The Independent reports this morning that pro-green Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs are considering a rebel amendment to the Energy Bill to create a target to decarbonise the power sector by 2030. The policy is critical to reducing carbon emissions and energy bills in the long run and creating jobs and growth.
Last week, Ed Davey revealed the details of the Government’s much anticipated Energy Bill which will be introduced to Parliament today. In exchange for an extremely positive and welcome outcome for the renewable sector up to 2020, Davey lost his battle to include a 2030 decarbonisation target in the bill in the face of opposition from George Osborne.
At Lib Dem conference in September, Ed Davey said “there’s a strong case for a carbon limit for Britain’s energy grid for 2030 as I hope you will back tomorrow.” A motion sponsored by Osborne’s Treasury colleague, Danny Alexander, in support of a 2030 target was and ‘overwhelmingly’ supported by the Lib Dem grassroots the following day.
They were not alone. Both the parliamentary Energy and Climate Change select committee and the advisory Committee on Climate Change endorsed the target. Four separate round robin letters from businesses including Alstom, Asda, Biffa, EDF, Eurostar, Heathrow Airport, Kingfisher, Marks and Spencer, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, Siemens, Sky, and Unilever were published in national newspapers. Trade associations, environment and development charities, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and faith groups joined the call. Last week, Ed Miliband reiterated Labour’s support of a target.
The arguments in favour are profound. According to the select committee it would “deliver the most cost effective route to meeting our 2050 climate change targets”. As Green Alliance have outlined, without a 2030 target there is little medium term certainty for domestic firms in the supply chain for renewables. This means that much of the new investment for offshore wind will leak overseas.
Next Wednesday we will find more details about George Osborne’s gas strategy but, without a 2030 target, it is likely to condemn the UK to reliance on polluting, imported gas for years to come. As well as the devastating impact on the environment it leaves consumers at the mercy of the volatile international gas price which led to two-thirds of the increase in energy bills from 2004 to 2010. Domestic jobs and growth will also be foregone as the short-term boom in renewable energy peters out in the 2020s.
To rescue this situation, backbench Lib Dems and pro-green Tories should club together with Labour to amend the Energy Bill. 41 rebels are needed to defeat the Government. Excluding the 19 Lib Dem MPs on the Government payroll means that the Lib Dems alone fall short with just 38 backbenchers. But with support from Tories like select committee boss Tim Yeo, sacked energy minister Charles Hendry, Laura Sandys who has a large wind farm off the shore of her Kent constituency, and ecologist Zac Goldsmith could help tip the balance. In the Lords, the task is made easier since the Tories only have 212 out of 760 peers and some among their number, like Lord Deben, are outspoken supporters of a 2030 target.
Ed Davey has played an important role in securing significant investment for renewables up to 2020. But without a 2030 target, industry does not have the certainty it needs to create jobs in the long term and Britain is likely to fall off track in decarbonising the economy. A new cross-party consensus is now needed.
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* Will Straw is Associate Director at IPPR