March 20, 2014 by Nash Riggins
When David Cameron rose to power in 2010, he vowed to pilot the UK’s “greenest government ever“. He condemned the lackluster environmental credentials of the Labour regime that preceded him, arguing its leaders had callously showed little regard for Britain’s sustainable impact on Mother Earth. Then, in a show of good faith, he hastily installed new ministerial posts and departments that could implement his grand vision of an eco-friendly Britain.
At least that was the dream.
But fast forward to 2014, and what little environmental progress our government has made is being systematically disavowed in favour of industrial expansion. Fresh figures proclaiming a comforting spike in economic growth have meant a sigh of relief for Mr Cameron and the Chancellor of the Exchequer; however, this return to productivity has also hardened the coalition’s resolve to ‘stay the course’. George Osborne believes that growth rationalises the effectiveness of his severely unpopular austerity programme – and now that the books are finally starting to balance out, Mr Osborne is looking to the future.
Unfortunately, he’s not particularly bothered about the country’s environmental future – but rather, the success of his party in 2015. And, as always, that future starts by doing some good ole-fashioned politicking at the industrial level. This week’s budget has proven a prime example. Since last April, the coalition’s fledgling Department of Energy and Climate Change has successfully brought down the UK’s rampant carbon emissions by way of implementing a tax on companies that rely too heavily on fossil fuels. These so-called carbon price floor rates have not only been one of the department’s few measly triumphs, but have also been able to rake in a reasonable sum of new taxes that can be redeployed to fund eco-friendly technologies.
Naturally, Tory think-tanks claim that’s bad for business, and is keeping entrepreneurs from creating new jobs. Is there any proof to validate these claims? Debatable. But that’s not a chance Mr Osborne is willing to take. So, just to be on the safe side, he’s announced the government is going to retreat from its green initiative by freezing these carbon taxes for the rest of the decade. That may be good news for the industrialists of today, but this legislative slight has the power to set back our green agenda by more than a decade.
Unfortunately, austerity-ridden voters are just as guilty as rich industrialists when it comes to lobbying for this sort of regressive environmental policy.
Following last year’s spate of domestic energy price hikes, MPs have been repeatedly blasted for their inability to get a grip on the country’s energy bills. Throughout 2013, Ed Miliband pompously and repeatedly raised this issue before parliament – shamelessly aware of the fact that energy bills in the UK are actually among the lowest in the developed world. But with an election on the horizon, the coalition can’t afford to shrug off that sort of opposition by simply saying ‘things could be worse’. They need to coax energy companies into capping their prices until the next general election, and the only way of achieving that is to lay off on green levies. In turn, voters are temporarily appeased, energy bosses can have bigger bonuses and the government receives less pressure to invest in inefficient renewables.
It’s the proverbial triple win, right?
In 2011, the Chancellor told his party that “we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe”. Yet with the implementation of Mr Osborne’s latest budget, every indicator suggests Britain will now become the slow coach hampering international efforts to tackle climate change. That can’t be allowed to happen.
This week, EU leaders will sit down to hammer out plans for a continent-wide commitment to slash carbon emissions by some 40% in the next 15 years, as well as introduce new incentives for renewable investment. Yet those token agreements will be completely non-binding for Mr Osborne, and won’t impact our government’s political backtracking in the slightest. With that in mind, if British voters have any ambitions whatsoever to achieve energy independence, they’re going to have to bite the bullet and demand that politicians don’t just talk the talk when it comes to environmental policy. After all, this is Britain’s golden opportunity to lead the charge against climate change – and right now, we’re completely blowing it.