Amber Rudd

Analysis: Dire outlook for Green politics in Britain as the Conservatives sweep into power

David Cameron will serve another term as UK
Prime Minister. Photo credit: Conservatives
via Flickr.

By Anders Lorenzen

In the UK general election the people of Britain have voted in the Conservative party as UK’s largest party, meaning they have the majority to form the next UK government. This will be seen as a statement that Brits are more concerned than ever before about the economy.

But what would this mean for climate change and energy?

The reality is that it is a great unknown.

Dire outlook for green politics
At first it doesn’t look great. During the election campaign none of the big parties discussed climate change, and this trend has continued as Prime Minister, David Cameron, moved to appoint his cabinet. The appointment of Amber Rudd as Climate Change and Energy Secretary featured far down the pecking order. But at least climate change advocates will be pleased that Rudd does believe in human-induced climate change. But it is quite likely that Cameron’s policies on climate change and renewable energy could be challenged by many of his right wing MP’s, who do not believe in climate change and hate renewables.

When Cameron took office in 2010 in a coalition with the more green-minded Liberal Democrats he claimed that this government would be the greenest ever. But this time around, with Conservatives being able to go it alone, there has been no such rhetoric. Green commentators are already becoming worried that green issues could fall well down the agenda.

Onshore wind
Green energy investors will be very worried about the future for onshore wind power. The most critical threat comes from the future of subsidies, as the government last year pledged that if elected they would scrap the subsidies. The government said they would stop the spread of onshore wind, as enough is enough. Even if wind energy developers were to go ahead with plans, despite subsidy cuts, it could be delayed in the approval system for a long time and would be likely to be rejected.

Renewable energy campaigners have highlighted that removing subsidies for onshore would be insane as it is the cheapest low carbon energy technology we have. Last week the green energy company, Good Energy, pleaded with the new government not to derail onshore wind.

The future of the EU
Then there is the issue of the future of the EU. The government has promised an in-out referendum on membership of the EU. If Britain were to leave the EU it could have dire consequences for emission reduction targets, and for targets set for renewable energy generation. The UK would then have to set its own targets and it is unlikely it would reach the same ambitious levels as the ones set by the EU.

Energy efficiency
The UK has one of the most energy inefficient housing stocks in Europe, but the government would be likely to water down regulations and efficiency standards. During the last government, the building codes were weakened, which means that the efficiency requirements for developers were lower than during the last Labour government, despite the improving technology. The Conservatives would be likely to continue to weaken building codes, describing it as cutting red tape that has been holding back growth.

The shale gas revolution
The government would also be likely to favour energy intensive industries over greener industries. Under the last government, the Conservatives did everything in their power to encourage shale gas development. But despite this, commercial production has not yet begun, so expect the Conservatives to do even more to encourage it, including further tax breaks and further deregulation. If the oil price stays low (although it has started to rise slowly) they would also be likely to unveil further tax breaks for North Sea oil production to keep that industry alive.

But there are also several positive steps that the Conservatives could be likely to take. The UK could play a positive role in helping the World agree a global climate deal in Paris at the end of this year, a process Cameron himself has stated he is very keen on. The UK could also play a strong economic role in the development of offshore wind. UK is a world leader in that technology, and this is at a time when more countries are entering the market, including significant large players like the US. Huge economic benefits could be harnessed if the UK invests aggressively in offshore wind energy infrastructure.

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