This week's crucial Energy Bill is the Lib Dem's last chance at reclaiming climate credibility

Despite all the disappointments, Lib Dems have an opportunity to redeem their green credentials on June 4th. The director of Friends of the Earth asks if they'll seize it

Share
Related Topics

Shortly after failing to win the last election, David Cameron set about proving just how he and his new coalition partners had, y’know, so much in common.

We all remember Cameron standing next to Chris Huhne promising that this would be the “greenest Government ever”. He even pledged his services as the fourth Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, just to prove how terribly serious he was about saving the planet. How times have changed.

Cameron’s green near-silence in the 36 months since has been deafening. This coupled with key advisor Lord Ashcroft’s replacement by the “re-nastifyer” Lynton Crosby, a resurgent Tory right, and the perceived threat of Ukip, reveals Cameron’s modernisation project to be all but dead in the water.

I thought the Tories losing their green sheen would be seized upon by Liberal Democrats. Here was a chance to steal back the environment mantle, to show that a junior coalition partner can punch above its weight – especially when it heads up the Whitehall department brief which chimes with the very core of its party values.

Yet the Lib Dems have spectacularly failed to capitalise on the opportunity. Instead, they’ve managed to deliver at best apologies for, and at worst endorsements of, Osborne’s oil and gas tax breaks, his savage attacks on renewables, his dismantling of energy conservation policies, and his fawning at the feet of the shale gas industry. Senior Lib Dems’ mealy mouthed defence of incentives for the nuclear industry is scarcely believable.

“Ah yes”, claims Ed Davey, “but you’re forgetting we’ve secured a trebling of support for renewables up to 2020. And a Green Investment Bank to boot!”. While welcome developments, one is little more than funding to meet a legally binding EU target (risking massive fines if we miss it), and the other is shackled indefinitely by ludicrous borrowing restrictions. Far more impressive was his predecessor Huhne’s approach in 2011 when he stood firm against George Osborne’s pressure and forced David Cameron’s hand to commit Government to halving economy-wide carbon emissions by 2025.

But despite it all, Lib Dems can still redeem their green credentials on 4th June when they face an historic opportunity to positively shape energy and climate policy for decades to come.

Up for grabs is the ‘decarbonisation target’, a measure that, if adopted in the Government’s Energy Bill currently before parliament, would drive investment to slash the carbon intensity of our electricity production by 2030 - bringing with it much needed jobs and growth to match the obvious climate benefits.

Conservative MP Tim Yeo and Labour’s Barry Gardiner have tabled the necessary amendments, which have gathered support from all sides of the house. Friends of the Earth has been leading the charge to translate the massive public backing for renewables into law, and I’ve been staggered by the sheer scale and breadth of support we’ve received. We’ve seen more than 200 organisations and almost 100 companies call for a target, telling us it’s critical in setting the framework for investor certainty – to 2030 and beyond – that a successful renewables and energy saving industry requires. Even Ed Davey admitted in Parliament that “the vast majority of companies do appear to support a decarbonisation target in the Bill”.

The alternative is pretty desperate. Without a clean power target, George Osborne’s dash for gas will be given a free run. This fatally undermines UK efforts to curb emissions and adds at least an extra £25 billion to energy bills compared to a future powered by the home-grown renewables that would be the consequence of the target.

So far eleven Liberal Democrat MPs have shown laudable resolve to defy the whips and publicly pledge support for the amendments. Senior members of the party, including President Tim Farron, have also let it be known that they’re on side. Assuming they follow through when it comes to tomorrow’s vote, these MPs should be applauded for taking a principled stance.

They are joined by five Conservatives (with more privately promising to vote in favour on the day), the entire Labour Party and most of the smaller parties. A genuine rebellion is on the cards. The parliamentary maths is clear: it will be Liberal Democrat MPs that decide the fate of the target on Tuesday.

At an RSA event I chaired on 16 May, the UK’s former - and the world’s first - Climate Change ambassador, John Ashton CBE, said: "I can't see how any MP who votes against the target will thereafter be able credibly to claim that they support an effective response to climate change."

Liberal Democrat MPs must consider these words on 4 June, steel themselves, and vote in line with their core political values, not George Osborne’s.

Andy Atkins is executive director of Friends of the Earth

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'