Fears that the UK’s fight against climate change will be lost in the confusion of the Liberal-Conservative coalition were underlined yesterday when divisions between the two parties were exposed over nuclear power, renewable energy, airport expansion and offshore oil drilling.
It emerged that the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne – one of the most senior Lib Dems in the Cabinet – is to cede responsibility for civil nuclear energy policy to his Tory deputy, Charles Hendry, who will steer any legislation through Parliament. Mr Huhne is opposed to nuclear power on public spending grounds.
While the Lib Dems and Tories have agreed that there will be no state funding for a new generation of nuclear power stations, the industry’s powerful lobby said it expected there would be no “slowing down” in the nuclear programme under Mr Hendry. The Lib Dems agreed to abstain on any Commons votes on nuclear power – meaning any legislation is likely to be passed.
Experts have expressed fears that although there would be no public funding for new power stations, there is a risk of state subsidy “by stealth” to achieve the 2017 target by which the private sector and civil servants want the stations to be operational. Hamish Lal, a partner specialising in nuclear contracts at lawyers Jones Day, said: “There was a concern in the industry that having a Liberal Democrat energy minister whose party is openly opposed to new nuclear would mean that the process was not driven sufficiently hard to meet the 2017 target. With Charles Hendry involved in the process I would not now expect any slowing down in the nuclear programme.”
On his second day as Prime Minister, David Cameron pledged to make the coalition the “greenest government ever” and announced that all ministerial departments must cut their carbon emissions by 10 per cent.
Yet an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has found that, despite his commitment to “vote blue, go green”, there are disparities between the two governing parties across all aspects of the environment.
Environmentalists expressed concern that the coalition agreement published last week, while committing the Government to a range of green measures, fails to set targets explicitly for reducing carbon emissions.