Whilst the influence of George Osborne on energy and environment policies has long been of concern, the progress made on the international stage by Blair and Prescott, and on the domestic front by Miliband’s Climate Change Act, plus the restraining influence of the Lib Dems during the coalition, have meant that that the UK’s progress on climate issues has been substantial enough to take time and effort to undo.
However, Osborne has the time, and appears to be putting in the effort.
As the rest of the world polishes their real and illusory achievements ready for display in Paris, the UN’s chief scientist has expressed alarm at the UK’s recent policy changes, which seem to have be designed to impress the world with our wilful backwardness. As with the tax credit debacle, this jars painfully with the Chancellor’s much-talked-about tactical genius. If you are going to do something embarassing in front of the entire international community, why time it for the moment when they’re all looking?
I suspect Osborne thought he had cover, in that we are part of the EU, and so (in broad terms) on Team Good Guy in the international negotiations. Then there were huge emitters like China and the USA, and pantomime villains like Australia and Canada, for him to hide behind. Osborne went to sleep in the safe, boring centre, but the world shifted around him, the EU is more fractured and fractious than it has been for a while, China and the US have both made big commitments to decarbonise, and Canada and Australia have both ditched their climate sceptic leaders in favour of more rational options. (NB – ‘more rational than Tony Abbott’ is not an endorsement).
At the same time Osborne has been increasing subsidies to fossil fuels whilst doing his best to destroy the UK’s cheapest source of energy, onshore wind, the source of energy most likely to dominate the 21st century, solar, the cheapest way to decarbonise, efficiency, and now, in the Comprehensive Spending Review, he’s killed CCS - the fossil fuel industry’s only hope of providing low carbon energy, and, according to the IPCC, a technology which would halve the cost of decarbonisation.
Now Osborne has woken up out alone on the science-denying fringe, like a man on a lilo in the middle of the Atlantic. Will he adjust for changed circumstances and start paddling back to the international community? No, the only thing that might make Osborne abandon his all-out dash for gas and stop cutting clean tech is when there’s no clean tech left to cut. And even then, he may find a way.
In yesterday’s Comprehensive Spending Review Osborne took his years of experience in double-counting expenditure, and with a clever little twist, invented double-cutting. What you do, budding Chancellors, is announce a new government measure which is intended to cut consumer bills (saving YOU money!) and then, in a later announcement, cut that measure (saving YOU even more money!).
If this catches on, pretty soon the big six energy companies will be paying you!
Treasury spending announcements are illustrative only, product may differ from description on the box, the expected value of your savings may exceed mathematical possibilities.