The UK’s commitment to carbon reductions?

Lynne Kiesling

I’ll be interested to see how the political, economic, and environmental consequences of this weekend’s new carbon approach in the UK unfolds; according to the Guardian (and the too-much BBC that I listen to):

Cabinet ministers have agreed a far-reaching, legally binding “green deal” that will commit the UK to two decades of drastic cuts in carbon emissions. The package will require sweeping changes to domestic life, transport and business and will place Britain at the forefront of the global battle against climate change.

The deal was hammered out after tense arguments between ministers who had disagreed over whether the ambitious plans to switch to more green energy were affordable. The row had pitted the energy secretary, Chris Huhne, who strongly backed the plans, against the chancellor, George Osborne, and the business secretary, Vince Cable, who were concerned about the cost and potential impact on the economy.

However, after the intervention of David Cameron, Huhne is now expected to tell parliament that agreement has been struck to back the plans in full up to 2027. He will tell MPs that the government will accept the recommendations of the independent Committee on Climate Change for a new carbon budget. The deal puts the UK ahead of any other state in terms of the legal commitments it is making in the battle to curb greenhouse gases.

Not surprisingly, reactions have been strong. Take the Telegraph’s outspoken James Delingpole, for example:

But if what it says is even half way true, then David Cameron has made the most unforgivably damaging decision of his entire political career. It will delay our economic recovery, lay waste the British countryside and cement Cameron’s reputation as a man driven not by principle (as, say, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill were) but by a grubby, son-of-Blair urge to keep clinging on to power at no matter what cost to the country at large.

While I agree that it’s unwise to base expensive policy changes on inconclusive science and on a false belief in our ability to control outcomes in complex systems, that statement does seem a bit hyperbolic.

I think this is happening in the context of some other political machinations, and it may not play out exactly as reported in the Guardian. But since in some ways the UK is a bellwether of carbon policy, this should be interesting to watch — are renewables sufficiently economically and technologically developed to meet demand at prices that customers are willing to pay? Will retailers and customers in the UK be willing to explore/interested in exploring the combination of transactive digital technology and dynamic pricing that may modulate that demand relative to forecasts based on old technologies? Will this lead to the perpetuation of government subsidies of the sort that are currently being debated in the US?

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