Mr Cameron’s Green Agenda

Politicians and leaders of nations have two ways of communicating their ideas to the public. The first is in a speech; they universally like to make speeches and they probably attach too much importance to their effect. The second way is by writing. In writing the words can be studied, and it is easier to form a logical reaction to the words and develop arguments supporting or gainsaying what is written without the interference of emotion that political rhetoric raises.

Mr Cameron, the Prime Minister of Her Majesty’s Government, wrote yesterday in the Observer newspaper about a green economy. He writes “there is a compelling economic case to be made for fighting climate change …The green effort should not be downgraded or swept under the carpet because of spending cuts and austerity…”

That is nice to read. However the examples he uses that the United Kingdom will lead change with unilateral action are not what they seem to be.

He mentions a new Green Deal (a phrase that I first heard the Green Party use) for home insulation. This is important but not radically different from what has gone before. There have been home insulation incentives dating back to the time when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister. His concept seems to be to drive home insulation with the profit motive – showing people that they can save real money with home insulation, which they can. However, that is not a reason to avoid making home insulation compulsory. The profit motive can work in respect to an activity that is made compulsory and more profits can be made than if the activity is made a requirement, rather than an option.

He also mentions the proposed Green Investment Bank as a means of driving low carbon growth. I do not know what that means. No one has explained what a Green Investment Bank will do and how the bank will do it. We will wait for the details.

Finally he mentions the Renewable Heat Incentive having £850 million allocated to it. Again this is not what it seems; the RHI does not start until next June and there is as yet no clarity about how the incentive will operate and what its conditions will be.  Mr Cameron does not mention that most of the £850 million will not be available until2015 and four years is a long time in politics. Most importantly he writes about the RHI in the context of a low carbon economy.

In fact the RHI is not being implemented to save carbon emissions but being implemented to provide heat from renewable sources. These are not the same objectives. It will mean that much of the RHI money will be spent on devices that burn fuel, like wood burning boilers, which will emit as much carbon as coal burning, in the hope that by growing more trees somewhere else the carbon burnt may be offset in part. Certainly wood is renewable but burning it is not low carbon nor is transporting it around the world.

Of course anything that is done to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions is worthy and important. The point is that what is being done is in the United Kingdom hardly shows world leadership and is in reality very little. Here comparisons with previous governments or governments of other nations do not stand up. You cannot defend polluting an environment on the grounds that you pollute it marginally less than others and clear up only a small fraction of the mess.

Mr Cameron writes about the opportunities that a low carbon economy brings and he is right to do so. However as someone who founded a business ten years ago which is directly within the real low carbon economy I cannot say that I am filled with the same amount of hope as Mr Cameron about the future. The playing field is not level and there are many interests that operate against a low carbon economy, all of which have the ear of government.


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