UK told to ‘wriggle out’ of green energy targets

The UK is unlikely to meet European targets for renewable energy and should look for a way to get out of its commitment, ministers have been briefed.

Officials at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) have reportedly warned ministers the UK will not be able to meet the EU target for 20 per cent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.

They recommended the government push for alternative “statistical interpretations of the target” and argue for nuclear power to be counted as a renewable energy form.

Tony Blair and other European leaders signed up to the 20 per cent target in the spring. At present the EU average is seven per cent, with the UK falling below this with five per cent of energy coming from renewable sources.

Under current policies, the UK will likely reach seven per cent by 2020. Officials estimated at best the UK total would rise to nine per cent, but stressed achieving this would be “challenging”.

In the document obtained by the Guardian, officials express concern the UK could be forced to accept a target of 16 per cent.

They advise ministers to lobby EU commissioners and countries including Germany, Poland, France and Italy to allow a more accommodating interpretation of renewable energy.

Andrew Simms, the director of the New Economics Foundation, said the leaked document read like a “wriggle and squirm” paper.

He said: “It combines almost comic desperation from civil servants suddenly realising that they actually have to do something to promote renewable energy, with a breathtaking cynicism as they explore every conceivable get-out clause to escape the UK’s international commitments.”

BERR refused to comment on leaked documents but a spokesman said: “This government is committed to renewables and reducing emissions in line with EU targets.”

The government has claimed to be a world leader on climate change. Ministers say the forthcoming climate change bill will make the UK the first country to set legally binding emissions cuts.

After officials admitted the UK had achieved little on renewable energy, the Conservatives accused the government of living a lie.

Shadow environment secretary Alan Duncan said: “This is a staggering revelation and shows the government has known all along it won’t meet its targets but has deliberately avoided admitting it.”

The Lib Dem environment spokesman Chris Huhne said: “This news confirms that the government has said yes to an EU target of 20 per cent of renewable energy without any visible means of achieving it.

“If the government’s policy is now to have any credibility and not be seen as a cynical attempt to woo green opinion, ministers must stop fudging and start acting.”