By Andrew Pendleton
Shortly before the general election, George Osborne acknowledged the crucial role that a thriving green economy could play in guaranteeing the nation’s future prosperity.
Writing in the Independent in 2009 the then shadow chancellor said: “Instead of the Treasury blocking green reform, I want a Conservative Treasury to lead the development of the low carbon economy and finance a green recovery.”
And when David Cameron promised to lead the greenest government ever, shortly after stepping through the door at No. 10, hopes were raised that we might see a fresh approach by the incoming government.
But fast forward three years and a rather depressing picture has emerged.
With ministers drawing up a route map for the future of the UK’s electricity system George Osborne has shown his true colours – and they certainly aren’t green.
With soaring gas prices causing household fuel bills to go through the roof – while handing big profits to companies that both produce gas and sell it to households, such as Centrica - and the need to rapidly slash carbon dioxide emissions becoming more urgent by the day moving to a fossil-free energy system is more essential than ever.
But George Osborne appears to have a totally different view – and is reportedly fighting for more gas-fired stations that would keep the nation hooked on increasingly expensive and dirty gas for decades to come.
Earlier this week energy and climate secretary Ed Davey claimed a significant concession from the chancellor on wind subsidies. They would be cut by only ten per cent - instead of the 25% Osborne wanted. But this 'victory' came at a price. Ed Davey was forced to agree that gas will play “an important part in the energy mix well into and beyond 2030” – despite the damage such a move would cause to both the environment and economy.
Earlier this month the CBI hit out at the Treasury’s lack of support for the green economy – which is currently growing at over four per cent each year. Its director general John Cridland said: “Get our energy and climate change policies right, and we can add £20 billion extra to our economy and knock £0.8billion off the trade gap, all within the lifetime of this parliament.”
MPs are unhappy with the chancellor too. Tim Yeo, the Conservative chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, warned earlier this week that “the government is in danger of botching its plans to boost clean energy…. the government should also set a clear target to largely decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030 to provide investors greater certainty about the direction of energy policy."
The chancellor’s anti-green agenda raises big question marks about the credibility of the prime minister and his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, both of whom have made much of their commitment to a low carbon future.
The battle over our energy system is a crucial one – and it’s vital that both David Cameron and Nick Clegg stand up to the chancellor. If they don’t future generations will be forced to pay a hefty economic and environmental price.
Andrew Pendleton is head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth
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