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October 04, 2011

Is green turning back to blue?

The coalition government has clearly stated its goal to be the “greenest government ever” but Chancellor George Osborne's speech in Manchester yesterday has sent murmurs around the conference that this commitment is slipping.

Osborne appeared to imply that the green agenda represents a threat to growth. Here is the passage that seems to have caused all the upset:

“Yes, we must have investment in greener energy. And that’s why I gave the go ahead to the world’s first Green Investment Bank. But Britain makes up less than 2% of the world’s carbon emissions to China and America’s 40%.  We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business. So let’s at the very least resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe.”

In a fringe meeting on renewable energy today, Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr said Osborne's words betrayed a deep-rooted problem in government. If the 'Treasury trolls', as he described them, continue to see the green agenda as a threat rather than an opportunity, the UK risks losing its lead in areas such as tidal and wind energy to global competitors. Producing renewable energy and developing the technologies needed for it presents economic opportunity, said Parr, but Osborne's words implied that he continues to fail to see this. Parr added that the government must harness the huge potential for innovation that exists in the UK in this area as a way of addressing the energy challenge as well as supporting economic growth.

However, Greg Barker, minister for energy and climate change dismissed Parr's concerns as “absolute nonsense.” According to him, the government remains fully committed to the green agenda but is moving into a new, “muscular” “green politics 2.0”, where alternatives to fossil fuel must prove their economic value. “We've got to move away from the Al Gore 'hello flowers, hello trees' green of 2005,” he told the fringe event. He added that renewables continue to be more expensive than fossil fuels and that the government faces pressure to show value for money during the economic crisis.

He denied that Osborne's words represented a shift away from existing government policy and that he had merely been referring to the UK's right to reconsider its carbon commitments if other countries fail to pull their weight.

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