We should perhaps be grateful for small mercies. During most of its time in office the Conservative Government has placed environmental policy in the hands of people who tried to deny the realities of climate change. Under Theresa May they have finally caught up with the science. Now they say that they fully accept the reality of humanity’s impact on the climate and have produced a glossy document called the Clean Growth Strategy to prove it. Greg Clarke proudly tells us that:
“The move to cleaner economic growth is one of the greatest industrial opportunities of our time. This Strategy will ensure Britain is ready to seize that opportunity.”
The first sentence could not be more true. The second could not be a bigger deception. As soon as I took the trouble to actually read the document it was quickly obvious how pathetic the actions are. A few examples should illustrate the point.
- The government is now pledged to invest in a clean technology via an early stage investment fund. Which makes huge sense because there is a real need to take the research coming out of UK Universities and turn it into world beating products that help overcome our environmental crisis. So how much are they planning to invest? Turns out it is £20million. Just enough for a Ministerial sound bite. Pathetic in comparison to the scale of the need or the opportunities
- The government intends to act to get business to adopt new and cleaner technologies. Again great. Then you discover exactly how they intend to do this. They will be: “Exploring how voluntary building standards can support improvements in the energy efficiency performance of business buildings, and how we can improve the provision of information and advice on energy efficiency to SMEs.” In other words there will be nothing done to force outdated companies to act – there will simply be another new voluntary code of practice. Not much use when the good companies are already forging ahead and doing things and don’t need guidance but the bad companies are dragging their feet.
- The document commits to putting what sounds like serious amounts of money behind energy efficiency in the home. There is £3.6 billion for this. Only one small problem. The money comes out of the pockets of consumers via the privatised energy companies passing on the bill. This has the obvious impact of making green energy policies very unpopular and leaving the government to smugly claim it isn’t their fault and it has capped bills for those on the most expensive rates. Whilst overall bills go through the roof. Oh and of course the money is for 10 years so it isn’t as impressive as it sounds. The actual expenditure of government on subsidising consumers to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings will be – wait for it - £10 million. Which I calculate at somewhere around 20p per home or office.
- The government will end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. An excellent policy. Kicked far enough into the future to mean that it costs nothing now but sounds purposeful. To be fair one billion pounds is to be spent over an unspecified period in encouraging the takeup of electric and low emission vehicles. The sum is enough to buy 100,000 cars. Imagine the number of cars currently on the road, the scale of the need for energy charging points, the lorry firms needing to re-equip, the petrol stations to transform and the work needed to help domestic customers get their vehicles charged at home and you quickly realise the gap between nice words and the necessary ambition.
- Significant amounts of public funding are to be put into innovation. This includes some genuinely sensible plans around improving battery technology, energy storage and windfarm technology. Unfortunately the government passed a law that makes new onshore windfarms a thing of the past and most of the innovation money is being poured into the black hole of the nuclear vanity project of Hinkley Point. Clunky out of date nuclear energy gets £600 million whilst smart storage systems get £260 million. Oh and the government is over-ruling local councils who try to prevent it happening in their area and watching calmly whilst 80 year old fracking protestors get arrested.
- The country will achieve “zero avoidable waste”. Sadly what counts as unavoidable waste is not explained. Even more sadly the date when they aim to achieve this wishy washy target is 2050. Leisurely progress over 33 years towards a woolly and ill-defined objective is not my idea of urgent action
So to be fair I must admit that I really liked some of the noises they were making about future agricultural subsidies. Apparently:
“we will take the opportunity of leaving the Common Agricultural Policy to address climate change more directly by designing a new system to support the future of farming and the countryside, with a strong focus on delivering better environmental outcomes, including tackling climate change”
Furthermore there will be a new network of forests and 11 million new trees”.
All of which is pretty close to what I was calling for in my last blog. If we do end up leaving the EU then at least lets improve environmental policies not dump them.
I wish I could believe it would happen. But over the years I have learned to look hard at politician’s self interest and at their past track record before I place my confidence in them actually delivering on a promise. There are a lot of large landowners contributing a lot of money to the Conservative Party. I wait with interest to see how they react if their EU subsidies are removed and they are targeted instead on small farmers using environmentally sensitive farming methods such as replanting trees and hedgerows. I rather suspect we’ll see large payments being made to a few very rich farmers to do easy and profitable things like covering green fields with solar panels whilst neglected urban areas remain blighted and free of investment to transform.
Put simply if there is such a dramatic gap between the sales pitch for their Clean Growth Strategy and the reality of their actions how can we possibly trust them to deliver on fine words about what will happen post Brexit. We’ve all heard rather a lot of fine words about that and are still waiting to see any signs of the fine reality.
One final observation on this vitally important document is that it does contain some very interesting facts. For example it tells us that China is to invest $360 billion in low carbon power by 2020. YES! In three years an economy not massively bigger than ours will invest more on one area of environmental change than we are planning for the whole of our long term strategy across all policy areas.
That is how badly our government under-estimates the challenge and the opportunities.