Government Keeps Climate Cards Close to its Chest

Government Keeps Climate Cards Close to its Chest
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It’s been four months since Amber Rudd was made head of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and there are just three months before the Paris climate conference. So, what do we know about the UK’s contribution to international climate change negotiations? Turns out, not much.

According to the (very limited) information released to DeSmog UK by DECC under a Freedom of Information request, Rudd has met with international counterparts five times since May 2015, in Berlin, Luxembourg and Beijing, to discuss the COP21 climate targets.

And, well, that’s about it. The department acknowledged that they hold briefing materials that were provided to the Secretary of State ahead of these meetings but have withheld all of these.

In any case, here is the list of meetings and attendees:

 

So much for Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a “complete revolution in transparency”. This leaves us to decipher the stream of mixed messages being sent by the new Conservative-majority Government: What exactly is its priority?

‘Ambitious’ Action

Rudd says the UK wants a “strong, ambitious, rules-based agreement that makes the shift to a clean global economy irreversible.”

Governments can set the direction, set the vision, set the ambition,” she says. So, if the government is serious about addressing climate change, what steps is it taking to ensure the UK is in a position to meet its targets?

In July, Rudd made her first appearance before the reshuffled Energy and Climate Change Committee to discuss DECC’s priorities. “Carbon reduction targets are more essential than renewable energy targets,” she announced.

Prioritising carbon reduction isn’t a bad thing, but when this statement is followed by an avalanche of cuts to renewable subsidies throughout July and August, you start to question how exactly the government hopes to cut emissions.

This sends a “worrying signal” about the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change ahead of the Paris climate conference, warned Angus Macneil, chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee.

Fracking and Nuclear

Low carbon” energy seems to be the answer, as Rudd puts it. Chief among these is fracking for shale gas and nuclear energy.

But, so far, neither of these options is being implemented as quickly as the government had hoped. Hinkley Point C is facing ongoing legal challenges and, should it be approved, it will be years before it’s up and running.  Meanwhile, despite David Cameron’s best efforts to “go all out for shale”, the UK still hasn’t seen any shale gas extraction since 2011.

Plus, as Lib Dem MP Tim Farron argues, to meet the UK’s Climate Change Act objectives, we must decarbonise power generation almost entirely by 2030; any large-scale extraction of shale gas is “a minimum of ten to fifteen years away”.

If these targets mean anything, we shouldn’t be planning to use significant volumes of gas for power at all, regardless of its source,” he wrote.

And, with the gas price falling, nuclear and fracking are not necessarily more cost-effective options compared to onshore wind or efficiency measures.

All of this to say, the contradictions are astounding in statements calling for climate action yet attacking renewable energy in favour of options that have yet to be realised. Rudd is correct when she says: “If we don’t act, it will become increasingly hard to maintain our prosperity, protect our people and conserve our countryside. The economic impact of unchecked climate change would be profound.”

So, is the government putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to securing a deal in Paris? We may not know until it’s too late.

Photo: Thomas van de Weerd via Wikimedia Commons

Government Keeps Climate Cards Close to its Chest
Kyla is the Managing Editor for DeSmog. She is also a freelance writer and editor with work appearing in the New York Times, National Geographic, HuffPost, Mother Jones, and Outside. She is also a member of the Society for Environmental Journalists.

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