Climate Justice & Sustainability

Wanted: an Energy Bill for future generations - MPs vote against legislation to decarbonise energy

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Last week an amendment to the proposed ‘Energy Bill’ in the United Kingdom was voted down by the House of Commons. The crucial piece of legislation centred around de-carbonisation targets for the UK’s energy sector. Francesca Carnibella of the UK Youth Climate Coalition looks the defeat in the context of the status of green issues within British politics more widely, and at what this defeat means for the rest of the Energy Bill.

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Last week a crucial amendment to the Energy Bill failed to pass through the House of Commons. The amendment, which refers to a 2030 de-carbonisation target for the UK’s electricity sector, is crucial to catalysing investment in the renewable energy sector, creating green jobs and helping to prevent dangerous climate change.

Tabled by conservative MP Tim Yeo, the amendment wasdefeatedby 290 votes to 267. This is one of the tightest victories for the Government in this Parliament. UKYCC, along with ahostof environmental organisations and green businesses, backed the amendment and submittedevidenceto the Public Bill Committee in the earlier stages of the amendment’s formulation.

It is encouraging to see that 267 MPs voted in favour and this suggests that at least some politicians are able to look beyond short term political cycles. (The vote was largelybackedby Labour, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party). Renewable energy investment requires longer-term, stable policies that go beyond the rhythm of political elections. Indeed, the Committee on Climate Change, the statutory body that advises the Government on climate policy,statesthe UK would benefit from cleaner and cheaper energy if large scale investment in renewable energy begins now.

This is the kind of political thinking and action we need to create a clean power system that safeguards the climate for future generations.

But the amendment’s defeat is symptomatic of broader trends within the Government’s green agenda - atoxic Treasuryand Coalition in-fighting. Led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, the Government is currently pursuing a dangerous dash for gas, with 40 new gas-fired power stations in the pipeline. Osborne, along with other climate sceptics in the Conservative Party, opposes the de-carbonisation target and a large-scale renewables switch. Claiming that gas is cheaper, the Chancellor and his entourage know that without a de-carbonisation target green investors will remain wary amount the Government’s commitment to renewable energy and hold back from pouring their pennies into the sector.

Such opposition has trickled through to the Liberal Democrats. Fifteen Lib Dem MPs rebelled against the Coalition and voted in favour of the amendment, including the Party President Tim Farron. It is encouraging to see that some rebelled but disappointing to see that not more Lib Dems stayed true to their party’s supposed commitment to ambitiousgreen policies. Senior Liberal Democrats, including Secretary of State for Energy and Climate ChangeEd Davey, are increasingly reluctant to bow down to Conservative environmental scepticism. But we need more Lib Dems to defy Coalition unity to avert thedash for gas, and to prevent future generations from being locked into an energy system that neither the climate nor our purse strings can afford.

The Bill will now pass through to the House of Lords. There is cautiousoptimismthat the House could pass the amendment to include a de-carbonisation target. WatchYouth for Green Jobsas well as our partners atStop Climate Chaos Coalitionfor how to get involved with the next stages.

Wherever our elected representatives may fall on the political spectrum, the Energy Bill highlights the need to put young people and future generations at the heart of climate policy. This means creating green employment opportunities for young people in the short term. The green economy already employs nearly amillionpeople; this is promising for a generation out of work. But it also requires politicians to have foresight, and to look towards the energy system and climate that their children and grandchildren will inherit. We want and need an Energy Bill that creates the foundations for a clean and fair energy system. And to do this we need a critical mass of politicians that listen to both the science and young people.

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