COP21: How will David Cameron spin last week’s carbon capture ‘betrayal’?

The UK's position at the UN climate conference has been seriously undermined by George Osborne's decision to pull the plug on carbon capture storage


David Cameron is preparing to speak alongside other world leaders in Paris this afternoon, on the opening day of the UN climate talks.

Cameron will set out his priorities for the conference, including calling for rich nations to increase funding to poor countries who will be the worst affected by climate change, and reiterating the UK’s demand for countries to agree to a legal framework that will ensure they deliver on their climate change targets.

“The issue of climate change is too large for governments alone to deal with. That is why business and private donors must play an active role in shaping our response to climate change, and enabling trillions of dollars of investment in clean technology,” he is expected to say.

However, that doesn’t mean governments don’t need to play their part. Cameron likes to paint the UK as a world leader when it comes to clean energy, but this picture is not consistent with some of the decisions that have been made on his watch, like rolling back support for solar power and ending subsidies for wind farms. (See here for more examples.)

Most recently, chancellor George Osborne quietly announced that he would be axing the government’s £1bn support for a carbon capture scheme, which would capture and bury harmful carbon dioxide emissions from power stations. Not only did this break one of the Conservatives’ election manifesto pledges, it fatally undermines the UK’s position at the Paris conference.

The carbon capture scheme was pioneering, maximising the UK’s geographical advantage (the depleted North Sea oilfields would be ideal storage sites) and engineering expertise. Professor Stuart Haszeldine of Edinburgh University, one of the UK’s leading energy experts, told the Guardian last week that the decision was a ‘betrayal’.

Several companies, including Royal Dutch Shell and South of Scotland Electricity, had invested more than £100m developing technology for use at two carbon-storage projects which were going to be created in Scotland and Yorkshire. By pulling the plug on these projects at the last minute, Haszeldine said, Osborne was seriously undermining the UK’s credibility as a country serious about addressing climate change.

Cutting the scheme may have allowed Osborne to play the hero in u-turning on his plans to cut tax credits, but it will be more difficult for David Cameron to maintain his image in Paris today. He should face serious questions from other world leaders about why he persists in such audacious hypocrisy when it comes to climate change.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.