Tories preach ‘green growth’ amid mounting criticism of their green record

The Tory conference kicked off with the party leadership saying it was dedicating its first day to ‘green growth’, yet the coalition's record has several flaws.

The Conservative party conference kicked off with the party leadership saying it was dedicating its first day to ‘green growth’ in an apparent move to put the environment back on the political agenda. This follows hot on the heels of an impressive climate speech from foreign secretary William Hague.

However, it emerges that only one event on the official conference agenda will actually be about climate change and the environment, and this is somewhat offset by the news that Australian Conservative leader, Tony Abbott – who once called climate change science ‘absolute crap’ – is set to address the conference.

However, BusinessGreen quotes Friends of the Earth’s director, Andy Atkins, welcoming the news and another NGO source saying:

“It contrasts with last week’s Labour conference where neither climate change nor the environment made it onto the agenda.”

So far the coalition has been seen as very weak on the environment – and the decision to devote a day to ‘green growth’ could be a response to the calculation that Ed Miliband will likely try and outflank the coalition in this area.

Since the election the green issues once championed by David Cameron have garnered little to no attention from the Conservative leadership. Furthermore, their green record to date has undermined the prime minister’s claim to lead ‘the greenest government ever’.

• On Friday climate secretary Chris Huhne gave the nod to the first deep- sea oil drilling in UK waters since BP’s Gulf spill – despite the fact the official independent investigation into the accident has yet to conclude. This followed revelations the UK vetoed German proposals to toughen international scrutiny of oil drilling. Greenpeace are now planning legal action to try and stop the risky drilling.

• The heads of more than sixty clean energy companies have written to the government to urge them not to cut a programme aimed at supporting new green industries and green jobs. This followed a separate letter signed by 50 leading business people from companies including British Airways, Microsoft and BT as well as NGO leaders voicing concern that the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review could ‘starve’ the proposed Green Investment Bank.

• The coalition already announced significant cuts to clean energy budgets amid reports that the Treasury plans could cripple the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Despite this, the minister responsible for DECC – Chris Huhne – was the first Lib Dem to join the ‘star chamber’ after agreeing cuts.

This prompted some campaigners to ask if he couldn’t have fought harder, especially given recent YouGov polling of Lib Dem members which showed three-quarters of those polled want clean energy spending protected or increased, and that half of Lib Dems think the coalition should be making protection of the environment a higher priority.

• The coalition dropped two key green pledges aimed at tackling illegal logging and encouraging green energy pioneers, and put another – aimed at regulation pollution from power stations – on hold.

• The Sustainable Development Commission has been axed, and leaked documents suggest a number of other green institutions supported by government, including The Carbon Trust and The Environment Agency, are now under threat.

With all this in mind, it will be interesting to see if today signals a revival of Mr Cameron’s interest in green issues. Of course, the real test will be the level of commitment to clean energy shown in the Comprehensive Spending Review, and the green credentials of the new government’s first energy law, which is expected to come before the House in November.

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