Joss Garman: Glaring omissions in 'greenest ever' government

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Declaring that his government will be the "greenest ever", David Cameron has said Whitehall's carbon emissions will be cut by 10 per cent in the next 12 months. It has also , cancelled Heathrow's third runway and ruled out expansion of Gatwick and Stansted airports. All excellent news, clearly, but the Lib-Con coalition agreement has some glaring green omissions.

Arguably the most striking is the coalition's failure to say what the new government's position will be on Europe's overall climate ambitions. A fortnight from now, European energy ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss whether Europe should revise its main climate target upwards. The Liberal Democrats said they were committed to working for this should they form a government, but the Conservatives did not, and the UK's position is unclear.

How will Britain meet its financial commitment to help poor countries adapt to climate change, and to protect the world's forests? We don't know. And how will we finance building a low-carbon economy at home? The Tories were mealy-mouthed during the campaign about renewable energy, so how will they ensure the necessary investment? Chris Huhne is insisting on no nuclear subsidies – stealthy or otherwise – which, in effect, would end the atomic debate, but his pro-nuclear Tory deputy, Charles Hendry, and the nuclear lobby may have other views.

Upwards of £150bn will be needed for new energy infrastructure and efficiency over the next decade because a third of our power plants are coming to the end of their lifespans. Nick Clegg said the Lib Dems would put up more than £3bn for a proposed Green Investment Bank, plus £400m to upgrade our shipyards to accommodate an offshore wind boom. But Mr Cameron has offered no new money for clean energy, and won't even say if he will protect existing spending in this area.

Talk of "localism" sounds good, but only central government has the big economic levers to drive investment in clean technologies, to build an offshore super-grid in the North Sea, and to regulate dirty coal stations.

Similarly, many solutions need to be international. Driving down our car emissions will be done only by co-operating on efficiency with our European neighbours and by sharing energy infrastructure such as the proposed carbon capture and storage pipelines under the North Sea. And the electricity cabling that would allow us to trade with our European allies, to make energy cheaper, more secure and greener, can be effected only in harness with Brussels.

The coalition agreement also talks of making good manifesto commitments on new power stations' pollution levels. Certainly, over the past two years, Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Clegg opposed dirty coal plants such as the one E.ON wanted to build at Kingsnorth in Kent. For more than three years, Mr Cameron said he wouldn't allow new power stations to be built that produced more carbon pollution than modern gas plants. But recently he has refused to say how green his new power plant standards would be.

He will have to come off the fence before long on these huge questions. One such, the decision whether to expand Bristol airport, is less than two weeks away.

Joss Garman is a campaigner for Greenpeace UK

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