Rewind the clock six years and David Cameron and George Osborne were the golden boys of the green movement. Ever since, Cameron has made no secret that his commitments in opposition were hyperbole.
Yet watching him in front of the liaison committee in January it was hard to tell whether (as Footprint’s associate editor, Nick Hughes, suggested to me) he genuinely doesn’t understand the impact of his policies on renewables or he’s lying through his teeth. The prime minister (clearly flustered in the face of questioning by the likeable and knowledgeable Huw Irranca-Davies) said that claims the government was backsliding on its green commitments were “total and utter nonsense”. He cited research by the international Green Group suggesting that Britain is “second best in the world after Denmark” on climate change commitments. Actually, the UK is fifth, with Denmark fourth. “As in all past editions, places 1 to 3 are empty because, again, no country has done enough to prevent the dangerous impacts of climate change,” the report noted. The UK has, in Cameron’s defence, moved up one place, from sixth overall. And expansion of renewable energies actually resulted in a leap of 12 places in that category. But the report’s author, Wendel Trio, isn’t sure how long the UK’s heady position will last.
“While advocating for strong greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in international climate negotiations, the UK government seems to be unable to face the fact that in order to phase out fossil fuels some important steps need to be made,” Trio, the director of CAN Europe, told the BBC. “It is good that the UK supports the phase out of coal. If the UK government refuses to opt for clean solutions, then it risks putting its good ranking in danger,” he added. Cameron is undoubtedly relying on past improvements to keep the wolves at bay. It was interesting how many of the past successes he referred to at last month’s hearing were under the coalition government. Since being freed from the shackles of a coalition partner, Cameron and Osborne have scrapped or scaled back more than a dozen separate climate policies, including swingeing cuts in the solar and onshore wind incentive schemes. This has raised concerns that the UK won’t meet future mandatory EU targets on renewables and emissions.
Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, last month said she was committed to meeting the targets, but has kept her master plan under wraps so far. With last year now officially the warmest on record, it can’t be long before she starts to feel the heat. As for Cameron? He’ll stay safely in the shadows reminiscing about the past. Whether that’s stupid or dishonest, you can make up your own minds.
David Burrows is editor of Footprint magazine