Partisan politics put UK climate change policy at risk: minister

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 13, 2014 1:25 PM

By William James

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's efforts to combat climate change are in danger of disarray because "partisan politics" may scare off investors, Energy Minister Ed Davey said on Thursday.

Davey, a member of the junior coalition partner Liberal Democrats, criticized both Prime Minister David Cameron's ruling Conservatives and the opposition Labour party for endangering plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage investment in cleaner energy sources.

"If we are to persuade companies to make long-term investments in Britain's low carbon future, they need to see that there is a political consensus on energy and climate change policy that rises above the normal everyday partisan politics," he said in a speech.

The intervention fits a strategy by the Liberal Democrats to differentiate themselves from their political rivals before a general election in May 2015.

The party's support has dwindled since the last election, with some voters unhappy that they backtracked on core policies. Latest polls give them 10 percent of the popular vote, down from 23 percent in 2010.

Davey accused some Conservative politicians of seizing on anomalies in scientific data to cast doubt on climate change, saying that they were causing some investors to worry that the government might turn its back on "green" energy sources.

"This type of climate change denying conservatism is wilfully ignorant," Davey said, although he added that the number of skeptics was small and that Cameron himself was firmly behind the climate change policy.

Nevertheless, some fringe members of Cameron's party have played down the significance of climate change and opposed renewable energy. Many face pressure from voters over the local impact of wind farms and solar panels.

Conservative minister Michael Fallon, who shares an energy and business remit in the government, rejected Davey's comments, saying in a newspaper interview that "unthinking climate change worship" had damaged British industry and put energy costs up.

Davey also criticized Conservatives who want to leave the European Union, saying Britain was better able to influence the world's biggest carbon emitters as part of the 28-country bloc.

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He said "Europhobia" in parts of the Conservative party had created a "diabolical cocktail that threatens the whole long-term structure of UK climate change and energy policy."

He also criticized Labour, who in September promised to freeze energy prices for 20 months if they won the election.

Davey said the price freeze was "ham-fisted", counter-productive for consumers and a deterrent to investment.

"A price freeze is anti-competitive, reducing competition further rather than extending it, taking us back to square one again," he said, adding that it would mean lower energy bills.

"It also threatens to choke off the very investment in renewables and energy infrastructure that the country desperately needs."

(Additional reporting by Ben Garside; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)