The coalition agreement: energy and climate change

Welcome to the seventh in a series of posts going through the full coalition agreement section by section. You can read the full coalition document here.

The ultra-quick summary of this section: a long list of Liberal Democrat policies – and then a bit about nuclear.

The longer version is that however questionable the Conservative Party’s commitment to green issues looked at times before polling day (particularly when Conservative Party conference was expressing its opposition to green taxes), out of the negotiations has come a firm commitment from the Conservatives to back a long, long list of green measures. Many of these, even on an optimistic interpretation of the Conservative Party’s record, would not have been passed by a Conservative majority government with a Conservative – rather than a Liberal Democrat – Cabinet minister in charge.

It’s why, to me, this section strongly illustrates how negotiating coalition wasn’t about abandoning principles, it was about sticking to our principles. You see, I really believe the stuff about caring for our environment being central to our approach as a party. And I really believe the stuff about the urgency for action.

Saying “Tories? Yuk!” and preferring instead to have a government with a worse green record wouldn’t have been about sticking to principles; it would have been about selling them out in the name of narrow-minded political tribalism.

So what is all this green goodness? Well, it includes pushing for the EU emission reduction target to be increased to 30%, increasing the target for renewable energy in the UK, establishing a smart grid, creating a green investment bank, encouraging marine energy, cancelling the third runway at Heathrow, replacing Air Passenger Duty with a per-flight duty (so encouraging fuller planes and less pollution), cutting central government carbon emissions by 10% within 12 months, encouraging community-owned renewable energy schemes and working for a global climate deal. Not to mention the many day to day decisions which will be made by Chris Huhne.

As for nuclear, the agreement at heart says that new nuclear power stations will not receive any form of public subsidy but otherwise can go ahead, subject to the normal planning process for major projects (under a new National Planning Statement). Liberal Democrat MPs can abstain on the key vote in Parliament.

In other words, this deal is very similar to that over Trident; if the financial case for a straight Trident replacement/nuclear really doesn’t stack up (in the way many campaigners have claimed in the past) then it won’t happen. But if those campaigners are wrong and the finances do stack up, they will go ahead.

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  • Andrew Suffield 27th May '10 - 3:18pm

    What are the radical steps needed to inhibit global warming? Do you even know? Does anybody?

    There is a point to this question. Research has got to the point of establishing the presence of global warming, and identifying some of the causes. But on the question of “what can we do about it?”, things are a lot more shaky. There’s this assumption in the scientifically-illiterate green lobby that reducing emissions will solve all our problems – but there’s no firm scientific basis for assuming that will be sufficient.

    I’m less fussed about nuclear power and more interested in what this government’s position will be on coal power. Nuclear power plants generate quite low amounts of waste compared to the vast quantities of pollution spewed out by the UKs aging and obsolete coal plants.

    A significant point in the Lib Dem manifesto was getting rid of all those, and ensuring that any new coal burners use modern technology that is much cleaner (albeit a bit more expensive).

  • Paul McKeown 27th May '10 - 3:44pm

    I am very encouraged by this and wish Chris Huhne fair-weather as he pushes this agenda through.

    Climate change is the greatest issue facing us at this point in history; it is on the basis of how we react to this challenge that future generations will judge our own. I am pleased that the Conservatives have kept a commitment to nuclear energy on the program of government, I have never understood how we ever seriously thought we could manage the changeover to a zero carbon economy without it.

    I remember how I first developed an antipathy to Labour – my dislike of the Conservatives having been formed earlier whilst watching desperate men and women fighting for their jobs being trampled underfoot by horse-born constabulary – during the mid and late 1980’s when Labour politicians and activists were vehemently denying the science of climate change, seeing it as a plot to deny those engaged in polluting industries of their livelihoods. But I almost despaired when green beardies up and down the country attacked the facts of climate change, too, as they saw in it some Thatcherite scheme to promote nuclear energy.

    Times have now changed and all the major political parties (apart from UKIP and the DUP) are seized of the importance of dealing with this ever more threatening phenomenon. However, there is considerable public disbelieve, still, about the subject, fed by the lack of any credible sources of popular scientific journalism, and a (perhaps justified) worry that Green taxes are just yet another revenue raising tax. The backwoodsmen in the Conservative party have terrifying views on the subject, there’s hardly a scientifically educated man or woman amongst them and they are almost universally more interested on the impact green legislation might have on their extensive share portfolios and the price of an (Imperial) gallon of petroleum spirit than willing to spare a thought for the world that their grandchildren will inherit.

    Chris Huhne has the most difficult job of all our men and women with ministerial portfolios. I hope the party gives him all the support he is due.

  • Andrew Wimble 27th May '10 - 3:45pm

    I am very pleased with the list of Environmental Policies. While it may not go quite as far as I would like in some areas it seems a good set of policies to start setting a lead in Environmental action.

    As far as Nuclear power goes, I have never personally been against it in principle. My concern has only been that expensive Nuclear projects could pull cash away from energy conservation and alternative energy projects where it could be used more effectively. As the agreement states that Nuclear power will not be receiving any public money I do not see this happening

  • Call me cynical, but when decommissioning costs and the costs of processing/storing nuclear waste are taken into account there is no possibility that private capital could ever see a return on investment in nuclear power, so the fact that LibDem MPs have got an opt-out of voting for new power stations seems to me to be pretty clear proof that there is a fudge that will allow a ‘liberal’ interpretation of what is meant by a public subsidy and that a new generation of nuclear power stations will be built.

  • Andrew Suffield 27th May '10 - 7:45pm

    Call me cynical, but when decommissioning costs and the costs of processing/storing nuclear waste are taken into account there is no possibility that private capital could ever see a return on investment in nuclear power

    That depends on whether or not they have to compete against pollution-spewing coal and oil burners who pay none of the costs of their emissions. When stacked up against coal and oil power that has to meet the same waste management standards as nuclear power, it’s actually quite promising, because the nuclear option has a far smaller volume of waste to handle. Exactly which way is cheaper and safer is close enough to be difficult to call.

    (We’re going to get higher energy costs over the next couple of decades, and they aren’t going to come down again. This has always been inevitable. It’s going to result in a certain amount of economic realignment as people stop thinking of electricity as being cheap)

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