Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership if re-elected would be a “disaster for environmental policy” Ed Davey, the secretary of state for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), said last night.
Davey argued that pushing a new referendum bill through Parliament at the same time as the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris would be a “recipe for Britain’s voice on climate change being completely neutered and ignored.”
Speaking at the Greener Britain Hustings, hosted by environmental think tank the Green Alliance, Davey called the potential for a Conservative government after the election a “nightmare scenario” that would distract from “the most important climate negotiations ever”.
The environment secretary said that in such a scenario “the UK minister at the EU council – let’s remember we negotiate at the UN as an EU – would not be listened to because they would be then, at that stage, negotiating changing our views of [EU] membership … Do you think that’s going to impress the rest of our European colleagues? Do you think our voice will be heard in those circumstances?”
‘Wasting Precious Time’
“Climate change diplomacy is the most important thing to enable us, as a world, to tackle climate change,” he added.
Caroline Flint, Labour’s shadow secretary for energy and climate change, agreed with Davey. She said that leaving the EU would have an “enormous impact” on clean technology investment and would threaten Britain’s energy security.
“I cannot think of anything worse than having a situation after the election of two years of internal wrangling over us having an exit strategy from the EU,” she said. “I think it would be a recipe for disaster to waste precious time if the Conservatives are re-elected.”
Flint also criticised calls for EU reform made by Liz Truss, the secretary of state for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), saying that there should be “reform for a reason, [not] playing to UKIP and everything they stand for.”
Flint, Davey and Green MP Caroline Lucas all pointed to product energy efficiency standards as an example of how the EU has improved Britain’s environmental performance.
Davey added that the EU’s 2030 climate package is “more powerful for investors than a UK-only power sector decarbonisation target because it sets the framework for investment in renewables across the whole of Europe, which is a bigger market than the UK”.
Lucas, however, criticised the other parties for a “complete lack of joined-up thinking”, and pointed to the contradictions of announcing a joint pledge to end the use of unabated coal while at the same time giving significant tax breaks to the North Sea oil industry.
Calling the climate crisis “the overwhelming priority” for the next government, Lucas proposed the need for a new office of environmental responsibility since “it’s clear just leaving it with Defra and DECC is not working.”
Lucas also emphasised the need to divest from fossil fuels, saying fossil fuel reserves should stay in the ground. This was mildly echoed by Davey who said divesting from coal was the priority, while Truss argued against the need for any divestment.
“The bottom line of what we need to do is to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” said Lucas, “because if you’re still extracting fossil fuels at the same rate, it doesn’t really matter how many renewables you’ve created, the bottom line is those fossil fuels are being burned and they’re causing more and more climate change.”
Photo: The Guardian via Creative Commons