We need investment in renewable energy, but our government is going the other way

Fracking is a matter of the most serious environmental concern, but questions remain on its safety

Four days. That’s how long it’s taken the Tories to renege on the promise and principle of Paris COP21. The ink has barely dried on Saturday’s Agreement – an agreement that symbolises a new era of clean energy and carbon limits.

But today, the Government has already hit reverse gear – backtracking on its pledge to protect National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest from fracking for shale gas.

Posturing is all very well – but the inconvenient truth for the government is that, when you sign an agreement, the public does expect you to abide by it. That stands true for Paris – and it stands true for its pledge on fracking limits.

Earlier this year Labour laid down 11 specific amendments to the Infrastructure Bill. We said there should be no more fracking unless all these safeguards – including for our Water Protection Areas – were put in place. The government conceded.

But in an anti-democratic, downright bewildering U-turn, the government is today using a back door procedure known as a ‘deferred vote’ – whereby no MP is able to speak or debate the issue – to force through a motion to allow fracking under our National Parks.

Their ill-considered – ill-fated – dash to extract every last drop of fossil fuel – even at the risk of our most loved landscapes – shows that the Conservatives believe international treaties are binding on everyone: except them.

Paris has set us on a low-carbon pathway to a new clean, green industrial revolution. It’s urgent we get on track. Moreover, it makes economic, as well as environmental, sense.

Today’s move shows a level of financial incompetence from the Conservatives that is frankly breath-taking. The Government was completely at odds with the world’s business leaders, who gathered for the COP21 Sustainable Innovation Forum.

I spoke with many of them. They’re ready to embrace the enormous benefits offered by a low carbon future and to invest in renewable technologies.

Our government, on the other hand, is cutting subsidy for renewables, scrapping the programme for low carbon homes, pocketing the £1billion grant that was supposed to pioneer Carbon Capture and Storage and locking us into a fossil fuel future that will vastly undermine UK jobs and growth.

The markets are so far ahead of the UK, it’s frightening. The price of oil has dropped by 12 per cent in the past ten days. £124 billion has been wiped of the share value of companies like BP and Shell.This is not the moment to invest in a whole new fossil fuel industry.

Fracking is a matter of the most serious environmental concern; but even for those who believe the technical issues around it can be solved to make it safe, the question remains as to the sense of investing in a fossil fuel technology whose days are so very clearly numbered – even by the Government’s own admission.

Climate action is a matter of fundamental social and environmental justice. That sense was the driving force behind the historic Paris Agreement. The deep sense that more should be done for the poorest communities – paying, as they are, so dearly for a global warming crisis they didn’t cause; a crisis caused by carbon emissions from developed economies that they haven’t even received the benefit of.

But what will power the Paris Agreement forward are the global financial markets. The investors. The business leaders. They’ve seen the writing on the wall for fossils and they’re doing what good business does: adapting.

They’re switching to the technologies of our future, but government is locking us into the past.

 

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