A majority Conservative government does not bode well for the future of the environment. David Cameron went from hugging huskies in the 2010 election campaign to “cutting the green crap” from energy bills. Neither the ‘Green surge’, nor Labour being led by a former climate change minister put climate change at the centre of public debate.
However, the world is not on track to keep below 2 degrees Celsius: ‘safe’ warming and the scale of the problem only worsens the longer it is left. One of the biggest talks on climate change will take place in Paris this November so climate change needs to be taken seriously early on in this parliament.
According to the independent Committee on Climate Change the cost of delaying climate change action is over £100bn so it is urgent, even for economic reasons, that the government puts strong policies in place to deal with climate change as soon as possible.
Action to help mitigate climate change is also necessary to help the 19% of the population who suffer from fuel poverty. Ed Matthew, director of campaign group Energy Bill Revolution claims that 1000s die unnecessarily every year because of poorly heated homes. The Conservatives promised to insulate 1 million more homes but only committed themselves to ‘low-cost’ energy efficiency measures. According to one Yougov poll 68% of the population support energy nationalisation.
This means the new government will have a lot of catching up to do to get the UK on track to meet its EU target for 15% of UK energy demand to be met with renewables by 2020. Although 68% of the UK public support wind farms, the Conservatives stated in their manifesto that they will not subsidise any more on shore wind farms if they are elected. This suggests that the Conservative Party counted on their appeal to “NIMBYs” who oppose wind farms in their areas.
The coalition have a poor record for a government that claimed to be the “greenest ever”. Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has pulled in applications for 50 wind farms and rejected 17 projects despite five being approved by independent advisors. It also scrapped the Infrastructure Planning commission that was set up to allow nationally significant projects, such as renewable energy development, to receive planning permission more quickly.
The UK subsidises the oil and gas industry between $543 and $1,174 million annually through tax exemptions for exploration and extraction. This seems unlikely to change considering that the Conservatives receive £2.5m in donations from energy companies. The European Commission has taken the UK to court over some of its fossil fuel subsidies. The Capacity Market has been challenged on the grounds that it violates state aid rules by prioritising fossil fuel electricity generation over cheaper and more reliable demand-side options.
The situation would worsen if the UK left the EU in 2017. The UK has been taken to court by the European Commission for failing to deal with the Aberthaw coal power station just outside Barry that emits 1300mg of nitrous oxide per metre cubed – more than double the legal limit of 500mg. Nitrous oxide causes acid rain and health problems. The UK’s coal stations are thought to be responsible for 1600 premature deaths in the UK. The Conservatives intend to continue investing in North Sea oil and gas.
The Conservative’s claim in their manifesto that they are proud that their tax cuts have led to the birth of a new industry – fracking. Fracking is widely opposed because finding new sources of fossil fuels are not what is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Fracking is also thought to contaminate water supplies.
Most of the Conservative’s ‘plan of action’ on energy and the environment in their manifesto was nothing of the kind: it was in fact a self-congratulatory list of things they had already done. They were proud to have signed a deal to build the first nuclear plant in a generation despite the risk of nuclear accidents and the difficulties with dealing with nuclear waste.
Nuclear power stations are also potential targets for terrorist attacks. The Bush administration claimed they had found diagrams of American nuclear power plants in al-Qaeda materials in Afghanistan.
In the Conservative party’s defence they have committed £1bn to carbon capture and storage.