The issue of Trident renewal has been in the headlines and one of the main criticisms of the British government’s position has been the exorbitant cost of the missiles. However this piece isn’t about Trident. In the wake of the vote on Syria, critics of Britain’s intervention pointed to, among other things, the unmentioned financial cost of bombing the livings shit out of Middle Eastern country. But this piece isn’t about foreign policy. In 2008 £500 billion was spent on bailing out the British banking system due to their reckless and under-regulated behaviour. But this piece isn’t about financial policy either.
This article is about priorities. Whenever there is a threat to the country that is tangible, like the threat of economic collapse or a nuclear holocaust, fiscal prudence goes out the window. On the issue of climate change however the same rhetoric around ‘belt-tightening’ is deployed by the government and the right-wing elements of the media. Not only should renewable energy be seen as a necessity to prevent us all from dying, which to be honest should be motivation enough, it would be economically beneficial. The government should do some Keynesian-style capital investment in green technology.
Before we get into what the government should be doing, we need to look at what the UK’s climate targets are. The government’s targets, as set out by the 2008 Climate Change Act, are dependent upon the ‘1990 baseline’ which literally means that reductions of CO2 emissions would be measured in relation to emission levels in 1990. The Climate Change Act also specifies that there be three ‘budgets’ which are essentially milestones: 22% below 1990 baseline by 2012; a 28% reduction by 2017; and a 34% reduction by 2022. The final target is that there would be an 80% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050.
In conjunction with this the EU has CO2 reduction targets of all member states reducing their emissions by 20% by 2020, although it’s speculated that this target may be revised upwards to 30%. The EU has also mandated that member states get 15% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.
So what is the government’s current record? In 2010 David Cameron became Prime Minster saying all the right things. According to a 2010 speech with then Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne, the coalition government was going to be the “greenest government ever”. What’s not to like about such a statement? The problem is that Cameron is more concerned with the realpolitik of staying in power, rather than actually tackling climate change. In the run up to the 2015 General Election the rise of UKIP, many of whose members are actually deniers of man-made climate change, resulted in any talk of environmentalism going out the window.
This would be considered conjecture if it wasn’t for the fact that within six months of being elected in a majority, the Conservatives are cutting renewable energy subsidies, even though these subsidies add only a few pounds to energy bills. Furthermore, a report from the IMF has shown that the UK government spends $41 billion (around £28.5 billion) on subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. Therefore I do not believe it is cruel to say that the Tories don’t care about climate change.
The government needs to take this issue seriously and adopt policies that will stimulate the renewable energy sector. For example shifting the £28.5 billion from supporting fossil fuels to supporting renewable energy would make green technologies much more affordable and would boost consumer demand for these emerging energy sources. But to be honest, I’m impatient. In my view the government should do a huge capital investment package in the area of renewable energy.
Take solar panels for example. Rather than trying to convince people that solar panels would be a sound investment for people with the disposable income to buy them, I propose that the government pays for solar panels for anybody that wants them. This would drastically increase the demand for solar panels, thus stimulating British manufacturing, as well as provide any new jobs for installation and maintenance. The other important aspect of this is that it would make communities less reliant on government services so in the event of extreme incidents like terrorist attacks or natural disasters (high winds, flooding etc.) communities will be less isolated. By making Britain into a global hub of renewable energy, green technology companies will move the Britain and R&D at universities in this area will also flourish.
The key aspect in this plan would be how to pay for it. If we ignore the subsidies on fossil fuels being reallocated to green industries, we could raise huge amounts of money through a combination of different things. To give one example, airlines do not pay the tax on the fuel they use and, according to research from The Guardian, this costs the taxpayer £8.5 billion per year. The government could easily cut these subsidies and provide this money to fund capital investment in renewable energies.
There of course many other things that could be done, such as raising the London Congestion Charge or implementing similar charges in other big cities like Birmingham and Manchester, raising corporation tax on big businesses, and/or closing tax avoidance loopholes. In a nutshell, there are many ways in which this scheme could be funded and, in the long term, businesses and households would benefit from producing electricity themselves.
I’ve alluded to the economic reasons why such a move would be important but, as I’ve mentioned in other articles, there are important implications for foreign policy. By reducing Britain’s reliance on fossil fuels, the British government will no longer have to rely on imports from despotic regimes that abuse human rights like Saudi Arabia and Russia. Furthermore, by increasing domestic sources of clean energy Britain will be able to use its own success as an example to other countries that are unwilling to reduce CO2 emissions.
People often talk about all manner of domestic benefits that come from decarbonising the energy market, such as reduced pollution and the financial benefits to businesses, but the implications for foreign policy remain unmentioned. Britain’s foreign policy will be more focussed on promoting human rights and international co-operation as soon as we become no longer dependent on black gold. Britain must act quickly to invest in renewable energies and must also elect people to positions of power that actually care about climate change.
As a leftist I do not care whether an environmentalist is in the Greens, Labour, Plaid Cymru, the SNP etc. but it must be said that the Tories have no credibility on this issue. Policies that encourage massive investment in renewable energies must be put into practice for reasons of foreign policy, the economy, and the environment. We need the government to act now.