Osborne vs Davey: The Big Fight!
So in the big green battle in the UK’s Coalition Government, it looks like round 1 to Energy and Climate Change Secretary (and my political colleague) Ed Davey (right), who announced today that cuts to onshore wind subsidy would be limited to 10%, not the 25% called for by backbench Conservative MPs who were given a sympathetic ear by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (left).
However Davey might have taken a couple of telling body blows during the opening exchanges, according to details leaked to the Financial Times. It is not clear what deal was done, but the concession may have been an open door to cheap unabated gas, which could compromise progress to hit climate change targets at a later date.
This is a fascinating battle – and one which Davey was predicted to lose. But I know Ed and, while he is less combative than his predecessor Chris Huhne, he does have a reputation for being quietly effective. But this is also an interesting case study for those trying to implement radical changes to deliver sustainability in their own organisation.
Traditionally Governements haven taken a very incremental approach to environmental protection. This changed with the previous Labour Government’s Climate Change Act in 2008 which committed the Government to deliver a ‘legally binding’ 80% cut in greenhouse gases by 2050. Despite this bold stretch target, with the notable exception of Ed Miliband’s Feed In Tariff, the administration did not make much progress in terms of practical policy measures to meet it.
So the Coalition inherited a stretch target, but there are clear differences in how (or even whether) to meet it. There are those, mainly on the Conservative backbenches, who would simply scrap it. At the other end of the spectrum there’s a cross-party group keen to tackle the challenge head-on – Lib Dems Huhne, Davey and Conservatives such as Tim Yeo and Greg Barker. In between are those who see their role to moderate the debate such as Osborne (who I am reliably informed is not quite as anti-green as portrayed in the media). The problem with this latter position is it takes us back to the incremental tit-for-tat pre-Climate Change Act approach.
So how would I tackle the problem? First, as Davey has done, dig the heels in for the short term at least – ‘wins’ secured now will have a much bigger impact than ‘losses’ in the future. Secondly, use some green jujitsu to play to Osborne’s interests, reframing the argument from “low carbon or growth” to “low carbon growth or business as usual stagnation.” The green sector grew 5% last year – growth Osborne would kill for in the rest of the economy. So play down climate change in the internal debates and make arguments along this line – eg jobs, exports, growth, energy security, innovation, technology etc – all things to attract the attention of a Chancellor of the Exchequer. Thirdly, back this up with evidence from the respected International Energy Agency to keep the Treasury geeks happy.
I’m sure this battle will run and run, but the key will be to fight smart and fight hard.
Photos reproduced under the Open Government Licence