Coalition year one: Environment

Martyn Williams is Friends of the Earth's parliamentary campaigner
Martyn Williams is Friends of the Earth's parliamentary campaigner

Despite the huskies and the rooftop wind turbine on his home, David Cameron's pledge to lead the greenest government ever is vanishingly remote.

By Martyn Williams

That's the conclusion of Jonathan Porritt in his report on the coalition's first year in office commissioned for Friends of the Earth.

We asked the former Friends of the Earth chief and Sustainable Development Commission chair to assess the government's green record during its first year in office.
His findings make bleak reading for the coalition - out of 77 policies examined, little or no progress was found in more than three-quarters of them.


All our hopes were high when the new prime minister gave his green promise on May 14th last year. After all, Mr Cameron had played a significant part in getting the Climate Change Act passed, sharing a press conference platform with Friends of the Earth in Devon to call for the new law, and repeatedly pressing Tony Blair in parliament for it to be introduced.

Furthermore, one of his government's first acts was to abandon plans to expand airports in the south east.

But as the months have passed confidence in the coalition's green credibility has crumbled. The Treasury has refused to let the Green Investment Bank borrow funds until at least 2015, robbing it of its ability to drive investment in a low carbon economy.

Pledges to reform aviation duty so airlines would pay a per plane duty, rather than a per person tax, have been dropped. And ministers have introduced great uncertainty over renewable energy with an early review of the feed-in tariff scheme, which will reduce financial incentives to invest in green electricity schemes.

Porritt's report reaches a number of damning conclusions about how we've reached this grim state of affairs, finding:

There's little evidence of the prime minister using his personal political clout to improve the Government's green performance;

The Lib Dems have failed to promote their green agenda inside the coalition;

Government promises to create tens of thousands of new green jobs are evaporating;

And it's impossible for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) to deliver comprehensive climate change plans when the rest of Whitehall is fundamentally disengaged - and the Treasury is hostile.

Now a new controversy threatens to damage the government's reputation further - possibly irrevocably.

The Committee on Climate Change - established up by the very Climate Change Act that David Cameron helped push for - has told ministers that tougher UK action is now needed, and that tougher climate budgets should be set.

But a number of ministers are urging the government to reject its independent adviser's recommendations - something no government has done before.

It's little surprise that these should include Transport and the Treasury - but lobbying from Lib Dem Vince Cable's Business Innovation and Skills department is more disappointing.

So as the coalition enters its second year, David Cameron must reflect on his green ambitions.

If he snubs the climate committee's key recommendations his promise won't just be broken - it will be smashed.

Martyn Williams is a parliamentary campaigner at Friends of the Earth

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