UK-India climate change deal laden with hypocrisy

India prime minister Narendra Modi’s state visit may have produced some eye-catching deals, but it’s also exposed rank hypocrisy within the UK government’s stance on climate change.

Modi arrived in the UK to considerably less fanfare than his Chinese counterpart did several weeks ago, but the announcements have already proven far more beneficial for the UK solar industry. Or at least they have for those lucky enough to be involved.

Lightsource’s contract to develop 3GW of solar – more than two-times what it has developed in the UK to date – represents a huge coup for the company. It will plough £2 billion of its own investment into the country, in the process securing 300 jobs in the UK and forging links that it will hope go far beyond this deal’s five-year term.

It’s also a major deal for Lightsource to secure given what’s occurring in its domestic market. David Cameron’s party has made it abundantly clear it does not want any more ground-mount solar in the UK and its proposals for the small-scale feed-in tariff amount to one of the most transparent and ham-fisted attempts at resolving a budgetary crisis on record.

Lightsource are one of the few lucky ones to have made their move while the figurative sun was still shining. Its roots have spread into Ireland too, while the likes of Hive Energy and British Solar Renewables have also moved into markets that look certain to be more lucrative in the future.

The full text of the much wider climate change agreement struck yesterday includes more detail. Both countries accept climate change is a “shared priority” that can bring about much wider benefits, notably in energy security, economic growth and jobs. A bilateral cooperation and joint collaboration on clean technologies and renewables has also been agreed to include, but not be limited to, electricity market reform, energy efficiency, solar and storage.

Exporting this kind of expertise should of course be encouraged at every available opportunity, but not because politically driven government cuts have made the domestic market untenable. For the prime minister to take the stage and laud this deal, while simultaneously kneecapping the UK solar market, is evidence of either complete ignorance or complete disdain.

And the hypocrisy doesn’t even end there. During a press conference yesterday, Cameron highlighted the need for UK and Indian scientists to collaborate on “low-cost, low-carbon energy that’s vital for the future”. A £10 million joint-research centre is to be established to that end. Perhaps nobody’s yet briefed the prime minister that the most prevalent, most popular low-cost, low-carbon energy technology will struggle to exist as an industry after January, courtesy of his own chancellor’s policy decisions.

It appears Modi hadn’t been briefed, either. “I am pleased with the progress in our cooperation in clean energy and climate change involving our governments and the private sector. This is an area of immense importance, and it offers enormous opportunities,” he said. I’m not entirely sure the tens of thousands of solar sector workers would agree with that estimate at the moment.

It is perhaps telling however that while Modi referenced an aim of deriving 40% of electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, the only target Cameron was keen to mention was one relating to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Perhaps there was a hastily arranged amendment to that text given revelations earlier this week.

Energy secretary Amber Rudd was also quick to latch onto the agreement, considering the UK to be “well placed” to work with India to “promote secure, affordable and sustainable supplies of energy” in a statement released yesterday afternoon. The UK has of course proven to be anything but a stable environment for renewables since the Tory’s general election victory in May, something which is borne out in its tumbling down the standings in both EY’s renewable energy invesment index and the World Energy Council's supplier ranking. It’s a damning indictment of the UK’s energy policy when that isn’t even the most outlandish claim Rudd has made this week.  

That the prime minister can take to the stage and laud our record on renewables, given the measures his party have taken since May, in front of Modi, who aims to install up to 100GW of solar over the next seven years, is not just a considerable show of disrespect for UK solar. It provides yet more evidence of rank hypocrisy from a government that, even by its own admission, does not have the right policies in place to meet legally binding renewable energy targets. Perhaps we need to get our own house in order before preaching to others.