Michael McCarthy: At long last, the winds of change blow the right way

It is something not often seen in Government – a true policy revolution
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The Independent Online

From a green point of view there are still plenty of ifs and buts about the Government's future strategy for burning coal in power stations, centring on the requirement that all new plants must be equipped with carbon capture and storage. For example: at first only a quarter of the emissions from these new generating stations – which will be vast – will be picked up by CCS. The other three-quarters will head straight for the sky, and will not be covered until well after 2020 when CCS will, it is hoped, be shown to be working on a large scale.

But what if CCS doesn't work, what then? No one is going to dismantle the new plants. And what about the current coal-fired power stations like the monster 4,000mw station at Drax in Yorkshire, spouting out 20 million tonnes of CO2 a year? No CCS for them. They will simply spout away until the end of their working lives.

All these objections were being murmured by environmentalists yesterday but they were not being shouted in protest. For there was a widespread recognition that despite the ifs and buts, the Government really had made a significant change in its energy policy, and a change in the right direction. Consider: the major fear of green campaigners over the past two years has been that a new generation of coal-fired plants would be sanctioned without any regard for their carbon emissions whatsoever, led by the proposed plant at Kingsnorth in Kent. This was regarded as such a terrible example to set that the world's leading climate scientist, James Hansen of Nasa in the US, wrote to Gordon Brown protesting about it.

What many Greens will not know is that this very nearly did come about, and that 18 months ago John Hutton, then Business Secretary, came very close to giving Kingsnorth the go-ahead "unabated". That policy has been reversed by an inspired change in the machinery of Government – taking energy policy out of the Business and Enterprise department and merging it with climate policy in a new Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The creation of DECC, championed in Whitehall by No 10's environmental adviser, Michael Jacobs, meant that the man responsible for new power stations was also the man responsible for global warming and could not promote the first while ignoring the second. That this man was Ed Miliband, firmly convinced of the need for radical action on climate change, has produced something not often seen in Government – a true policy revolution.