Government is failing on low-carbon commitments

By staff writers
September 20, 2011

Despite lavish claims from Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, the coalition's green fuel credentials are thin, research suggests.

Indeed, the government has made either moderate or no progress on 22 of its 29 low-carbon commitments, says a detailed analysis of government action to achieve its own low-carbon commitments.

In May 2010, the government described climate change as "one of the gravest threats we face" and committed to "urgent action both here and abroad."

The new study suggests there are low levels of support for the government’s low carbon agenda in the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and concludes that major opportunities to generate green jobs and increase investor confidence in the low carbon sector are being missed.

'Climate Check' is published this month by the think-tank Green Alliance in conjunction with WWF, Christian Aid, Greenpeace and RSPB. It is the product of five months’ research and extensive discussions with over 40 officials and ministers across Whitehall.

The 48-page report examines progress across 11 departments and concludes:

• So far, the government has made some good, high-profile decisions on important policies such as the 4th Carbon Budget, but its overall record is weakened by delayed or poorly-designed policies on many other coalition commitments. ‘

• Seven commitments have been delivered successfully or are achieving good progress – for instance, there has been a nearly 14 per cent reduction in emissions across central government.

• On a further six policies, the Coalition is failing – for instance, the Treasury has made no progress towards creating green financial products.

• On the remaining 16 policies there is only moderate progress, due to delay (10), poor policy design (nine), or both. The Green Deal, for example, is at risk of failing because of a lack of urgency and support across government departments.

• There are clear indications that the Treasury, and to a lesser extent BIS, have curbed, or attempted to curb, the government’s ambition on the low carbon agenda.

• However, contrary to what observers might expect, there is little evidence of division along party lines. Both Conservative and Liberal Democrat champions of low carbon policies have been held back by others within their own party.

As well as assessing the government’s low-carbon record so far, Climate Check identifies three big opportunities which would help the government fulfil its stated goal to "decarbonise the economy and support the creation of new green jobs and technologies".

These involve increasing cross-government accountability for the transition towards a low-carbon economy and boosting the Prime Minister’s engagement on both the international and domestic agendas.

Matthew Spencer, director of Green Alliance commented: "The government has taken some good decisions in tough economic circumstances, but it is hobbled by a lack of cross-government support for the Coalition Programme. It will miss opportunities to get economic and political benefit from its policies without more public leadership from the Prime Minister and greater accountability across Whitehall."

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace said: "This report shows that our Treasury and Department of Business are not backing British companies in the clean technology race. Right now our major global competitors are investing in low carbon energy. That investment is delivering jobs, raising valuable tax revenue and helping the fight against climate change, whilst here in the UK, those responsible for our economy seem blind to the opportunities that clean technology can offer."

"If the government don’t wake up and grasp this generational chance, then UK PLC will lose out on jobs, on growth and much needed revenues," he added

Loretta Minghella, director of Christian Aid observed: "Some ministers and officials have done great work towards a global solution to climate change - but the challenge is so tough and so pressing that we urgently need the Prime Minister himself to step up his engagement now."

"In the run up to the UN climate talks in Durban, his personal leadership will be hugely important in securing the extension of the Kyoto Protocol - a vital bridge to the comprehensive, binding global climate deal that the world needs," she said.

David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK continued: "Energy efficiency policy was one of the great environmental pledges of this government last May, but I am afraid that a lot of what was promised is threatening to be slowly dissipated through collective lack of nerve. Energy efficiency is good for householders, good for jobs, and good for the environment. There can be little reason for not going ahead."

According to Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB: "There is a common thread running between the Government’s underwhelming performance on climate change, and its current, flawed approach to planning reform. We are seeing a clear conflict at the heart of the Coalition between green growth and economic growth at any cost. This report is our verdict on the Coalition’s climate change record so far, but being the 'greenest government ever’ also means looking after our wildlife and green spaces. The RSPB and other conservation organisations will publish Nature Check later this year, which will examine the government’s record on delivering its natural environment commitments."

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