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Greens Decry Britain’s New Anti-Green, Pro-Growth Agenda

A significant Cabinet split over the environment will emerge today when the Climate Change Secretary attacks the Chancellor, George Osborne, for threatening to abandon the Government’s green pledges. The simmering feud between the Coalition partners on environmental policy will break out into the open as Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, launches an attack on Mr Osborne for vowing that the UK should not lead Europe in its efforts to cut carbon emissions.

Mr Osborne is the leader of an increasingly influential faction within the Cabinet willing to sacrifice green policies if doing so is deemed helpful to economic growth.

The Chancellor’s hostile stance has prompted much new scrutiny of the Government’s environmental record – and an audit of its green policies by The Independent strongly suggests that David Cameron’s boast of running “the greenest government ever” is now unsustainable. In a clear sign of the serious divisions over the environment at the highest levels of the Government, Mr Huhne, a Liberal Democrat, will reassert the importance of the Coalition’s green policies – three weeks after the Chancellor aggressively downplayed them. Mr Huhne will turn Mr Osborne’s own words against him. Whereas the Chancellor said at the Conservative Party conference that “We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business,” Mr Huhne will say in a speech this morning: “We are not going to save our economy by turning our back on renewable energy.”

And to Mr Osborne’s complaint to the Tory faithful, in Manchester earlier this month, that “Britain makes up less than 2 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions to China and America’s 40 per cent,” Mr Huhne will say: “Yes, the UK is only 2 per cent of global carbon emissions. But if we grasp the opportunity now, our businesses and economy can be much more than 2 per cent of the solution.”

Mr Huhne’s speech is an unusually forceful response to Mr Osborne’s emergence as the clear leader of the anti-environmental faction in the Cabinet through his Manchester remarks. In them, the Chancellor surprised many people by openly attacking the jewel in the Government’s environmental crown, its commitment to slash carbon emissions rapidly as part of its climate-change strategy; he hinted that the UK’s CO2 reduction targets, now the toughest in the world, might be watered down in a review.

It is being noted that Mr Osborne’s father-in-law, Lord Howell of Guildford – who as David Howell was a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, and who has been given a job as a Foreign Office Minister in the current administration – has expressed climate-sceptic views in the past.

A mounting toll of anti-environmental measures, on everything from development of the countryside and eco-homes to illegal timber and oil-tanker safety, presents a picture of an administration which sees the environment as a distraction at best and at worst an obstacle to its core aims.

We highlight here 10 Government policies where the environment is unmistakably under direct attack, or being abandoned, or at least being sidelined, and, in several of them, Mr Osborne can be found at the heart of the matter. For example, the proposed major changes to the planning laws, which have prompted accusations that the Government wants to favour developers and “concrete over the countryside”, come from Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government.

But their origin lies squarely in Mr Osborne’s Treasury, and in the “Plan for Growth” which the Chancellor published at the Budget on 20 March this year, which announces: “The Government will introduce a powerful new presumption in favour of sustainable development – so that the default answer to development is ‘Yes’.”

In another widely remarked-on case, Mr Osborne has strongly limited the powers of the much-heralded Green Investment Bank, a centrepiece of the Tories’ general election manifesto, by ensuring that it cannot borrow funds until the Government has completed its deficit-reduction plan in 2015.

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