British energy policy is in trouble. The tug-o-war between traditional and sustainable fuel continues to rage on, and governmental policy panders to each side. In one breath it speaks with a puffed up chest about the achievements of ‘the greenest government ever’ and producing photos of Cameron hugging a husky, and in the next it boasts of the tax breaks given to oil companies for exploration of our dwindling North Sea supplies. Can the powers that be not hear their constant contradiction?
Of course, it would be naïve to suggest that efforts to decarbonise UK energy should already have a stronghold over fossil fuels, or that a clean economy could simply spring up unsupported by traditional energy sources right away. Indeed, a mixture of sources is inevitable as the nation belatedly makes its way towards a low-carbon future, but the political rhetoric that now surrounds both fossil fuel and sustainable power has become very problematic.
The current governmental landscape betrays a belief that it is possible to run with the hare and the hounds ad infinitum when it comes to energy, and this simply isn’t the case. Giving with one hand and taking with the other not only demonstrates a disingenuous attitude that further belittles trust, it also harms investment and makes us less competitive on the world stage.
The contentious issue of fracking as a case in point: in the face of marches and petitions, the Government has attempted to smooth ruffled feathers by claiming shale gas is a clean alternative to coal and oil. It isn’t, and any claim to the contrary simply diminishes their credibility. A further blow has been delivered, with plans being drawn up to allow the undertaking of shale exploration without the permission or even knowledge of those who live on proposed sites. It seems the Government is determined to suck everything out of the ground at any cost for a quick fix.
In other news, a claim made under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that climate change spend under the watchful steer of Owen Paterson dropped from £29.1m in 2012-13 to £17.2m in 2013-14. Paterson is a vocal sceptic of man-made climate change, and was even quoted contemplating the many benefits of a change in British weather. When he was brought in as Secretary of State for the Environment, many predicted that he would do precisely what the figures reveal: slice great chunks out of the Department’s overheads. In light of the huge damage caused by recent flooding, this seems foolhardy at best and bordering on Machiavellian at worst. Cut all the emotive parlance out and you’re still left with an unsettling picture, because economies are not built on crumbling flood defences or million-pound clean up jobs that come as direct results of myopic policy making.
There are always going to be conflicting policies in government, that’s the nature of the game. But attempting to align with both ends of an incredibly divisive spectrum can only result in a strategy that demonstrates UK energy legislation to be a Jack of all trades and a master of none. When the stakes are this high, can we afford to spread our resources in such a way that to a degree they simply cancel one another out?