Britain will go no faster than other countries in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the government has signalled.
In a speech setting out the government’s position on climate change, Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, said that the need to cut emissions had to be balanced against the requirement to protect the economy and keep down energy bills.
“We have to pace ourselves so that energy bills remain affordable for households, business remains competitive, and the economy remains secure,” she said. “We have to travel in step with what is happening in the rest of the world.”
By linking Britain’s pace of emissions reduction to the global situation, Ms Rudd went further than George Osborne, the chancellor, who previously said that Britain should cut emissions no faster than the rest of the European Union.
Mr Osborne told the Conservative party annual conference in 2011: “Let’s at the very least resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe.”
Britain was first to bind itself legally to cutting emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, under the Climate Change Act 2008, and the system of five yearly “carbon budgets” remains much tougher than that adopted by most other developed countries.
In recent weeks, Ms Rudd has cut subsidies for onshore wind and solar farms, cancelled the zero carbon homes target and abandoned the Green Deal home energy efficiency scheme.
In a speech to business leaders in the City of London, Ms Rudd referred to Margaret Thatcher’s comments in 1990 on the importance of tackling climate change. She said the government remained committed to the cause but pointed out that Mrs Thatcher had later added an important caveat.
“But in her 2002 book Statecraft, Margaret Thatcher was also sensible enough to ask the question ‘Can global warming be checked at an acceptable price?’”
She said that left-wing figures had been some of the “loudest voices” on climate change and could not be allowed to “dictate the solution”.
Ms Rudd offered sympathy for those, including prominent climate sceptic politicians, who claim that anti-capitalists exploit climate change to promote their political views.
“I can understand the suspicion of those who see climate action as some sort of cover for anti-growth, anti-capitalist, proto-socialism,” she said.
The Conservatives were “clear that our long-term economic plan goes hand in hand with a long-term plan for the climate”, she said, adding: “Climate action is about security, plain and simple – economic security.
“The economic impact of unchecked climate change would be profound: lower growth, higher prices, a lower quality of life.