Peter Barnett reviews the Tories’ first few months in power
“By no stretch of the imagination” was how Jonathon Porritt described David Cameron’s claim that the coalition government of 2010-15 was the ‘greenest government ever’. In his report of the same name, Porritt outlined deficiencies in all the principal environmental policy areas: natural environment, energy, climate change, air pollution, infrastructure and resource efficiency.
Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the cataclysmic assault on the UK environment by the new Tory government since their election last May. Hard-fought for measures to promote a greener Britain and tackle climate change have been swept away in a ferocious attack on what Cameron notoriously described as ‘green crap’. Some of the Tories’ bolder moves in just the first few months in power include:
• Delivering a catastrophic blow to onshore wind industry through draconian new planning requirements and reduced support.
• Restoring the use of banned bee-killing pesticides and extending the discredited badger cull trials.
• Ending requirements for zero-carbon homes, insulation, New Green Deal and incentives for greener cars.
• Devastating the solar power industry by suddenly withdrawing support, causing a million fewer installations, thousands of good jobs lost, flight of investment, collapse of companies and an extra 1.6 million tonnes of carbon added to the atmosphere every year.
• Giving the go-ahead to fracking in precious wildlife sites and national parks, and drilling through aquifers.
• And topping it all, applying the Climate Change Levy, designed to penalise fossilfuel emitting power plants, to clean renewable energy generators. As Friends of the Earth said: “It’s like putting an alcohol tax on apple juice.”
Whilst implementing the most devastating anti-green policies ever, the government pretends to be doing the exact opposite, evidenced in speeches such as Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd’s about government’s commitment to addressing climate change and renewables: “We can create the framework, create the rules, provide the support, predictability and stability needed.”
Instead they have dismantled those frameworks, destroying investor confidence, and initiating the annihilation of the British renewables industry success story, which grew five per cent a year during the double-dip recession. Whilst slashing support for renewables, she stated the need to “help technologies eventually stand on their own two feet, not encourage a permanent reliance on subsidy”. We agree. As does everyone in the renewables industry, but with ‘eventually’ being the key word. And what about the 70-year-old nuclear industry, subsidised to a level green technologies couldn’t dream of? When must it stand on its own? The subsidies are mind-boggling. The new, most expensive power station ever has seen mainly foreign state-owned utility companies awarded 35-year contracts based on twice the wholesale market price, consumer-funded subsidies amounting to billions of pounds.
And fossil fuels? The hidden subsidies for oil and gas totalled £3 billion in new tax breaks in the last parliament alone. And the Capacity Market, a mechanism designed to keep aging power plants going, funded via consumer bills? The fund quietly increased to £1.3 billion this year.
The most effective way to reduce bills is to conserve energy. Building renewables is expensive in the short term, but tiny in the long run, because the ‘fuel’ is free and clean. Abolishing energy-efficiency schemes and wrecking the renewable industry in the name of ‘protecting consumers’ and ‘bringing down bills’ is anti-business, anti-consumer and based on short-term self-interests and naked ideology.
These are political, not economic, choices. The Tories have said yes to fracking, fossil fuels and nuclear – no matter what the cost or the scale of the risks – but no to renewables because solar has been bringing down peak energy prices, cutting into the profits of the big energy companies. The government is protecting the fossil fuel power generation industry and the ‘Big Six’ energy oligopoly from competition by cheap solar power. The time remaining to avoid the drift into a succession of uncontrollable climate crises is shrinking fast, yet few nations will admit that the environmental exploitation game is over – Britain (whose credibility will be in tatters at the Paris climate talks this year) least of all.by