In 2009 the Conservatives were waving the flag for green energy. They attacked the Labour government for failing to decarbonise fast enough, George Osborne criticised Alistair Darling for not giving even a single major speech on the environment in two years, and when in 2010 the coalition came to power, we as a people were promised the “greenest government ever”. Fast forward to the present, summer 2013, and the Conservatives have turned into what one Guardian writer called “gas craved frack evangelists”. So what has happened?
An immediate answer seems to be that the government don’t see decarbonisation as being as important as economic recovery, or in any way connected. Evidence for this can be seen in the 2010 budget, where there was no mention of renewable energy and financial incentives for individuals to make their homes more energy efficient. In fact, George Osborne reassured supporters at the 2011 Conservative party conference that Britain would not lead Europe on reducing carbon emissions.
The continued support, without reservation, for unsustainable energy continued in late 2011, resulting in gas plants being given permission to operate without capture and storage capabilities for an extra 10 years. The WWF and other green activist groups argued that this movement was indicative of the treasury overpowering the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
What is more concerning is that the UK government don’t seem to value the potential of renewables to stimulate or even merely support economic growth. It is understandable that the government believes the UK is not ready to become solely dependent on renewables. However it is the responsibility of the government to think with longevity in mind, to consider what the best bridging fuel is, which is said, for the time being, to be gas. This is a critical period where the message needs to be that we make, as a nation, the responsible transition from coal to gas, whilst accelerating investment in renewables. If we over commit to gas, people may stop investing in solar and wind. It is a delicate balance and the way forward is not straightforward, but putting all of your faith in fracking is certainly not the answer, and is wholly irresponsible.
The most concerning message to come out of this government, and one that is clearly evident in their support for fracking, is that the Conservative party at this moment seem motivated by only one target, which is not the target of reducing its carbon footprint. They are obsessed with securing their own re-election, and place higher priority on their own preservation than that of our environment. A low-carbon future can only be worked towards if it is placed at the centre of party agenda. If it is pushed aside, to the fringes, it will be one of the first to be cut when budgets are tightened. In recent weeks the public protest in opposition to fracking has been far greater, thank god, than the government has expected, and this is the perfect opportunity for the government to take a step back and re-evaluate their position. They will of course fear being seen as weak and indecisive, however I am sure the UK population would rather this than a government who don’t listen. And what it comes down to is whether they want to appease us, the people, or the parties interested in the extraction of shale gas.
This is a guest article from Alex Vasili.
Alex writes on all green agenda issues and works with The Eco Experts