27 September: ‘Green Ed’
Ed Miliband has been elected Labour leader. This is good news for UK climate politics, as he was a good energy and climate change secretary, taking the right steps on energy efficiency, renewables and nuclear, and some of the right steps on coal. Therefore, the UK has a Prime Minister who came up with the phrase “vote blue, go green” (blue being the Conservatives’ traditional colour) and a Leader of the Opposition whose first major job in government was to create a new Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Having said some mildly left-wing things during his campaign (such as the radical socialist suggestion that banks need regulation), he has instantly and predictably been dubbed ‘Red Ed’ by the tabloid press. A more accurate description would be Green Ed. But unfortunately that doesn’t rhyme.
The election of his brother David would also have been good for climate politics. David was an excellent Environment Secretary before he became Foreign Secretary, and pushed through the UK Climate Change Act (the environment department was responsible for climate policy before the creation of DECC in 2008), which sets a binding target that UK emissions should be reduced by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 and, more significantly, sets ‘carbon budgets’ for the intervening periods. As Foreign Secretary, he made climate change a central part of UK diplomacy around the world (though his predecessor Margaret Beckett had started this).
As Energy Secretary, Ed Miliband piloted through a Feed-in Tariff for small scale renewable electricity, alongside the Renewables Obligation for large renewables, and promised a similar Renewable Heat Incentive to expand the use of biomass heat, heat pumps and solar thermal. The Renewable Heat Incentive is in danger of being delayed by the coalition government, though current Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, is strongly supportive. This should be a major issue for Ed’s early leadership. In office, Ed also outlined strong measures to improve energy efficiency, which Labour had previously pretty much ignored (including in the two years I worked for the government, so I can’t escape the blame for this). The plans he outlined in March’s Household Energy Management Strategy have largely been adopted by the coalition. (Indeed, many were drawn from Conservative or Liberal Democrat proposals.) The coalition has come up with a catchier title – ‘Green Deal’.
Ed also stated that there would be no new coal power stations without CCS. This was good, but not as good as claimed. What it meant was that no new coal would be allowed without some CCS. However, this could only be a quarter or a third of the total capacity, as the infamous Eon proposal at Kingsnorth in Kent would be.
The Conservative MP, Tim Yeo, picked him up immediately on this, going on the BBC to point out the difference. Yeo was in the Shadow Cabinet until 2005, but after the Conservatives lost that election he resigned to spend more time working on climate issues. In May 2010, he was elected chairman on the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, so is well placed to ensure that the coalition is as strong on climate as it promises to be. And in July 2010, Yeo published a good pamphlet called Green Gold arguing – correctly and with lots of strong evidence – that action on climate will also be good for economies and that, if countries like the UK don’t take a lead, China will get all the benefits. He argues for a role for good regulation:
“… in driving progress towards a low carbon technology new regulations can be beneficial. As long as the timetable for introducing regulations and, indeed, for the tightening of existing ones, respects the investment cycles of the industries affected it can even help business. Regulation can work with the grain of tax incentives and other market based instruments to achieve the same ends”
He also writes that the EU has an important role in controlling climate change. This is self-evidently true and certainly accepted by current Energy Secretary Chris Huhne (a former MEP). Prime Minister Cameron and Foreign Secretary Hague (who is more ‘Euro-sceptic’) say that they accept the EU’s role on climate. However, there is no evidence yet that they will be prepared to allow the EU to do significantly more. This would be an excellent theme for Ed Miliband to campaign on, in tacit alliance with Tim Yeo and Chris Huhne. Climate control is more important than party politics.