Just under a year ago, we revealed that Gordon Brown was planning to scupper the vital, and binding, European climate change deal to generate 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.
A brouhaha ensued; EU leaders were so furious at the UK's underhanded shenanigans that a red-faced Brown had to explicitly re-commit to the target soon afterwards.
The leaked documents show that the UK (read John Hutton's Department for Business) is exerting strong pressure on EU governments to remove aviation from renewable energy targets. This may sound fairly innocuous, but stripping out aviation would unravel the whole agreement. Here's why:
The renewables obligation [addition 03/10: for clarity, I mean the Renewable Energy Target] includes heat, electricity and transport, including aviation. This is vital; aviation contributes up to nine per cent of all greenhouse emissions in Europe and omitting aviation would reduce the overall target.
For the UK - which has the biggest aviation industry in Europe and an already appalling record on renewables - exempting aviation would reduce the amount of renewable energy we need to produce by nearly 12 per cent.
Removing aviation also opens up the entire deal to renegotiation by other countries who want to water it down. If the UK removes aviation from the targets because we have a huge aviation industry, what's to stop the Netherlands, say, from trying to remove shipping, because of their substantial shipping industry? Or any other country from trying to remove steel manufacturing, which uses a lot of heat? The agreement could totally unravel.
Revealingly, EU figures are being outspoken about their outrage. Claude Turmes, the MEP leading the negotiations, said: "Britain is leading the attempt to undermine the climate change directive. Gordon Brown promised that the UK would not attempt to cut the EU 20 per cent renewables target... Now UK civil servants from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform have a different strategy and are pushing for cuts. A government that is supposedly committed to tackle climate change must not try to kill the essence of this directive."
According to the BBC, Mr Turmes also said he believed the UK was acting under pressure from firms seeking to build nuclear and coal-fired power stations. While the government denies this, this handy list (also from the Beeb) shows exactly where Hutton's priorities lie. Over the past 18 months, his department has:
- lobbied against the 20 per cent renewables target, saying it is unachievable;
- negotiated a reduction to 15 per cent for the UK because past renewables performance was so poor;
- tried to get nuclear and carbon capture coal categorised as renewable energy;
- argued that funding for renewable energy projects abroad should be able to count to the UK targets.
It's far from the first time the UK has tried to wreck this vital energy deal. Unless Brown takes decisive action to stand up to big business - and John Hutton - on climate change, it's unlikely to be the last.