Coalition agreement leaves many climate questions unanswered

The full agreement of the coalition government has been published this morning, but there’s little new detail on climate and energy policy.

The full agreement of the coalition government has been published this morning, but there’s little new detail on what the new government’s positions will be on climate and energy policy. The only new stand-out point from the section on energy and climate change is a commitment that the UK will continue to “push for the EU to demonstrate leadership in tackling international climate change, including by supporting an increase in the EU emission reduction target to 30% by 2020”.

This will reassure climate campaigners who worried that this statement was a glaring omission from the initial agreement outlined after the election. But here Left Foot Forward identifies the five most important green questions left unanswered:

Will the new government rule out highly-polluting power stations?

In the past few years David Cameron and George Osborne both outlined their support for tough new emissions performance standards to stop any new power station from polluting more than a modern gas plant. Equally, Nick Clegg was a prominent critic of plans for new coal plants like Kingsnorth. But all the agreement says on this subject is:

“We will establish an emissions performance standard that will prevent coal-fired power stations being built unless they are equipped with sufficient carbon capture and storage (CCS) to meet the emissions performance standard.”

But of course, without knowing what the standard would be we cannot know whether this will only mandate partial or full CCS on coal plants. Whilst this sounds like a technical detail, in fact it will be critical to deciding if Britain will successfully meet the carbon targets set out in the Climate Change Act.

How will the new government fund the low-carbon economy?

The agreement says “we will create a new green investment bank” – but offers no detail as to how much money will be in that bank, how much they aim to put in the bank, or what policies will be used to raise private capital for the emerging clean energy industry.

Given the agreement also boldly commits the government to “seek to increase the target for energy from renewable sources, subject to the advice of the Climate Change Committee”, and to “deliver an offshore electricity grid in order to support the development of a new generation of offshore wind power”, the failure to explain how this will be funded is especially noticeable.

Will the UK raise its own climate ambition?

One hundred and seventy nine Lib Dem PPCs signed a Friends of the Earth pledge during the election campaign to support raising the UK’s 2020 climate ambition from the current binding target of a 34% cut on 1990 levels, to a stronger 42% cut more in line with the latest advice of scientists. The Lib Dem manifesto also said that they would raise the target to a 40% cut and that 75% of these reductions would be made inside Britain – as opposed to via offsets.

However, this commitment is missing from the new agreement implying that the Lib Dems have caved in on their pledge to raise the UK’s overall climate ambition, and there is no detail on the level of offsets that will be permitted – which will be a key factor in determining how many new jobs will be created in the UK and the extent to which our country will be able to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and gas.

Will the UK honour the commitments Gordon Brown made at the Copenhagen summit to contribute to a global climate fund?

In December, the UK committed to pay its fair share towards a new $100 billion global climate fund by 2020 to protect the world’s forests and help the most vulnerable countries adapt to the impacts of global warming. In the short term, over the next three years he committed to pay into a $30 billion fund for similar purposes. The agreement does not say if the UK will meet these international pledges.

Equally, the last government said it would not take from existing aid budgets to pay into the 2020 global fund. Development groups are concerned that this robbing of aid budgets could still happen as there has been no explicit offer of new and additional money from the new government.

Will the commitment to stop new runways from being built at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted mean that the growth in aviation will simply move the problem to other regional airports, or can we expect a new, more sustainable transport policy?

The agreement expressly rules out new runways at these three airports in the south east but leaves the door open to the expansion simply moving the problem elsewhere to airports like Birmingham, Manchester, Luton, Bristol, Glasgow and Edinburgh. A decision on whether to expand Bristol airport is just two weeks away.

The government’s independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, has said there will need to be some national demand management for the aviation sector if the UK is to cut its carbon pollution in line with the Climate Change Act.

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