At last week's G8 meeting, the leaders of the world's wealthiest economies pledged to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by the middle of the century. But they neglected to provide any detail of how that ambitious target is to be achieved. So we should be pleased that at least part of the route map is likely to be provided this week when our government publishes its renewable energy strategy.
We are told that this will include provisions allowing households which generate surplus renewable energy for their own needs to sell it on to the national grid. This would be a step forward. Such "feed-in tariffs" have played a significant role in encouraging the domestic renewables sector in Germany, a country far ahead of Britain when it comes to zero-carbon energy production. The expected measures to boost industrial-scale UK wind-power generation should also be welcome. A windy island such as Britain has a huge renewable energy resource on its doorstep waiting to be tapped.
We shall, of course, have to wait until we see the detail to learn precisely how ambitious this strategy is. But the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband gave cause for optimism about the Government's seriousness yesterday when he spoke of "upward pressure on energy prices" and remarked that "the price of flying will go up over time". The threat of climate change, he argued, necessitates "big changes in people's lives". It is rare to hear a government minister talking about the costs that responding to global warming will impose on people's pockets and the lifestyle changes it will demand of them. In the past, politicians have been reluctant to spell out these costs for fear of alienating the electorate. They have attempted to present the measures needed as pain-free.
Mr Miliband is right to adopt a more candid approach, spelling out the long-term benefits, as well as the short-term costs. Unless the public are ready for the impact entailed in programmes such as subsidies for renewables and taxes on carbon emissions, public support for those programmes is at risk of dissipating when they are implemented. When it comes to climate change, honesty is, in every sense, the best policy.