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A glimmer of hope for carbon emissions? Not with this government

14 May 2015

2014 was the first non-recession year accompanied by stable carbon emissions, the International Energy Agency announced in a new report on 13th March. Or this was the message many global media players (including the BBC) reported a few days ago.

What did not receive as much attention from the report was the clause “from the energy sector”. In other words, the IEA reported that global emissions did not grow from energy generation. The good news is that this happened in a year of global financial growth, for the first time; not during a recession. The IEA attributes the halt in emissions growth largely to changing patterns of energy generation and consumption in China and OECD countries. Although this is good news, and shows that financial growth can partly be decoupled from carbon emissions, it does not mean that global emissions have ‘stalled’.

Two months on, and with a new Tory government, things do not look bright for carbon emissions. Pre and post election promises included that this government will “cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible, and will not support additional distorting and expensive power sector targets.” This would not sound bad, were it not followed by “we will continue to support the safe development of shale gas” and ‘of North Sea oil’. Spot the contradiction: at a time when we are dismally behind any reasonable climate target, the new government pledges support of more drilling – with an expensive, controversial technology, at that. The government does not seem to realize that we need to cut the production and consumption of carbon emitting fuels in any way possible; not encourage their production! The latest IPCC report leaves no room for complacency: we are already late to contain climate change in manageable levels.

And it is not as if there was some master plan of counterbalancing shale gas production with more renewable energy. No, “…we will halt the spread of onshore windfarms.” Loud and clear. It seems that no one told the government that onshore wind power is the most popular power source in the UK. Despite this, the Tories remain committed to a “significant expansion in new nuclear” (where even the term is not entirely clear, – does it mean new technologies or old technologies in new buildings?). Perhaps because this is the Prime Minister’s inner hope for curbing carbon emissions. It seems that there is not much more ‘green’ left in their ‘vote blue go green’ agenda. Does anyone remember that?

Probably not. Neither does Mr. Cameron. But, after all, with conservative governments, the agenda is usually short sighted, and the economy dominates. So no surprise, then, that the last gem from the Tory pledges and plans was…“We will… meet our climate change commitments… as cheaply as possible.” At last, a proper conservative statement. Alas, they cannot achieve this with expensive technologies like offshore windfarms, fracking and new nuclear power stations. Something has got to give. And it is not going to be carbon emissions.


By Dr Dimitrios Xenias

Research Associate from Cardiff School of Psychology and Sustainable Places Affiliate