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Energy policy is not a poker game

 

On Friday, Amber Rudd MP, gave her first major speech as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change during a meeting hosted by Aviva.

I am always encouraged when I hear a minister speaking with conviction about the need for international action on climate change- this Rudd clearly has in spades. She is not the only one in the Government who expressed a clear commitment to tackling climate change. Back in February, the Prime Minister himself did so, signing the Leader’s Pledge in which he committed to defend the UK Climate Change Act.

Houses of Parliament © Treye Rice / FlickrHouses of Parliament © Treye Rice / Flickr

As Amber Rudd mentioned, protecting the environment has always been important to Conservative governments: one of the first political leaders to speak about the risks of global warming was Margaret Thatcher. But while the Secretary of State’s personal commitment to climate change action is certain, there is confusion about some of the Government’s recent climate and energy policy decisions. Since the Election the Department of Energy and Climate Change has announced that they will stop supporting a number of different policies which were introduced to help the UK reduce its carbon emissions.

The result is a vacuum where a clear energy policy is needed. This is worrying to industry, investors, and climate change activists alike for a number of reasons. Firstly, the UK’s Climate Change Act gives us a precedent to bring to the international negotiations on climate change. The international negotiations are considering setting a long term target with five yearly reviews; this is similar to our national system of targets and carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act, and it is critical that we show our world-leading legislation can be delivered.

Secondly, energy is a long game. It takes a long time to get enough money together for energy projects (regardless whether it is a new nuclear plant or onshore wind farms) and even longer to build them.  In order to attract investment, the government must be clear and consistent on its plans otherwise why would investors back uncertain projects. Today’s Government will make choices about our energy that impact upon us and upon future generations. It is absolutely right to think about energy bills today- but a penny saved for a hard-working family could be a pound lost for that family’s children if policy changes send the wrong signal to industry.

The Walney Offshore Windfarm project, located 15km off Barrow in Furness in Cumbria, UK, and owned and constructed by Dong Energy. When finished it will have 102 3.6 MW turbines, giving a total capacity of 367.2 MW, enough to power 320,000 homes © Global Warming Images / WWF / Ashley CooperThe Walney Offshore Windfarm project, located 15km off Barrow in Furness in Cumbria, UK, and owned and constructed by Dong Energy. When finished it will have 102 3.6 MW turbines, giving a total capacity of 367.2 MW, enough to power 320,000 homes © Global Warming Images / WWF / Ashley Cooper

It might not seem obvious, but cutting some of the policies which are currently funded through our bills might also cause bills to rise for today’s households – or at the very least prevent bills from falling. Consumers may pay over the odds for the government’s focus on cutting the economy’s deficit. This is especially true of those policies which aim to make it cheaper to run our homes through the funding of technologies like renewable heating, solar PV and wall insulation.

There is no problem with a new government taking a different route. But energy policy should not be run like a poker game- we do need to see the government’s cards.

If – for example – they have on their cards relying on offshore wind, shale and nuclear, where is the evidence that this mix will save consumers money and decarbonise more efficiently than one which has more renewables and energy efficiency measures in the mix?  The point is that without the detail, we and investors just don’t know where we stand.

A workman fitting solar thermal panels for heating water, to a house roof in Ambleside, Cumbria, UK © WWF-UK / CanonA workman fitting solar thermal panels for heating water, to a house roof in Ambleside, Cumbria, UK © WWF-UK / Canon

We should be proud to have a government that is willing to speak publicly about international climate change. We should be especially proud of our Climate Change Act and the progress we have made to date on reducing our emissions and growing our economy. Our emissions fell by 9.7% in 2014 while the economy grew- a landmark in our progress on decarbonisation.

2015 is a clear opportunity for the UK to push for more ambition on climate change both at home and away.

I am, so far, disappointed at the lack of vision.

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