With so much going on in the last few months, you might be forgiven for thinking that the renewables agenda has gone completely off the boil in the UK. Much has been said about the possible effects of a Brexit on trade and immigration, but nothing much, to date, has been mentioned about our climate change obligations. There are some that believe exiting from Europe could have profound consequences that will set us back a lot more than the recent slashing of Feed in Tariffs by the current UK government.
According to several sources, David Cameron and company are intentionally dragging their feet on the fifth carbon budget which is due to be settled in the next month or so. There are those believe that it should be kicked into the long grass and the Prime Minister doesn’t want to upset the cart before the vote at the end of June. If we wait until after the EU referendum and Britain votes to leave, it could mean a massive U-turn is on the cards.
What is the Fifth Carbon Budget?
This month, 20 Tory MPs wrote a letter to the Prime Minister imploring him to accept the fifth carbon budget and push it through. Currently, our targets for reducing carbon emissions are tied up closely to our membership of the EU and what was agreed at the last climate summit. The chair of the environmental audit select committee said recently that exiting the EU could leave a ‘policy vacuum’ when it comes to Britain’s role in saving the planet. Mary Creagh added:
“The overwhelming evidence is that EU membership has improved the UK’s approach to the environment and ensured that the UK’s environment has been better protected.”
The fifth carbon budget stipulates that emissions need to fall by 57% below the levels seen in 1990 and this has to be achieved by 2032. This is the amount that is needed if we want to reduce our total emissions by 80% by 2050, something which the 20 Tory backbenchers want to see as soon as possible because it will generate certainty in the market and create investment.
Withdrawal from the EU, without having the budget passed beforehand, could see some old war horses who are against the climate change agenda having more say because Britain would then be in control of its own destiny. Among these is Lord Lawson, a noted climate change sceptic who has long disagreed with the government policy in this area. Exit could embolden Lawson and others to challenge the current thinking when it comes to growth of the renewables industry and other factors such as fracking. The carbon budget could be discarded or at least greatly diminished.
Understandably, Green activists and pro-green politicians are keen that the carbon budget is accepted in full and as quickly as possible. There are those who say the budget doesn’t go nearly as far as it should and that the Prime Minster needs to be putting together brave new strategies concerning low carbon transportation and attracting investment that can help build our green infrastructure.
According to the Economist recently, it’s no surprise that many Brexit campaigners are also climate sceptics, including John Redwood and UKIP MP Donald Carsewell. This could be because many Brexit enthusiasts equate climate change with overbearing regulation that has its origin in Brussels or it could be because they believe that climate change scientists are reliant on the EU for grants that help perpetuate the climate change myth. Either way, Brexit could be a pivotal point for those who believe we need a much cleaner Britain.
While the news has in recent weeks been diverted by issues such as the EU Referendum and spurious arguments over anti-Semitism in the Labour party, some are concerned that the question of the fifth carbon budget is going to get pushed onto the backburner until it is far too late. That could leave David Cameron open to judicial review under the terms of the climate change act but it simply may not be possible until the small issue of the EU referendum has played out.