The United Kingdom’s lost decade on climate change

“The last 10 years have been a lost decade for renewables. Labour’s tragic legacy is that we are 25th out of 27 EU member states on renewables. We have been playing as amateurs when we should have been in the Premiership.”

Mr Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change made this comments in response to a Report by the Committee of Public Accounts which criticised the United Kingdom’s record on Climate Change measures. Mr Huhne simply speaks the truth; in the past decade the United Kingdom’s climate change ambition has not matched its measures.

The United Kingdom has, (to continue Mr Huhne’s metaphor) talked an excellent game but when it comes to playing it has as much hope of success as the football team I play for would have of playing against any premiership team. The match would be called off after ten minutes as being too embarrassing to watch.

The fault is obvious; governments take the blame for their actions or their lack of climate change measures but having regretted the waste of opportunity in the past let us not spend too much time regretting the time we have spent regretting.

We need to get on with a coherent energy policy which places climate change measures at the core of the policy and not as some afterthought or bolt on policy.

Some re-thinking has to be done; electricity is at the heart of present energy policy and that is tackling the hardest problem first. Electricity cannot be stored and the means of generating it by clean renewables are such that we get some of it when we do not need it, having to draw on fossil fuel as back up.

In fact both heat and electricity should be equally important in terms of renewables; they are equally important in terms of carbon emissions but heat is the easiest option technically in terms of clean renewables. Heat can be safely and cheaply stored so some of the intermittency that applies to electricity is much less of a problem when it comes to renewable heat.

Further we have to drive energy policy not from a renewables basis – that will not result in fewer emissions – but from an emissions basis. That in effect means that we need to take out the whole of wood burning (be that stoves, boilers or power stations) from renewable incentives, so that renewable incentives and measures are wholly based on very low emission renewables – clean renewables – rather than dirty renewables.

I also note from the report that £180 million of the money allocated to renewables has gone unspent, according to Margaret Hodge, the chairwoman of the committee. The solar thermal industry of England Wales and Northern Ireland has been wholly without any incentives since February and this situation will continue until next June. £20 million out of the £180 million would have kept it ticking over until June but somehow government is too disjointed to figure it out.

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