In 2009, George Osborne told us that if he became Chancellor "the treasury will become a green ally, not a foe." There appears to have been some confusion about what is expected of a 'green ally', so, to clarify things, here's what he should have done.
A serious energy efficiency programme
Providing better insulation for Britain’s drafty homes is a win-win-win strategy. It can lower energy bills, slash carbon emissions, and boost energy security all at once. Yet the Green Deal, the government’s flagship policy on efficiency, has been a complete fiasco, delivering just a fraction of the home improvements it was meant to accomplish. What we need is an ambitious programme that uses money levied on the big polluters to give millions of British homes an efficiency makeover.
An end to fossil fuel subsidies
The coalition pledged to use export subsidies to champion Britain’s clean technologies, ‘instead of supporting investment in dirty fossil-fuel energy production’. But ministers ended up doing the exact opposite. For every £1 going to green energy projects, £300 went to fossil fuel developments, including Russian coal mining, the Saudi oil industry, and even Gazprom. What we need is a binding commitment preventing any future government from wasting more taxpayers’ money on the dirty industries that are fuelling climate change.
Long-term support for clean energy
The announcement of some progress on a new tidal lagoon scheme is welcome, but hardly makes up for five years of neglect. Whilst fracking got the red carpet treatment and ailing oil giants received tax breaks worth billions, renewables have been mostly hit by subsidy cuts, planning hurdles, and general sniping from Tory ministers. This is despite falling costs, improved technologies, and huge investments by the likes of China and the US. As a result, Britain’s pull as a magnet for green investments has hit a 12-year low, and the UK is now lagging behind every other EU country in meeting its renewable targets. What we need is a long-term plan to ensure stability and continuity after 2020, giving business the necessary confidence to invest in the UK.
Robust flood protections
Triggered by the wettest winter in over two centuries, last year’s floods brought misery to thousands of people across the country, exposing its vulnerability to climate change. The UK government was caught off guard, with a flood defence budget already dented by spending cuts and an environment secretary not up to the job. A year on, ministers don’t seem to have learned the lesson and flood protection budgets are still showing a £600m black hole. What we need is a comprehensive programme to shore up Britain’s resilience against the threats of climate change.
Support for community energy
Support for community energy should be the ultimate no-brainer. Allowing communities to take control of their energy needs will help lower energy bills, boost homegrown clean energy, and challenge the Big Six stranglehold. Yet the same government that coined the Big Society slogan and clamoured for more competition has stymied the citizen-led energy revolution by blocking energy co-ops and scrapping business incentives for community projects. What we need is a full plan to remove the obstacles faced by smaller community projects in trying to gatecrash the cosy club of the big energy firms.