May 6, 2014 by Nash Riggins
When David Cameron rose to power in 2010, he vowed to pilot the UK’s “greenest government ever”. But four years on, it’s difficult to say just what the Prime Minister had in mind when he lavished us with tales of an eco-friendly Britain.
Now, to be fair, it can’t be denied that considerable progress has been made in order to implement some degree of renewable investment. Yet a staggering number of these measures have been largely symbolic gestures that bear little impact upon the nation’s carbon footprint. Worse yet, the few policies the coalition government has implemented that do carry eco-friendly implications have been hindered by an austerity-ridden policy agenda.
From the slashing of feed-in tariffs to the freeze of powerful carbon taxes on high-energy consumers, Mr Cameron and his Chancellor of the Exchequer have proven time and time again that what little interest the coalition appears to harbour in renewables is maintained solely to retain friendly relations with our European neighbours. Indeed, it very well may be the unambitious ecological targets set by Brussels that have allowed British politicians to drag their feet on a number of environmental issues.
Last week, for example, Minister of State for Energy Michael Fallon opted to kill two birds with one stone by announcing a Conservative victory in 2015 would mean axing public subsidies for all newly planned on-shore wind farms. Meanwhile, new powers are set to be handed down to municipal authorities that will allow angry locals to block new turbines from sprouting up across the country. And whilst that may sound undeniably anti-green, Mr Fallon begs to differ. Why? Because the UK’s current on-shore wind capacity of 13.8GW ‘sufficiently meets’ the EU’s lacklustre 13GW target.
Mr Fallon’s logic is fairly straight-forward. After all, by hiding behind internationally-assured green standards, the coalition can have its cake and eat it, too – or rather, minimise renewable investment whilst still appearing to be an eco-friendly government. By and large, this cynical (yet unremarkable) move is a direct result of the severe pressures being placed upon MPs to take action that will lower domestic energy bills. Yet as wholesale prices and costly infrastructural upgrades continue to skyrocket, the only short-term solution Westminster has been able to muster thus far has been to reduce penalties upon high-carbon users and enhance the appeal of shoddy collective switching schemes.
Meanwhile, energy officials seem quite gung-ho to eradicate any and all subsidies that encourage uptake in renewables – even though said investment could very well drive the energy-independence that Britain so craves. But in this era of instant results, and an election on the horizon, that’s not a risk Mr Cameron is willing to take.
So, that leaves Britain in an environmental conundrum. Voters have now heard, straight from the horse’s mouth, that a vote for the Conservative Party in 2015 means a vote for regressive energy policy. And if that’s truly the stance that Mr Cameron wants to champion, then fine; but he would do well to speak of it plainly. After all, the UK simply cannot be a world leader in carbon reduction policy whilst performing at the bare minimum of arbitrary international targets that aren’t even compulsory in the first place.
It’s time for British politicians to stop beating around the bush: are we going to be an eco-friendly country, or not? If our current Energy Minister gets his way, the answer to that question seems painfully obvious.