Vince Cable caught seeking to scupper UK’s climate efforts

Joss Garman looks at the rifts and suprising divisions in the coalition government over environmental issues.

Vince Cable

The Liberal Democrats have long been seen as the greenest of the main three parties, and went into the election with strong promises about clean energy and ambitions to protect the environment and boost green industries. So how counter-intuitive to read on today’s Guardian front page that Vince Cable has been privately lobbying to water down the UK’s most important climate change targets, while William Hague has sought to defend them.

The FT (£) and Today Programme also reported today how leaked letters show that Vince Cable is arguing that the prime minister should reject on Monday the key recommendations of the government’s independent advisers on how to meet their legal obligations under the Climate Act.

The debate centres on recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that the government should adopt:

• An indicative 2030 target to reduce emissions by 60 per cent relative to 1990 levels;

• A fourth carbon budget of 1,950 million tonnes of carbon dioxide on a gross basis (i.e. without purchasing offsets but done domestically) between 2023 and 2027.

This decision has been described by the head of the CCC – David Kennedy – as “the key test of the government’s commitment to the low-carbon agenda”, and yesterday the director of Friends of the Earth said Huhne should resign out of principle if he failed to persuade the prime minister to follow the CCC’s advice.

Left Foot Forward has learned that it’s not just the foreign secretary backing Huhne, but also Grant Shapps, Caroline Spelman and Oliver Letwin. However, officials in HMT and the Transport Department are lobbying against them and as with the argument over the Green Bank (an argument Huhne lost), it will ultimately be Cameron’s decision when it comes on Monday.

Cable’s remarks will be deeply embarrassing for the Lib Dem leadership, coming as they do just 24 hours after Nick Clegg told Andrew Marr he wanted to put a new sense of priority on the green agenda, and on the same day (and in the same paper) that Danny Alexander told Patrick Wintour he wanted to see a new focus on the environment. It’s also interesting timing for David Cameron as Saturday will mark one year since he promised to lead “the greenest government ever”.

As tensions rise in the coalition, the low-carbon agenda could be seen as part of the glue that could bind the leadership together offering common ground for Tory modernisers and the Lib Dems and an opportunity for the Lib Dems to put some clear water between themselves and the Tory Right. It seems Vince Cable doesn’t see it like that but Monday’s decision from the prime minister will be key.

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