Does the government still support the Climate Change Act?

  • 14 Nov 2012, 13:34
  • Robin Webster

Does the government remain committed to long-term targets for emissions reductions contained within the Climate Change Act?

On Channel 4 News last night energy minister John Hayes made the case that the UK already has enough onshore wind power built or in planning to meet our renewables target.

That, according to Hayes will be "job done" for onshore wind - and maybe even for renewables as a whole. Meanwhile, an undercover video from Greenpeace featured in the Guardian shows MP Peter Lilley apparently claiming various politicians have been maneuvered into "key positions" in government, in order to get the UK "off the hook" on its green commitments. But what does that mean?

Lobbying to undermine the Climate Change Act?

Environmental group Greenpeace released an undercover video last night showing Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris outlining how he encouraged James Delingpole to stand as an anti-wind candidate in the Corby by-election. Heaton-Harris then suggested that he and Delingpole would be meeting with energy minister John Hayes.

The video also shows prominent Conservative MP Peter Lilley - one of the few MPs to vote against the Climate Change Act in 2008 - claiming that chancellor George Osborne has maneuvered people into positions of power within government in order to undermine the government's green targets.

Lilley says:

"Basically I think Osborne wanted to get people into key positions who could begin to get government off the hook of the commitments it made very foolishly".

The recent appointment of John Hayes as energy minister and Owen Paterson as environment secretary attracted widespread attention - both are known for their long-standing opposition to wind power. Greenpeace also records Lilley saying:

"...we could well see, certainly amendments to the Climate Change Act, cease to make it legally binding, make it advisory".

It's not clear when Lilley talks about getting "government off the hook of … commitments" he's referring to the Climate Change Act, but it seems possible.

No more wind?

Meanwhile, in an interview with Channel 4 yesterday, Hayes repeated his opposition to expansion of onshore wind. Hayes said:

" respect of onshore wind, with what's built, with what's consented, and with a small proportion of what's in the planning system we will have reached our ambitions with respect of the renewables target"

As we have discussed before, Hayes may well be right. In order to meet the EU target that says renewables should provide 15 per cent of energy generation by 2020, the government needs to increase the capacity of a variety of different technologies - including onshore wind, offshore, bioenergy and tidal power.

The government has projected that onshore wind "could contribute up to around 13GW" by 2020. Only around 2GW of the roughly 7.5GW of onshore wind currently in the planning process would need to be built in order to meet this level.

The slightly strange aspect of this argument is Hayes isn't actually saying anything different to Ed Davey, or indeed the Prime Minister, about actual deployment of onshore wind. All three agree that the government is still committed to meeting its 2020 EU renewable energy target - and they don't appear to disagree on the amount of onshore wind that will be needed to achieve that.

What about the Climate Change Act?

On Channel 4 news, Hayes references comments made by David Cameron in the House of Commons a few weeks ago. Cameron said:

"There has been no change towards renewable energy. Let me explain exactly. We have a big pipeline of onshore and offshore wind projects that are coming through. We are committed to those, but all parties will have to have a debate in the House and outside about what happens once those targets are met."

Hayes says the Prime Minister "invited all parties to think about where we went next" after the renewable energy target was met, adding "I endorse his view entirely".

Hayes also says:

"...In respect of the targets we have for renewables, when we take into account what's built, what's consented, what's in the planning system now, we'll certainly have achieved … it will be job done. Clearly we are going to have to look at where we go next, and that's what I am saying".

It's hard to tell from this whether Hayes means that it will be "job done" just on onshore wind or on renewables as a whole.

He doesn't mention the Climate Change Act, which sets a legally binding target of an 80 per cent reduction in UK emissions by 2050. In order to achieve this, the UK will need to keep expanding the amount of electricity that it gets from renewables.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) lays out the following possible scenarios for development of renewables up to 2030 in order for the UK to be on track to meet its Climate Change Act targets:

Screen Shot 2012-11-14 At 10.48.22

According to the CCC, then, there is a scenario where there is little or no expansion of onshore wind after 2020 and the UK is still on track to meet its carbon targets - the second column on the graph.

But all scenarios require a considerable expansion of power generation from other renewable sources. So, in light of his Channel 4 interview, does Hayes support this?

With Lilley's comments about the Climate Change Act in mind, it remains unclear.

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