Caroline Flint: Cameron's pledges on global warming were only hot air

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The Independent Online

A few days after the last election, David Cameron made a bold promise: to lead the greenest government ever. In opposition, Cameron brandished his green credentials to show the Conservative Party had changed, and prove he was in touch with young people and everyone who cared about the environment. Arctic photo-shoots were hastily arranged, complete with huskies. The public were exhorted to "vote blue and go green". Eighteen months later, as Chris Huhne, the Climate Change Secretary, jets off to Durban for the latest round of negotiations, all that remains is a trail of broken green promises.

The stakes at Durban could not be higher. We have to make progress on a binding legal global agreement to cut carbon emissions and deliver on climate finance. But the omens are not good. Since the election, Cameron has failed to make a single speech, or attend a single conference, on climate change. He's snubbed next year's landmark Rio+20 conference, even though it was re-arranged to allow him to attend. In Europe, the Government has cosied up with extremists, and opposed controls on oil extracted from tar sands – a notoriously high polluting fuel, which almost every other European country wants to tackle. This, and its lax attitude to arctic drilling, are turning the UK into a clearing house for the world's dirtiest oil projects.

In the Autumn Statement last week, Cameron and George Osborne showed they would rather pander to the Tea Party tendency in the Tory Party – the rump of Tories who either don't believe in climate change or don't think it's worth bothering about – than get serious about tackling climate change. Osborne revelled in his contempt for environmental protections. The funding for carbon capture and storage was quietly shelved. The Green Investment Bank delayed yet again. For all Huhne's handwringing and synthetic clashes with Cabinet colleagues, the Government's failure to deliver on its promise to be the greenest ever is as much his responsibility as anyone else's.

The tragedy, for our economy as much as our environment, is that, far from being a threat to growth, the transition to a low-carbon economy is a huge opportunity for the UK: 800,000 people work in the "green economy", and the global market for low-carbon goods and services could be worth £4trn by 2015, with the potential to create 400,000 new jobs. Last year, when Labour left office, the UK was ranked third in the world for investment in green growth. Today we are 13th, while countries including India and Brazil race ahead. Investment that should be coming to the UK, supporting its jobs, growth and industry, is now going overseas.

At a time when growth is flat-lining and unemployment is rising, the solar industry is actually growing and creating jobs. When we introduced Feed-in Tariffs, there were only 3,000 people working in 450 firms in the sector. Today there are more than 25,000 people, working in 3,000 companies, with the potential for many more. But thousands of jobs and businesses in the industry will go, and nearly nine out of 10 families will be prevented from having solar power – and more control over their energy bills.

The Government has abandoned the centre ground and is completely out of touch. Its lip service to the green agenda was nothing more than a cynical rebranding exercise to trick people into believing the Tories had changed. Even Steve Hilton, Cameron's closest strategist and the architect of his decision to embrace green issues, now admits he's not sure he believes in climate change. Someone should tell David Cameron that a husky is for life, not just for Christmas.

Caroline Flint is Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change