It was meant to be the greenest government ever. That was back in the days before Cameron became Prime Minister. But even as late as 2011, George Osborne was promising to leave the rest of the EU in Britain’s green wake. Indeed, despite cutting subsidies to renewables, scrapping research into carbon capture and storage, and gambling the nation’s future on shale gas, the government still claims to be leading the way on climate change.
In fact, Britain’s performance on green energy is not the beacon of progress ministers claim, according to Dr Jonathan Marshall at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit:
“Among its European peers, the UK is distinctly average in terms of progress in cutting emissions and building a clean energy system. This is in contrast to opinions often reported in the media, stating that UK emissions are falling faster than the EU average, that the UK government ‘insists on going faster than other countries in emissions reduction’, or that the UK is reducing the burden to be shared among other EU member states.”
Among the EU’s “Big Five” – Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the UK – Britain came third on a basket of measures designed to get behind the headlines:
“Most claims that the UK is charging ahead stem from the comparison of single measures. But single measures can be quite misleading; so our analysis uses a ‘basket’ of seven metrics, reflecting current and historical trends in carbon emissions, the uptake of renewables and other clean energy technologies, and how efficiently we use energy.”
Britain was sixth out of the entire 28 member states in the EU. But given that the UK economy is the fifth largest in the world, this is not an achievement to celebrate. Indeed, since the evaluation is backward facing, what it actually measured was the energy policies of the coalition government and the New Labour governments before it. As Marshall warns:
“Almost all of our data points pre-date the ‘bonfire of low-carbon’ policies that Mr Osborne and Amber Rudd enacted last year. They have slowed UK decarbonisation. Other low-carbon options, notably Hinkley, stubbornly fail to materialise. Logically, therefore, the UK may find itself moving inexorably backwards through the peloton without a fairly swift draught of policy powerade.”
If British ministers were sitting their climate change exams, I suspect we would be inviting them back for a resit in the Autumn.