Prime minister may have to step in to defuse cabinet split over cutting emissions by 2030 to 60% of 1990 levels.
An imminent decision by David Cameron on climate change will be “the key test” of the government’s green credentials, according to the UK’s chief climate adviser, although squabbles among ministers mean it is a test that is in danger of being failed.
Within the next two weeks, the cabinet must decide whether to accept the recommendations of its climate advisers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. However, several government departments, including the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Transport, are understood to be against approving the plan, which was proposed by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the statutory body set up to advise the government on global warming policy.
The recommendations of the committee were accepted in full by the previous government, but Whitehall insiders warned that the advice was now in danger of being ignored. Cameron may have to step in personally to defuse a row that is threatening to tarnish the government’s green credentials.
David Kennedy, chief executive of the CCC, which was established under the Climate Change Act to advise on how to meet international global warming targets, told the Guardian in an interview: “This [decision] is of crucial importance. It will be the key test of the government’s commitment to the low-carbon agenda.” Meg Hillier, shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change, said: “It is scarcely credible that ministers are considering rejecting the advice. To fail to act now on climate change will secure their place in history as the least green government of our times.”
The government has already backed down once from a serious attack on the CCC, when a proposal to repeal the Climate Change Act was first mooted then rejected. But ministers are still under fire over green commitments made a year ago, when Cameron pledged this would be “the greenest government ever”.
A report published at the weekend by Friends of the Earth, drawn up by the veteran environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, described the likelihood of the government living up to its environmental promise as “vanishingly remote”, and judged that many policies had been “delayed, watered down or abandoned”.
The report examined 77 green policies, and found little or no progress in more than three-quarters of them. Soundings taken by the Guardian also suggest that many investors, green entrepreneurs and even Tory MPs doubt the government’s commitment to green policies.
Kennedy’s warning that this is a key test of the government’s policies came as the CCC told MPs that renewable energy could make up 40% of the UK’s energy mix by 2030, with a similar amount coming from nuclear reactors, and most of the remainder from coal or gas power stations fitted with carbon capture and storage technology.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of the world’s leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations, is also expected to publish a report on renewable energy that will show that the world can avoid dangerous levels of global warming by investing in renewable energy sources, including wind and solar power.
Kennedy said he was confident that nuclear power could make up 40% of the UK’s future energy mix, despite the high-profile problems in Japan, where the Fukushima plant has been leaking radioactivity, and another is due to be closed.
He said: “There is no obvious implication for the UK from Fukushima. Japan is more vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis, and the age of the reactor [Fukushima was built in the early 1970s] was a big factor.”
Green groups rejected this analysis, however. Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF, said: “Unfortunately, the government and the Committee on Climate Change are basing their assumptions on highly optimistic and theoretical nuclear cost estimates . Given the industry’s history of massive cost overruns – now being repeated with new reactors in France and Finland – the view that nuclear is more cost-effective than renewables is highly contentious. The recent disaster in Japan and associated safety reviews can only lead to a further hike in nuclear costs and greater public opposition to new reactors and the government needs to urgently switch its focus to the renewables solution.”
The comments came as Unicef, the children’s organisation, called for a “Robin Hood” tax to raise money to combat climate change.
Renewable energy could more than meet the expected growth in the world’s needs, with solar power holding out the greatest hope, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN-convened body, consisting of the world’s leading climate scientists. The report marks the first time the IPCC has examined low-carbon energy in depth, and the first interim report since the body’s comprehensive 2007 review of the science of climate change. Although the authors are optimistic, theynote that many forms of the technology are more expensive than fossil fuels, and renewable energy will have to increase to as much as 20 times its current level to avoid dangerous global warming. Renewables will play a greater role than nuclear or carbon capture and storage, the scientists predict. About 13% of the world’s energy came from renewable sources in 2008, a proportion likely to have risen as countries have built up their capacity since, with China leading the investment surge, particularly in wind energy. By far the current greatest source of renewable energy is burning biomass, which can cause deforestation and accelerate global warming, and cooking fires which cause indoor air pollution that harms health.