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Reshuffles, renewables & the UN climate talks: What the new UK govt means for the climate

Tory government

Creative Commons: Herman Pinera

As the UK Conservative government celebrates its shock victory in last week’s elections and Prime Minister David Cameron begins to appoint his new cabinet, campaigners and green business groups are urging the government to show early support for the low-carbon transition.

With the Conservative manifesto pledging to end public subsidies for onshore wind power, maximise the recovery of UK oil and support shale gas development, commentators warn the party’s election victory could serve a severe blow to Britain’s green energy industry.

Meanwhile they warn the potential re-negotiation of the UK’s position in Europe could leave the country distracted, “weakening their ability to drive a strong climate agreement in Paris”.

Nick Mabey, chief executive of E3G warned:

If the UK votes to leave the EU then expect a complete revision of UK climate and energy policy. If the UK does not vote for ‘Brexit’ then the Eurosceptic majority in the Tory party will remain a drag on attempts to create a single European energy market and strengthen delivery of EU clean energy and climate change goals.

There is too much legal, business and political momentum invested in decarbonising the UK economy to expect major shifts in domestic policy, beyond immediate cut-backs in support for onshore renewables and energy efficiency. However, over the course of a Parliament there is a real risk the UK could drift seriously off track in delivering carbon budgets, precipitating an intense political fight over maintaining targets

Campaigners have urged the government to offer early support for the low carbon economy, to ensure jobs, protect UK citizens and ensure success at the UN climate talks this December.

However, the unexpected appointment of Amber Rudd as the UK’s new energy and climate change secretary has been welcomed by campaigners.

Quoting Margaret Thatcher ahead of the election Rudd, showed her support for the green agenda, saying: “‘The core of Tory philosophy and for the case for protecting the environment are the same’… Her words are as true today as they were then.

Simon Bullock, senior climate change campaigner at Friends of the Earth said:

Amber Rudd has already acknowledged the need to boost renewables and increase investment in energy efficiency – and importantly she recognises the devastating impact that climate change will have without action. Her department now needs to make urgent decisions to get the UK off fossil fuels, not least by phasing out dirty coal, and reducing our energy demand and carbon emissions through major investment in energy efficiency and clean renewable power.

Green groups see the promotion of “really green and no-nonsense” Rudd as a “hopeful sign that the Government remains committed” to its cross-party pledge to uphold UK carbon targets, push for an ambitious UN climate deal and phase out unabated coal-fired power stations.

There is as yet no date set for a phase-out, and campaigners say and “early priority [of the new government] should be the systematic and phased closure of the UK’s coal-fired power stations.”

Emma-Lucy Pinchbeck, head of climate and energy at WWF UK said:

As a signatory to The Climate Coalition Leader’s Pledge, David Cameron is committed to progressing policy in line with the Climate Act, fighting for a global deal on climate change, and driving forward the low carbon transition. We will support the Prime Minister and his new Government to make good on these pledges, so that Britain may realise the economic benefits of acting on these ink-and-paper promises.

Ending coal would send a strong signal ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris in December, reduce the UK’s dependency on imported Russian coal, and be one of the cheapest ways to quickly reduce carbon emissions, in line with the Conservatives commitment to “cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible.

The new Conservative government will represent the the UK at the UN climate talks in Paris at the end of the year and at next month’s G7 meeting in Bavaria, where climate change will be high of the agenda.

With 2015 such a crucial year for climate change, all eyes will be on the government to ensure that it continues to drive climate momentum, that it keeps the UK at the forefront of action and that it plays a key role in securing an ambitious outcome at the Paris climate talks.

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