After a heated debate in the Commons this afternoon, parliament has voted against an amendment hailed as crucial by big businesses, NGOs and investors to implement a decarbonisation target for 2030 by April next year. The amendment was defeated with 290 MPs voting no against 267 supporters.
At the third reading of the Energy Bill today, former Conservative Minister and current Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change Tim Yeo, and Labour MP Barry Gardiner’s proposed an amendment to demonstrate to an increasingly hostile investment community that the UK is committed to renewable energy and the reduction of carbon emissions across the utility sector.
The Committee on Climate Change has previously stressed the importance of the target, stating that the sooner investment in low-carbon power generation technology begins, the cheaper it will be. Estimates show that investment in renewable energies could save the UK between £25 and £45 billion by 2030.
Tim Yeo writing before the vote said: “Decarbonising our power sector is – after greater energy efficiency – the most cost-effective way of achieving our carbon reduction goals. Failure to decarbonise the electricity sector now could mean that we are forced to take more costly action to constrain emissions in future.”
With carbon levels topping 400ppm for the first time in around 5 million years (according to The Guardian) the defeated amendment not only makes sense from an investment and business perspective, but from an environmental stewardship standpoint too. The UK needs to be seen to be taking a lead on decarbonisation, at a time when other international powers such as China, the US and Australia are spending big to implement their own legislation to tackle the problem.
The issue has divided the house, and the coalition, but as stated by Labour MP Julie Elliot: “This issue is, or should be, beyond party politics.”
Dr Nick Murry, Chief Sustainability Officer at Ecodesk commented: “It’s very disappointing that this amendment has been defeated and it sends out the wrong signal to businesses, many of whom are committed to reducing their energy consumption, or even decarbonising their own energy supply using on-site renewables. Decarbonisation of our electricity generation is key to longer term energy security, meeting our national carbon reduction target and transitioning to a sustainable economy.”
The uncontested point is that the full shape of the Energy Bill will determine the path of the UK energy sector for decades to come. Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth said: “Investors say that they need certainty so they can make long-term investments in clean British energy. Without it we risk losing business overseas to countries that have made a clear commitment to developing a low-carbon future.”
The amendment was previously dropped in the first draft of the bill that was tabled last November, but thanks to a consortium of MPs, industry leaders and NGOs lobbying on the topic, the amendment was at least debated. It was projected that the implementation of a target could have triggered £75bn in investment in new generating capacity.
Commentators in favour of the amendment are hoping the debate will be picked up again in the Lords. Lobbying efforts by those who got the amendment tabled today are likely to crank up efforts again to ensure that the issue is aired once more before the final bill enters the Royal Assent stage.