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George Osbourne to Weaken Green Stance

This weekend, the Conservative party conference was held in Manchester. George Osborne, the chancellor, pledged: "We’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe". A vague sentence indeed – there is massive variation in the different countries in Europe (and amongst Conservative politicians regarding their stance – more on that later!) For example, Italy have just announced that they’re aiming for an increase from 9GW to 26GW installed solar capacity, whereas other countries such as Germany are now cutting Feed in Tariff rates.

This statement is certainly not brand new – Osborne has tried to block the most recent targets for trimming carbon emissions, although he was fortunately overruled by David Cameron. Commentary since has focused on how it is the most outspoken statement yet by the chancellor showing a lack of confidence in the importance and power of green policies.

Source: M. Holland

Law dictates that the UK government must reduce carbon by 35% by 2022 and by a very significant 50% by 2025. Trying to reduce these targets at this stage would prove a massive and probably insurmountable challenge within the cabinet for Osborne. Commentary from the Guardian suggests that this statement could be viewed as a warning shot from the chancellor in order to win him support amongst the right-leaning in the electorate with a view to future battles for the leadership. Unfortunately, the consequences of such vague, negative statements involve an increase in instability for green businesses, such as solar panel companies already worried by the possible reduction in the Feed in Tariff in April 2012, which would be in line with what has happened in several other EU countries.

This statement by Osborne directly contradicts what was mentioned before the election, "If I become chancellor, the Treasury will become a green ally, not a foe". On Monday, he accused a "decade of environmental laws and regulations" for increasing energy costs for households and firms alike. This just isn’t true – the vast majority of cost increases have been shown to be caused by steady and continual rises in fossil fuel prices, as demand growth is massively outstripping that of supply, as stated by Chris Huhne, Lib Dem energy and climate change secretary. Osborne himself in 2007 stated "rather than green policies stifling economic growth, it’s clear that the converse is true"! It’s not quite a U-turn of Heath’s standards, but it is terrible to see such instability being created through inconsistent statements. The reaction from campaigners has been extremely angry and negative. Even the Conservative environment network declared Osborne’s statement as a "clanger". Paul Foote said "Osborne has betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding about how to make our recover secure and sustainable."