The former vice president of the US, Al Gore, has called on the British government to resume its former leadership on climate change, in order to forge a global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions this December at a crunch conference in Paris.
While saying he would not interfere in other countries’ politics, Gore said he was “puzzled” by the Conservative government’s measures to roll back support for renewable energy.
Citing a range of recent government actions – such as slashing subsidies for solar and wind power, and ending support for energy efficiency in homes – he said he could not understand the rationale for such measures, while climate change presents a clear danger to the UK and the rest of the world.
“Will our children ask, why didn’t you act? Or [will they] ask, how did you find the moral courage to rise up and change?” he demanded of a business audience at a climate change debate in London on Tuesday.
“The UK’s historic legacy of leadership on the most important moral issues faced by humanity, including the climate crisis, is long and has been recognised with respect by the community of nations,” he said. “It is time for the UK government to honour and live up to that legacy, and return to its global leadership position, domestically and abroad, by supporting an ambitious international agreement in Paris that unleashes the power of the private sector to create a global clean energy economy.”
Fossil fuels have enjoyed subsidies at least 44 times as high as those for renewable energy, Gore said, in a pointed reference to David Cameron’s government’s decisions to effectively end the building of new onshore wind farms, and slashing of support for solar panels. The UK government has also vowed to increase support for oil and gas, from the North Sea and through fracking.
Gore also slammed the idea that developing countries, such as China and India, are not interested in a deal on global warming. “What do [Chinese people] desire? Clean air, clean water, clean land to grow food,” he said.
His words echoed forceful criticism from the most senior voice in UK business, CBI director-general John Cridland, who warned that ministers were discouraging investment in the UK’s green economy, and endangering billions in potential overseas sales of green goods and services.
Ben Goldsmith, chairman of the Conservative Environment Network and a venture capital investor in clean technology, said it was “crap” for the government to say there was “no money” for renewable energy development. “I hope the government has a plan,” he said, “but I’m not sure they do.”
He contrasted the lack of support for renewables with the £2bn loan granted to French and Chinese investors for the building of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley, which is also guaranteed – when it starts generating power – to be allowed to sell its energy to UK billpayers for double the current electricity price.
Andrew Bonfield, financial director of National Grid, also called for more strategic thinking from government, saying that his company had to think five decades ahead about its plans, and would like government to send clear signals for long-term policy development. He predicted that within two years, solar power could be as cost-efficient as fossil fuels.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said it was notable that the UK’s business leaders were critical of the government’s recent actions on climate change.
He said: “From Britain’s business leaders to the government’s own advisers [the climate change committee’s letter to government], the chorus of opposition against George Osborne’s ideological assault on clean energy just keeps growing. His increasingly erratic and capricious policies are not only harming UK businesses and ripping off consumers but are also isolating Britain ahead of a crucial climate summit.
“When Al Gore ironically remarks that Osborne is not the prime minister, he makes a very good point. David Cameron should take heed of it and start wresting back control of energy and climate policy from the chancellor’s hands.”
Matthew Spencer, of the Green Alliance, which convened the conference, called on ministers to show leadership on commitments to combat climate change, ahead of the Paris meeting.
In response to Cridland, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “We are pushing for a strong global deal in Paris that creates a level playing field for business and drives innovation. Our priorities are to reduce emissions in the most cost-effective way and also keeping bills as low as possible for hardworking families and businesses. Government support has already driven down the cost of renewable energy significantly, helping technologies to stand on their own two feet.”
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