George Osborne jumps on the 'green bills' bandwagon

  • 03 Oct 2011, 15:00
  • Robin Webster

Chancellor George Osborne has name-checked the impact of green measures on energy bills in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference.

In what BusinessGreen has called a "potentially explosive intervention", Osborne effectively promised that the UK would not take the lead in Europe in reducing carbon emissions - and laid the blame for rising energy bills at the door of "a decade of environmental laws and regulations".

He said:

"Now we know that a decade of environmental laws and regulations are piling costs on the energy bills of households and companies. Yes, climate change is a man made disaster. Yes, we need international agreement to stop it. Yes, we must have investment in greener energy. And that's why I gave the go ahead to the world's first Green Investment Bank. But Britain makes up less than 2% of the world's carbon emissions to China and America's 40%. We're not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business. So let's at the very least resolve that we're going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe. That's what I've insisted on in the recent carbon budget.

This gives an insight into the kind of arguments that are going on inside the Cabinet and between the Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change - and also into the political impact of attacks by the media on the costs of green energy measures.

As Carbon Brief has documented, many of these attacks are based on numbers which are unfounded, misrepresented or based on dubious sources. These have included:

  1. The Daily Mail claimed in a front-page headline and a series of articles that 'green measures' were adding £200 to an average household energy bill. The claim was based on estimates by the climate skeptic think-tank the GWPF, but no other source was provided. After Carbon Brief submitted a complaint to the PCC, the Mail printed a correction to the figure and withdrew the main article on the issue.
  2. The Mail suggested that an average energy bill would double over the next five years, rising by £1000 to around £2000 "to fund a switch to green energy and build new nuclear power stations". This figure came from a report by Unicredit bank which is not publicly available, which the authors would not discuss, and which contained no further detail about how the figure was calculated.
  3. The Daily Telegraph claimed in a front-page headline that green energy measures would add £300 to energy bills by 2020. The £300 figure, however, was based on a confusion between energy and electricity. The Guardian has corrected their coverage of this story, but the Telegraph has not.
  4. The Mail then claimed that green measures are adding £300 to energy bills now - although in the same edition of the paper they stated (correctly) that Ofgem's figures show that the actual figure is about £85.
  5. The Mail has also claimed that "the green tax con" is "costing families £500". This figure used an out of date methodology as we discussed here. The TaxPayers' Alliance responded to our blog here, but the Huffington Post then laid out further criticisms of the calculation here.

It is unclear what Osborne really meant - as under the UK Climate Change Act the UK is already legally committed to cutting emissions by 30 percent by 2022 and 50 percent by 2025, in contrast to the EU commitment of a 20 percent cut by 2020. His speech shows however that the figures being bandied around by sections of the media are having a political impact.


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