank welcomed the move, pointing to “a need to revitalise green voices in the Parliamentary Party and the media conversation in right wing papers”.

Nick Molho from the Aldersgate Group – a coalition of green-minded business leaders – said policy stability was essential for environmentally and economically effective climate targets.

“Cross-party involvement in the development of these policies is key to this,” he said.

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The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has faced intense criticism over recent cuts to wind and solar subsidies, plus continued uncertainty over the country’s flagship nuclear project.

While hailing the “unrelenting march” towards subsidy-free energy in a February 2016 report, consultants EY said policy changes in the UK left “fundamental underlying challenges” facing energy companies.

For the first time in 12 years the country dropped out of the top 10 of EY’s renewable investment attractiveness index, with the company urging it to “try harder”.

DECC plans to deliver a new climate and energy strategy by the close of 2016, which Barker said he hoped this initiative would influence.

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