Our “green government” is in the news again. I was pleasantly surprised this weekend when I read that the Cabinet had finally agreed to a deal to slash the UK’s carbon emissions.
My first reaction?
“It’s about time.”
For all its aspirations to be a green government, the Coalition was in danger of losing credibility on this front, having made such a big fuss about its green proposals during the General Election.
It is clearly a huge step in the right direction for the environment. It also helps to assuage my consumer guilt, about which I have blogged previously. If everything goes to plan, the UK will have cut carbon dioxide emissions to around 390 million tonnes a year by 2027. That is 160 million tonnes below our current output, a massive reduction of 30%!
That’s not all. As a green pragmatist, I believe there are two additional benefits of cutting UK emissions. Firstly, any such policy would have to make us more energy independent than we are at present. For 40 years we have relied upon North Sea Energy supplies, but as these begin to run dry our interdependence on other countries for oil and gas supplies will leave us horribly exposed.
Secondly, but just as importantly, a green government would need to create thousands of new jobs in “new” industries in which the UK owned the intellectual property.
The “green government” plans in practice
I wonder what Uma Jakobsdóttir from The Human Race would make of the recent announcement. I suspect she would be a little cynical, particularly once she began to read the detail and unravel some of the spin. When I read the plans in detail, these observations sprang to mind:
1. The dependence upon nuclear power. According to the new “carbon budget”, 40% of the UK’s electricity will be generated by nuclear power – double the amount that is now. Gulp, how fast memories fade. Of course, our country does not have a nuclear power industry as Labour sold our last remaining company, Westinghouse, to Toshiba back in 2006.
As a result, we rely upon foreign companies to commission and run the nuclear reactors which generate our electricity: think EDF (French) and E.ON (German). Also, the nuclear fuel required to run reactors comes from uranium oxide, which can only be mined in Kazakhstan and South Africa, hardly the most stable of countries. If Britain is dependent on nuclear energy then it will be vulnerable to uranium fuel price increases and shortages of supplies, regional conflicts and, no doubt, involved in future wars and occupations, all in the ”national interest” of course. So much for energy independence.
3. We continue to lag behind other countries. Contrary to the Cabinet’s promise to lead the “greenest government ever”, it seems that we are instead playing catch-up with other countries. For instance in March, Germany announced its own green agenda which, quite frankly, makes ours look outmoded in comparison. Firstly, in the wake of the Japan disaster, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she would phase out all of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors, which currently supply a quarter of their electricity needs.
Merkel also promised to “double the share of renewable energy to 35 percent of consumption in 2020, 50 percent in 2030, 65 percent in 2040, and more than 80 percent in 2050”.
She vowed to cut 1990 CO2 emission levels by 40% in 2020, by 55% in 2030 and by more than 80% in 2050.
4. The “green government” plans make no real mention of transportation, the bulk of which still relies on petrol and diesel. Where are the suggestions to reduce our reliance on this form of fuel? Perhaps the government expects us to buy electric cars from the likes of Toyota, GM, VW, Hyundai, Honda, Nissan, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, Fiat, Peugeot… all foreign companies. So all profits from our vehicle purchases go overseas; meanwhile we busily charge up our new cars using French and German nuclear power.
So for our “green government”, energy independence and “new” industries are not really part of the deal. Ah well, at least our emissions will fall. Uma would be very pleased about that.
As for me: I’m not wholly convinced. So far I’m just left with the feeling that our “green government” has missed a real opportunity to achieve real energy security for future generations, along with wealth for our nation, while reducing emissions at the same time.
I hope I’m wrong.