Former government science adviser accuses Cameron over climate changeUnited Kingdom
The coalition’s claim to be the “greenest government ever” has so far been empty rhetoric with little sign of positive action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and several “backwards steps”, according to a former government Chief Scientific Adviser.
In an interview with The Times, Sir David King accused David Cameron of failing to set out specific measures that would support his pledge to make climate change a priority.
He condemned the Government’s decision to scrap the Sustainable Development Commission and said there were worrying signs that it would cut support for the solar power industry and abandon projects to capture the carbon emissions from power stations.
He said the Treasury was being allowed to revert to its traditional scepticism about the risks posed by climate change. It was failing to support efforts to build the £200 billion of new low-carbon energy infrastructure Britain needed by 2020 to meet its emissions targets.
“After 100 days, I have yet to see a speech from the Prime Minister setting out what was meant by the pledge to be the greenest government ever,” Sir David said.
“I have not seen a sign that the government is grasping the nettle and I am worried it will be empty rhetoric. We could leave a big headache for future years.”
Sir David, who left government two years ago to become director of Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, said Mr Cameron needed to instruct the Treasury to work closely with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to develop regulations to support a new green economy.
“My biggest concern is around the tension between the Treasury and DECC,” he said. “I think there is a strong level of scepticism within the Treasury. It is very reluctant to break away from the free market system and just stands back rather than managing the problem.” He said the Treasury was dominated by “free marketers who tend to feel that the market system will deal with any problems and you don’t need to regulate.
“But the market needs good progressive regulation. You would think after the global debt crisis that there would be a little more modesty in the Treasury about relying on the market.”
Sir David, who once warned that climate change was “more serious even than the threat of terrorism”, said there was a risk that the emerging solar power industry would be destroyed by a reduction in the feed-in tariff, under which those who install panels receive a guaranteed price for each unit of electricity generated.
The Treasury is understood to believe solar power is too expensive and has instructed the DECC to review the scheme, which was introduced in April.
Sir David said: “It would really be a backward step if the feed-in tariff was reduced to a level where investment in solar power would no longer be viable.”
He said the closure of the Sustainable Development Commission meant the public had lost the independent body which monitored energy efficiency within government.
He also expressed concern over reports that the government was planning to abandon a proposal to build a tidal barrage across the Severn estuary, which he said could provide as much low-carbon energy as three nuclear power stations.
“Much of the coalition’s energy policy remains a mystery. There are already signs that the coalition could shelve the proposed carbon capture and storage demonstration in the spending review and no indication as yet that it intends to push industry to act instead.”
On the proposals to begin replacing Britain’s ageing fleet of nuclear power stations, he said the government had so far failed to set out clearly how it would encourage the energy industry to make the investment.
He said the one positive sign was the confirmation last month by Chris Huhne, the energy and climate change secretary, that the Government would go ahead with a “green deal” under which homeowners would be encouraged to take out loans to improve energy efficiency.
“But,” he added, “if at the same time as introducing the green deal the feed-in tariff is not secured then overall that would be negative.”
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