I leafed through the UK Government's new Carbon Plan on the train to Birmingham on Wednesday. The plan brings together a whole raft of initiatives either underway or promised and doles out responsibility to different Whitehall departments to deliver them by set deadlines. The plan seems to have been well received - if a green pressure group says "we welcome this, but it needs to go further", they actually mean "this is pretty damn good, but we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't find something to criticise.".
Here are some of my thoughts:
- Overall the plan is remarkably concise and comprehensive, covering everything from the electricity market to agriculture. The pinning of particular actions on particular departments is very welcome in terms of spreading the responsibility;
- The amount of Parliamentary bureaucracy is quite staggering - white papers and consultations are legion in the document - no wonder it takes a long time to change the way we do things;
- It is great to see some of the more challenging programmes (Green Investment Bank & Green New Deal) in the plan with targets. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to structure both so they are effective and don't bring the Treasury out in a rash - failing that, just the former would do.
- Some areas that I am evangelical about eg cycling, telecommuting and teleconferencing, are mentioned, but the kind of incentives being thrown at, say, electric vehicles are missing. Arguably the former three would do more for carbon emissions at a fraction of the cost - so why no investment, incentive or even high level support? Sometimes I suspect it comes down to politicians preferring to be photographed at the wheel of a fancy new electric car than using teleconferencing.
- Likewise the much heralded 'smart grid' is mentioned only in terms of the Govt 'paving the way' towards it, rather than having an action in the plan. I would like to have seen some mention of pilot projects at the very least.
It will be interesting to see how the plan pans out in practice. With the exception of nuclear energy being frowned upon by the Lib Dems, there are no ideological differences between the big three parties, so criticism from Labour is likely to be limited to the quality of implementation and the speed of progress. However, there are high stakes for the coalition Government in terms of public perception. David Cameron needs to deliver on his promise to run The Greenest Government Ever (in reality not that difficult) to show he's not a Thatcherite with a warm handshake, and the Lib Dems need to be able to demonstrate progress on a key part of their ethos to show a return on their involvement in the coalition. It will be interesting, for sure.