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The Government Should Be Doubling Down On Our Clean Energy Transition

It is no secret that in politics bad news is buried between the headlines, and last week was no different. But it might be giving the government too much credit – not to mention an unparalleled eye for comic irony – to suggest that the much delayed decision on Heathrow was timed to obscure another ignominious moment in UK climate and energy policy.

Just over a week ago, Ernst Young released their latest global renewable energy report. In it they rank countries around the world to assess their attractiveness for renewable investment. For the UK, It does not make for happy reading. Once a regular in the top 10 – the UK tumbled out of it in 2015 and has now fallen again to its lowest ever position: 14th.

It gets worse. A fortnight ago the World Energy Council dumped the UK out of another global top 10 – this time from its own index that scores national policies across energy security, affordability and decarbonisation. This is another fall from grace: the UK has traditionally performed highly but now finds itself on a ‘watchlist’ where worse news is expected to come.

For the country that passed into law the world’s first (and most ambitious) domestic climate change law in 2008 – and played a pivotal role in carving out the historic Paris climate agreement almost a year ago – this is a painful reminder that we will judged not on our words, but by our deeds.

It should also serve as an economic wakeup call: if we carry on as we are, we risk losing billions of pounds of investment in new green industries that can provide both jobs and prosperity while accelerating our contribution to the global fight against climate change.

Who’s to blame? See if you can work it out. Ernst and Young write that ‘continued uncertainty around the government’s energy policy’ is creating a ‘confused picture for investors’, while the World Energy Council identifies a ‘distinct lack of policy direction’. Just for good measure Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, warned on Tuesday that the UK is bucking the global trend of accelerating renewables growth, saying there is ‘a need for in the UK to invest in stronger renewable policies…the potential is huge compared to what we are expecting’. Just as new renewables capacity beats coal globally for the first time ever, the UK is looking the other way.

So, despite radically different government attitudes towards them, there seems to be one thing that Heathrow expansion and renewable energy policy in the UK do in fact have in common: deep uncertainty.

On the one hand last week’s Heathrow decision has done nothing but expose Conservative divisions and reawaken a perhaps unlikely spectrum of opponents – from Zac Goldsmith and Boris Johnson to local residents, environmental activists and rival airports – signalling years of political and legal battles to come whilst skilfully undermining the UK’s status as a climate leader.

On the other, since May 2015 the government has rapidly dismantled policies advancing the UK’s green industrial revolution, from financial support for renewables to the pioneering zero carbon homes policy, leaving nothing but guesswork for investors and stakeholders in its place.

It is time the government got a grip. If it is not willing to admit defeat on airport expansion – yet – it is even more imperative that it doubles down on the UK’s clean energy transition. Failure to do so would mean not even paying lip service to the already highly dubious claims that we can expand aviation while remaining within our national carbon budgets.

And there’s an obvious place to start: remove the de facto ban on onshore wind power. Onshore wind is cheap (and getting cheaper), very popular and indisputably proven. Incredibly, it now matches new gas power stations on price, while it’s popularity has just hit record highs. Polling released last week by climate change charity 10:10 and ComRes showed 73% of the public back it (compared to just 34% for fracking), a figure confirmed by the government’s own figures released today showing support at 71%. In 2015 onshore wind delivered 6% of all UK electricity demand, a tripling on its 2010 contribution – and 20% of all renewable generation. It is now categorically mainstream – and as the windiest country in Europe it’s a resource we’ve only just started to tap.

But the government is refusing to allow onshore wind to compete by denying it the financial support it is happy to hand to fossil fuel generators – coal, gas and even diesel – this winter. This makes no sense: the government’s manifesto commitment was to halt the spread of ‘subsidised’ onshore wind. But in a new reality where new gas plants need the same level of financial support, it cannot reasonably claim that onshore wind is receiving subsidy. After all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch: not building wind means building gas instead. For the same price.

On 23 November Philip Hammond will stand up in the commons to deliver his autumn statement – his first major policy announcement since taking office in the referendum’s brittle aftermath. Starting with onshore wind he has the chance to put beyond doubt that the UK is committed to a clean economy revolution, and secure the long term investment needed in the technologies and jobs of tomorrow.

If he doesn’t, the only thing that is certain is that we will slip further behind in the global race to embrace a cleaner, cleverer and more prosperous future. In the wake of the referendum, this couldn’t be more important.

Article source: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/caroline-lucas/clean-energy_b_12787538.html?utm_hp_ref=uk-politics&ir=UK+Politics