The new coalition Government seems, to environmentalists at least, to be nobody’s friend and nobody’s enemy.
Take a look at some of the new policies. One of the Government’s first acts was to unceremoniously pull the plug on the Infrastructure Planning Committee –the über quango designed to handle large scale planning decisions on power plants, motorways and airports.
As Bibi van der Zee explains in her article, the IPC reeked of a lack of democracy and was to be the perfect tool with which to railroad through new nuclear power stations. But – and perhaps the reason why many environmentalists appeared to bite their tongues over the body – it also had the power to speed up massively the construction of sorely needed new wind farms. A victory for democracy yes, but also very likely a return to crippling NIMBYism for the renewable energy industry.
Much the same has befallen the proposal for ID cards. Binned as an invasive waste of money, those who support small Government, privacy and local democracy had cause to celebrate. But those – and they may not be discrete categories – who support the idea of personal carbon quotas as one of the most equitable ways of sharing our rights to the global atmosphere can forget about the system becoming reality, at least for another decade, without the technology behind ID cards.
So, too, with nuclear. Those greens who still have fears over fission may take some small succour from the coalition announcement that new nukes will still have to be built without public subsidy – something that could, especially in the current economic climate, delay their construction for a good few years yet. However, as our columnist Dan Box has pointed out, the simultaneous commitment to introduce a floor price in the EU carbon market will effectively mean a hidden subsidy to nuclear power station operators – a commitment that they will always be able to sell their low-carbon electricity at above-market rates.
Again, with electric cars, there was reason to be cheerful in the new commitment to build a national recharging network for electric and hybrid vehicles. But there was equally reason for caution when, just a few days after the manifesto was launched, a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering warned that without proper attention to decarbonising the electricity grid, electric cars would not necessarily hold much over small petrol or diesel equivalents.
And even the welcome commitments to emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants and the proposed ‘Green Investment Bank’ (GIB) have met with hand-ringing from NGOs. A Friends of the Earth press release sent at the end of May fretted that ‘saying [emissions standards and the GIB] ‘may’ be included in the Energy Bill is just not good enough’.
There’s plenty to be hopeful about with fresh blood in Whitehall, our first Green MP in Westminster, and the possibility of progressive action on emissions targets by the EU. Let’s just make sure we’ve looked at both sides of each equation first.