It’s hard to believe, but more than a year has passed since Ed Davey stepped into Chris Huhne’s shoes at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Ed has spent much of that time fighting George Osborne and the Treasury to ensure that the Energy Bill – a once-in-a-generation opportunity to direct £110bn of investment towards a clean energy future – achieves its stated aims: cut carbon, secure our electricity supply, and rein in household fuel bills.
These are the aims of Liberal Democrats everywhere, and credit must be given to Ed for the vigour with he has pursued them. Credit too is due for his parallel achievements of securing £7.6bn for renewables to 2020 (a tripling of support), standing firm against George Osborne’s attempt to bring the wind industry to its knees, and getting the Green Deal off the ground. Not bad for year one.
But for all this, the defining test of the coalition Government’s stated aim to be the “greenest ever” lies in the Energy Bill. Osborne’s ‘Gas Strategy’ for 40 new gas power stations would pull the rug from under the Climate Change Act, but in contrast a decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill would set the conditions for a raft of clean energy investment, keeping us on course to meet our legally binding carbon targets.
The Committee on Climate Change’s letter to Ed on 25 February could not have been clearer: a decarbonisation target, set in 2014, is needed to drive the investment needed to help meet UK Climate Change Act targets. They are also clear that this is the most cost-effective way to deliver on our climate change goals.
More than 100 businesses and organisations – including Siemens, Vestas, ASDA, the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, the Women’s Institute and the Church of England – agree.
Ed has spoken candidly of his desire to include a target, but the Government’s own amendments do nothing to bring it any closer. In fact as things stand, the only certainty is that no target can be set before 2016. There’s no obligation to set one at that point, nor for it to be based on CCC advice.
We can do better than that.
That’s why I’ve added my name to Tim Yeo’s Energy Bill amendments. Tim’s amendments echo the advice of the CCC, and are precisely in line with Liberal Democrat policy.
Seven Liberal Democrat colleagues have joined me in signing the amendment, while others have backed an EDM. Lib Dem president Tim Farron is supportive, and an emergency motion tabled at Spring Conference only narrowly missed being selected for debate. Even three Conservatives have signed up, with more waiting in the wings and ex-Energy Minister Charles Hendry understood to be supportive.
The momentum behind a decarbonisation target is palpable. Under questioning in committee, Ed said that the “vast majority” of businesses want one. He couldn’t name one company that opposes it.
Setting a target now, in the Bill, in line with CCC advice would be a profoundly sensible, necessary and Liberal Democrat act. It would boost jobs and growth in all our constituencies, and get us off the crippling gas hook that’s sending fuel bills through the roof.
I urge colleagues to add their name to Tim Yeo’s amendments and to vote in favour of them when the Bill comes back to the commons at report stage.