“The government is coasting on climate change”. That is the characteristically combative assessment from Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh when faced with the government’s response to the Committee’s recent report on green finance. Many green business leaders and campaigners would privately concur, as grumbling over the government’s self-confessed ‘policy gap’ between current measures and what is required to meet medium term carbon budgets grows in volume. Ministers may have won deserved plaudits for last year’s Clean Growth Strategy and its commitment to making decarbonisation a key part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy, but patience is starting to wear thin over the failure to fast track many of the new policies and investments that have been promised over the past 12 months. However, is such criticism fair, especially when the same government only last week reported record levels of renewables and low carbon power in the UK’s electricity mix, alongside record low energy consumption and confirmation of a new wave of financial support for renewables mega-projects? The UK may have an internationally impressive decarbonisation record, but it is still easy to construct a case for the prosecution. As Creagh notes, the country has made “progress in clean energy over the last decade, but there has been an alarming collapse in investment in the last year”. Specifically, figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) revealed UK clean energy investment fell 56 per cent in 2017, as controversial reforms to onshore wind, solar, and microgeneration subsidies, as well as cuts to energy efficiency funding, took effect. The government’s response today seeks to downplay concerns about an investment slowdown, arguing that “investments are cyclical in nature and figures are distorted by the movements of individual large projects”. It adds that “investment figures also do not show the whole picture as we are getting more for less: as costs of renewables come down, it costs less to deliver the same or more power generation”. Rejection of the EAC’s calls for a new delivery plan to urgently close the decarbonisation policy gap, coupled with the gnawing sense that the government is struggling to prioritise anything beyond its Brexit in-tray, will only fuel fears this huge global opportunity is not being fast-tracked. The challenge for the government is that with clean energy investment having fallen so sharply, the clock ticking on the UK’s decarbonisation targets, and so many new policies in the TBC column, the next wave of measures will have to be genuinely ambitious if accusations of complacency aren’t going to stick.
Business Green 30th July 2018 read more »