Cameron must not cave in to UKIP pressure at the EU climate change summit

The argument put forward by Tory and UKIP dinosaurs is fundamentally flawed.

The argument put forward by Tory and UKIP dinosaurs is fundamentally flawed

Over the next few days, European leaders including David Cameron will meet in Brussels to thrash out an agreement on the EU’s climate change targets up until 2030. There is a huge amount at stake.

So far, the EU has been a world leader in the fight against climate change, becoming the first region to set binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But in the face of the financial crisis, leaders have become more nervous and the momentum behind the drive towards a greener economy has started to wane.

This could have far-reaching consequences. If EU leaders fail to agree on ambitious EU targets, this would send a damaging signal in the build-up to talks over a global deal on reducing emissions in Paris next year.

That is why in recent months, Liberal Democrat energy secretary Ed Davey has been busy touring Europe’s capitals, building up support for an ambitious EU-wide approach to tackling climate change. Davey has ensured that the UK is one of the strongest advocates in the EU for cutting emissions and leading the drive towards a low-carbon economy, and has led the formation of the Green Growth Group made up of 13 European governments including Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

This grouping of like-minded countries is now leading calls for EU targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 and to drive innovation and investment in the renewables and energy efficiency sectors.

However, unfortunately it is EU leaders, not energy ministers, who have the final say in setting EU climate change targets. And David Cameron, who once grabbed the headlines for hugging huskies, now openly derides environmental policies as ‘green crap’.

With another risky by-election coming up and a general election looming on the horizon, there is a risk that Cameron will cave in to pressure from UKIP and Tory right-wingers and try to water down the EU’s environmental ambitions.

A weakened deal would not only undermine global efforts to tackle climate change, it would also represent a huge wasted economic opportunity. The argument put forward by Tory and UKIP dinosaurs, that we have to choose between green policies or jobs and economic growth, is fundamentally flawed.

All over the world, major economies such as the US, China and India are waking up to the fact that future growth will have to be clean and sustainable. Over the next 15 years, an estimated 90 trillion dollars will be spent on building modern and low-carbon infrastructure in the developing world. A whole new generation of high-tech firms and entrepreneurs are sprouting up to seize on the huge opportunities this presents to attract investment and create jobs in the green economy.

Traditionally, Europe has had the cutting edge in these sectors. We are well placed to lead the global shift towards sustainability, creating up to 20 million jobs in the process.

But already, EU countries are beginning to fall behind our competitors. Unless Europe’s leaders strike an ambitious deal, including strong targets for renewables and energy efficiency, we will fall further behind in the global race to develop the green technologies of the future.

Cameron must ensure he is on the right side of the argument and listen to his energy secretary, rather than giving in to UKIP pressure. Or else, he risks putting short-term political gain ahead of the long-term interests of Britain, Europe and the planet.

Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP

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