The comments from John Gummer, featured in the Guardian, who has been chosen to chair the independent climate change committee, came amid growing signs that the chancellor is leading a headlong government retreat from David Cameron’s much-vaunted commitment to lead “the greenest government ever”.
George Osborne’s attempt to backtrack on green policies by supporting a new “dash for gas” ran into trouble after the incoming head of the government’s climate change committee said future economic growth would be impossible without more renewable energy.
Suspicions were raised last week that the prime minister had accepted the need to downgrade green policies, which many Tory MPs see as too expensive in a recession, when he promoted climate sceptics in his reshuffle. He switched Owen Paterson, who has made clear that he is opposed to windfarms, to environment secretary, and made another green sceptic, John Hayes, energy minister.
Speaking to the Observer days before taking up his appointment at the head of a committee that includes many of the country’s top climate scientists, Gummer (now Lord Deben) said he was convinced that current government policy, which backs the increased use of renewable energy was the only way forward.
Osborne’s support for a new dash for gas was revealed in a letter he wrote to Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary, in July at a time when many Tory MPs were unhappy about the level of government subsidies for wind farms. The chancellor targeted a figure of £500m he wanted to see cut from the government’s support for the generation of power from new renewable sources by 2014. Instead he backed a new generation of gas power stations, fuelled by supplies from the Middle East, saying these would provide electricity more efficiently.
However, the prospects of gas prices falling are questioned by many politicians who argue that prices are more likely to rise as developing nations such as India and China build their own energy plants and seek gas to burn in them. A sellers’ market will evolve, they argue, one that will benefit suppliers such as Qatar but which could leave Britain seriously exposed to rising gas prices.
Reliance on gas would also leave the UK dependent on foreign imports to run the nation’s power stations and mean that the renewable energy industry, including wave and tidal generation, would contribute less to the economy as demand fell, it has been argued. Similarly work on carbon capture and storage – which would take carbon emissions and bury them in underground stores – would be halted.