Intelligent Energy

The British evasion of green governance

The British evasion of green governance

Posting in Energy

Politicians not fulfilling their promises? Never! UK Prime Minister David Cameron is back-pedalling off the green vision he put forth after his election a year ago, Friends of the Earth concludes.

Conservative UK Prime Minister David Cameron is failing at his year-old vow to lead the “greenest government ever,” according to a scathing report released over the weekend by environmental group Friends of the Earth.

Cameron had made the promise days after taking office as head of a coalition government with Britain’s Liberal Democrat party last May, noting that he “cares passionately” about the environment. At the time he even backed up his mission with that most trustworthy of assurances, telling civil servants at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, “I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”

Turns out to be either a cold or shallow heart according to the FOE report, which says the chances of achieving such greenery are “vanishingly remote." The report was written, incidentally, by the former head of Britain’s Sustainable Development Commission, a group that Cameron’s government axed.

“It is clear that the ‘growth at all costs’ lobby has won out over the advocates of sustainable economic development,” says the author, Jonathon Porritt. “The state of the economy has clearly played a big role here; understandably, that has been the overarching priority for the Government. But that’s a bit of a cop-out.”

The report evaluates progress on 78 items across the government’s agenda, spanning several broad themes such as the green economy, climate change and protecting the national environment. It ranks each of the 78 as either “moribund,” “limited progress”, “encouraging progress” or the “birds are singing.”

Of the 78, 29 rated as moribund and 27 as limited progress, marking 72% that are way off course in FOE’s estimation.

According to the report, the government has been “moribund” at enacting plans for transitioning to low carbon energy by securing a low carbon future that would attain 80% cut in greenhouse gas by 2050; at imposing an aviation tax; at establishing marine energy programs; by easing business regulations to encourage growth at the expense of environmental protection; by proposing cut backs in feed-in-tariffs that would deny benefits to installations of over 50 kilowatts; by creating indirect measures to favor the nuclear industry; by cutting public transport subsidies; by attempting to sell of certain forests (since rescinded); by a failure to uphold “fair rail fares” as promised- rail travel in the UK is expensive, as a 120-mile peak hour standard class journey can cost £140 ($230); and in many other categories.

Some of the moribund rankings read more like a critique of the government in general, and less of an evaluation of its green progress. It gave the government a “moribund” grade for raising value added tax to from 17.5% to 20%, faulting the government for not granting a lower rate to environmental products. And the “moribunds” included the government’s closing of libraries.

FOE noted “limited progress” on a green investment bank and at establishing a minimum price for carbon –a shortcoming that bedevils emissions trading.

The report praised the government with “birds are singing” distinction for denying additional runways at various London area airports; for a £860 million ($1.4 billion) program to encourage businesses and consumers to tap alternative heat sources including solar thermal, ground source heat pumps, biomass and waste heat; and for a smart grid plan including the installation of smart meters in 30 million homes and business starting in 2014.

“The 78 individual items pretty much speak for themselves: the bad and the positively ugly indisputably outweigh the good,” Porritt concludes, noting the record is not what one might have expected from a prime minister who “has made public displays of cycling to work.”

Photo: 10 Downing St/Flickr

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure