The Energy Bill – Time for Liberal Democrat MPs to show their true colours

A crucial decarbonisation amendment to the Energy Bill will come before the House of Commons in early March reflecting Liberal Democrat party policy that was agreed at the Party Conference in September 2012. Oddly, Liberal Democrat MPs will probably be instructed by their ‘whips’ to vote against it.

London 2009

Stop Climate Chaos protest, London 2009

The amendment, tabled by Conservative MP Tim Yeo, has Labour Party support. So if enough Liberal Democrat MPs vote with their environmental instincts and their party’s own policy the crucial amendment could be passed.

The Energy Bill is a once-in-a-generation game-changing piece of legislation that will stimulate investment in future electricity generation in the UK. The UK Government’s Committee on Climate Change states that between now and 2030 we need an almost complete decarbonisation of the power generation sector if we are to remain on track with our climate change targets.

The Energy Bill will put in place a mechanism to attract capital investment for new low carbon energy sources such as solar, onshore and offshore wind, biomass, nuclear energy. Our Churches are urging MPs to ensure that the Bill steers us on a path to reliance on low carbon sources of energy over the next two decades.

Our churches have called for a 2030 decarbonisation target of 50 CO2/kWh electricity produced in line with the advice of the Committee on Climate Change. The Churches’ briefing for MPs and others is available here. However George Osborne favours a new dash for gas and has recently launched the government’s Gas Generation Strategy which could cause the UK to relax carbon targets previously agreed.

Between now and 2020 many would agree that some modest investment in new gas capacity would be helpful in order to keep the lights on as the older nuclear powers stations come offline. Gas can also be used to replace coal-fired electricity generation offering a short-term environmental benefit. The energy mix in the period after 2020 is a different matter and the government’s position on post-2020 scenarios is unclear and contested.

daveypetitionmThe current lack of clarity from government on energy policy after 2020 has hindered large investors in renewables from committing to the UK market.

Ed Davey has acknowledged that the vast majority of companies in the UK want a Government-set 2030 decarbonisation target. But the Coalition Government propose further ‘fence-sitting’ on the issue. David Cameron, George Osborne, Ed Davey and Danny Alexander agreed in a meeting in November to delay introduction of a decarbonisation target until at least 2016, after the next election.

In contrast the Liberal Democrat Party Conference passed a motion calling on the Coalition Government to establish a 2030 target for the decarbonisation of the power sector in the range of 50g to 100g CO2/kWh of electricity produced.

The level proposed by the Liberal Democrats is a little less stringent than the 50g CO2/kWh advised by the Committee on Climate Change but Tim Yeo’s proposed decarbonisation target amendment helps Lib Dem MPs by recognising that, ultimately, the Secretary of State (currently Lib Dem MP Ed Davey) will determine the level at which the target should be set.

So the choice before Liberal Democrat MPs seems clear; prevarication and delay, or early introduction of decarbonisation target to promote investment in clean, affordable energy.

The latter would further stimulate growth in green jobs and help the UK to secure a leadership role in a growing sector that is already worth £3.3 trillion globally.

When the decarbonisation amendment comes before the House of Commons in March it gives Liberal Democrat MPs a further opportunity to show that their party’s policy can make a distinctive contribution to the Coalition.

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Steve Hucklesby

About Steve Hucklesby

My background is in international relief and development having worked for 10 years on programmes in conflict and post-conflict settings in Africa and Asia. I am committed to exploring Christian responses to conflict and injustice. I cover areas such as non-proliferation, ethical investment and climate change.