It’s still very much the early throes of this year’s parliament but already prime minister David Cameron has had his government’s climate change track record scrutinised and picked apart by parliamentary committee.
Yesterday evening, after an hour-long grilling on the government’s handling of conflict in Syria, Cameron was quizzed on climate and energy policy. For the uninitiated, in the eight swift months since his party clinched a majority government, an entire raft of renewables support schemes have been rolled back under the guise of protecting consumers.
Nobody, it seemed, had briefed Cameron on this however. “I couldn’t disagree more fundamentally with all of those people who say on the one hand Britain has helped pioneer this climate change agreement and on the other hand is blacksliding on its green commitments,” he said, claiming the notion to be “total and utter nonsense”.
Those people, the prime minister neglected to add, include recognised experts in their fields such as former US vice president Al Gore, CBI director general John Cridland, UN chief environment scientist Jacquie McGlade and analysts at Big Four consultancy EY, all of which have criticised the Conservative government’s stance on renewables. And all of which, according to Cameron, are guilty of not knowing what they’re talking about.
But it was Cameron who appeared throughout the session to not have been properly briefed on the subject. His assertion that the UK was ranked second in the world for renewables by a body known as the ‘International Green Group’ confused many, mainly because it doesn’t exist. What Cameron appeared to be referencing was Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe’s Climate Change Performance Index, which awards ratings to 58 different nations based on emissions, efficiency, renewable deployment and climate policy. The UK did indeed rank second – behind only Denmark – on that list when it was published in December, courtesy of surging renewables deployment in 2015, the kind of which the Conservatives have sought to curtail.
Cameron thumbed around climate policy for the best part of 30 minutes, claiming that the government would favour low cost technologies over expensive counterparts (Hinkley aside, of course) and dismissed suggestions that his hands were tied by the chancellor and his all-powerful Treasury.
Compare and contrast, then, Cameron’s antagonistic evidence session with the speech US president Barack Obama gave at last night’s State of the Union. Lauding the investment the US government has made in renewables over the past seven years, he said: “On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal – in jobs that pay better than average.”
“We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy – something environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support. Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly sixty percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.”
Obama is now in the final year of his presidency and US citizens will take to the polls in November. Hilary Clinton is the front runner for the Democratic nominee and as a fellow staunch believer in climate issues, is likely to continue the work started by Obama’s Clean Power Plan. “Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy… rather than subsidise the past, we should invest in the future – especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels,” he added.
The two leaders, who looked for all the world to be singing from the same hymn sheet in Paris last month, are now at odds, their respective stances on renewables polar opposites. Cameron might’ve hugged a husky once, but he’s since forgotten about it quicker than a typical Christmas present puppy. A husky is for life, not just for political point scoring.
Solarcentury chief executive Frans van den Heuvel warned in October that the UK was “going against the world” and would find itself on the “wrong side of history”, and that was no more evident than last night. Unless, of course, the prime minister is right and the rest of the world – Obama included – is talking nonsense.