Prime Minister David Cameron once dog-sledded across a shrinking Norwegian glacier to showcase his concern for global warming. Now, environmentalists say, his pledge to lead a new era of the “Green Conservative” is in danger of melting away.
Cameron’s troubled road on the environment illustrates the potential pitfalls ahead for any Republican leader who might try to emulate his grab for the political center. Even as he maintains a tough stance on fiscal discipline, Cameron has sought to appeal to moderates by supporting causes such as same-sex marriage and combating climate change. But he has paid with a series of political backlashes that have, at times, forced him to curtail his ambitions.
In few areas is that more true, environmentalists say, than on the issue of climate change. The latest blow, they say, came when Cameron recently called for a rollback of “green taxes” in British energy bills that help pay for, among other things, better insulation in low-income homes and subsidies for alternative sources of energy. Cameron did not elaborate on his idea. But advocates described it as the latest setback to what he once promised would be the “greenest” government in British history.
“We’re disappointed at the opportunities wasted and the risks ahead for green policy,” said Alastair Harper, head of politics at the Green Alliance, Britain’s largest environmental think tank. “There is a way for Conservatives to show they care about the climate change and the environment, but at the moment, they are not able or willing to articulate a way forward.”
Some on the right point to a number of green milestones in which Cameron’s support has set new benchmarks for a Conservative-led government. His government is backing, for example, a bill aimed at reforming and updating Britain’s energy sector that could generate millions of dollars’ worth of “green” investment by guaranteeing minimum prices for wind and other types of renewables. A “carbon budget” for Britain approved last year with the government’s support sticks to legally binding targets for cutting carbon emissions by the middle of the century.
But Cameron, they concede, also faces a conundrum — how to remain true to his word to be “green” while addressing Conservative concerns that the threat from climate change is being overstated even as green policies weigh on consumers’ pocketbooks and the British economy.
“David Cameron said he wanted to lead the greenest government ever, and he accepted quite challenging targets for cutting greenhouse-gas admissions,” said Tim Yeo, a Conservative member of Parliament involved in energy policy. “But now he finds the cost of some of those policies to meet those targets is raising an issue about energy bills. So if he wants to do more for consumers, he’s likely going to have to sacrifice some of his green credentials.”