The Independent View: half of Lib Dems say protecting environment should be more of a priority

The Guardian reported last week that Chris Huhne is having to do battle with the Treasury on a number of policy fronts to save his department from drastic cuts, including to clean energy budgets. According to the newspaper, “When all government departments were asked to model the effect of 40% cuts over the summer, officials at Decc told ministers that cuts of that level to its £3.2bn budget would make it unable to stand alone as a viable entity.”

A Yougov poll, commissioned by Greenpeace, and published here exclusively on Lib Dem Voice, shows that Chris Huhne has his party’s support in his battle with the Treasury.

The key poll findings are that:

50% of Lib Dem members believe that “the coalition’s efforts to protect the environment should be more of a priority for the government”

52% of Lib Dem members believe that the coalition should “safeguard clean energy budgets from spending cuts” with another 25% saying the government should actually “increase clean energy budgets”

Chris Huhne’s department has already begun cutting budgets aimed at supporting low-carbon technologies and greening business – but the Treasury want much greater cuts. This runs directly contrary to the advice of the Committee on Climate Change, the government’s independent advisers on how to hit carbon targets, who advised that these clean energy budgets were already at a minimal level and should only be increased if the UK is to meet it’s Climate Act targets. The proposed cuts have already prompted companies like Siemens to threaten to pull out of their proposed investments in new wind turbine factories here. Whilst Huhne was widely applauded early on for his call for Europe to raise its overall climate ambition, without the necessary investment even the UK’s existing carbon target will be impossible to meet.

Putting aside the cuts to climate and energy budgets, green campaigners have already been very critical of the coalition’s apparent u-turns on some key pre-election pledges. For example, it was confirmed last week that the pledge to tackle illegal logging has been dropped, as has a key measure to encourage green energy pioneers. But perhaps most totemic, climate campaigners have been infuriated by the coalitions’ decision not to include new emissions performance standards to limit pollution levels from new power stations in this year’s new energy law. The introduction of such measures to clean up the power sector was, along with the third runway pledge, the most important pre-election green promise of both David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

The new Labour leader, Ed Miliband, sees climate and energy policy as an area where the government can be outflanked. Known for his efforts in Copenhagen and in establishing Britain’s ‘low carbon transition plan,’ the former Climate Secretary published ten tests for the new Chris Huhne during his campaign, but David Miliband too tellingly wrote an attack piece highlighting uncertainties around financial support for new green industries and green jobs, and calling for a moratorium on deep-sea oil drilling in UK waters following the accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

Chris Huhne has ruled out a moratorium on deep-sea oil drilling off Scotland, despite calls from Europe’s Energy chief for him to follow Obama’s lead in this area and wait for the investigations into the BP blow out to conclude. But the Yougov/Greenpeace poll shows more than double the number of Lib Dem members would support a temporary halt on deep-sea drilling as would oppose it. Despite this The Guardian reported that the UK has been caught watering down proposed new international scrutiny on oil drilling, and blocking German government proposals for a moratorium on the most dangerous deep sea drilling.

The coalition insists it will be the ‘greenest government in history,’ and Chris Huhne recently gave a very strong speech reaffirming his commitment to building a cleaner economy, but as Yougov’s poll shows, Lib Dem members are already concerned that the coalition isn’t going enough to avert climate change.

Joss Garman works on the climate campaign for Greenpeace UK. He blogs on climate and energy in a personal capacity for leftfootforward.org and is @jossgarman on twitter

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9 Comments

  • Climate changes is one of the most serious problems facing us and IMHO its budget should be being increased not cut.

  • Joss Garman 27th Sep '10 - 3:37pm

    @ Jonathan da Silva

    I mention the Milibands words because its clear from their campaigns that they’ve both identified this area of policy as an area where they would try and outflank the coalition.

    Siemens warning of pulling investment does deserve ‘serious mention’ because their plan is exactly the sort to create new jobs and new industry – a building block of the new cleaner economy Lib Dem leaders say they want to support. If bad policy means they’ll leave, that has serious implications for both economy and environment.

  • Patrick Smith 27th Sep '10 - 4:40pm

    There has to be strong investment into the alternative solar,wind,sea wave and tidal water energy off -shore turbine factories and clearly Siemens are critical to the proposed plans to increase the ratio of `green energies’.

    If the argument to create more independent sources of `Green Energies’ makes any sense than `Coalition Government’ Energy Environment policy must stimulate commensuate Green Investment Banking and loans activity to Green Technology firms.This will be required to improve upon the existing 3% level of alternative fuel production in the UK.

    Improved sea and river defences to protect households located on `flood tables’ will also give confidence to those threatened when winter storm floods strike.

    The research in `Saving the Bumblebee’ centred on bio diversity is very important for the `Coalition Government’ to support and proclaim.

    It is related to the understnding of a fractured `Climate Change’ eco-system, to discover the unknown causes in nature or pollutants, that accounts for the loss of over one third of pollinating bee colonies, each summer.

    Bees are the main threatened insect pollinators and stable bee populations necessary to secure and maintain and increase, as the next generations of pollinators, to provide cultivated farm crops and wild plants and sustain the food chain in the agr-environment and on our local supermarket shelves.

  • Paul McKeown 27th Sep '10 - 6:34pm

    I have this horrible suspicion that Chris Huhne is not going to deliver. My greatest priority in voting is the issue of climate change – the Lib Dems have always talked the talk, now is the time to walk the walk or walk the plank. Which is it to be?

  • My fear is the same, Paul M. I fear that our top team, combined with Tories, with the perceived financial imperatives, combined with low public priority in this country at present will conspire to push urgency on climate change off the table. What can we do?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 28th Sep '10 - 12:58am

    “What can we do?”

    If you can work anything out, for God’s sake let us know.

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