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Cameron and Osborne sound death knell for “greenest government ever” pledge with complete sidelining of low carbon economy. The political consensus that defined action to curb carbon emissions and tackle climate change is drawing to a close.

Has there been a more anti-environmental political conference at any point over the past decade than this year’s annual Conservative Party jamboree in Manchester?

The answer is almost certainly not, and after a week of high carbon policy announcements and sidelining of environmental issues the hard fought political consensus on the urgent need to create a world-leading low carbon economy looks to be under serious threat for the first time in a decade.

If you look at the handful of environmental announcements that have emerged in the past few days it has provided explicit confirmation that large parts of the largest party in the coalition are not signed up to the UK’s low carbon agenda, are actively lobbying for it to be scaled back, and are in some cases tearing off in the opposite direction.

We’ve already covered the announcements of a proposed increase in speed limits, a return to weekly bin collections, and most importantly George Osborne’s commitment to ensure the UK’s carbon targets do not exceed those adopted by Europe. But it is worth looking at them again. Philip Hammond has driven a coach and horses through his department’s low carbon strategy leaving some of his own officials in despair at a policy that could result in motorway emissions rising by 10 to 15 per cent. Eric Pickles has decided that having identified £250m of additional cash his top priority is the return of weekly bin collections that have been shown to reduce recycling rates. And then there was George Osborne’s litany of environmental misconceptions, arguably the most anti-environmental comments made by a leading British politician in years.

First there was the ‘not us, gov’ defence with his claim the UK only accounts for two per cent of global emissions, when research has consistently shown our emissions are closer to five or six per cent. Then there was the categorically false assertion that “we’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business” – is it not demonstrably the case that we’re not going to save our businesses if we kill off our planet? And finally there was the clear challenge to the authority of his green-minded colleagues with an explicit commitment to cut the UK’s carbon targets if the EU does not up its own goals.

The Prime Minister could have undone the undoubted damage meted on green investor confidence by his colleagues.

He may not have sufficient authority over the right wing of his party to over rule these anti-green policies altogether, but he could have explained how deeper cuts in emissions will be delivered elsewhere in the economy to compensate the increase in emissions that will result from Hammond’s fuel burning speed limit. He could have outlined how new recycling schemes would help ensure weekly bin collections do not undermine the progress on waste reduction made in recent years. And most importantly he could have offered green businesses reassurance that while measures will be put in place to stop carbon leakage the legally binding long-term targets contained in the Climate Change Act are sacrosanct, regardless of what the chancellor says.

Instead he praised Osborne’s “excellent speech”, did not mention climate change once, and only mentioned green issues three times: to criticise Labour’s record, insist planning reforms will not harm the environment, and declare that “green engineering” would form part of the Conservative’s new economy.

Issues that Cameron once presented as an existential threat and a key component of his party’s agenda are now little more than a footnote. In fact, judging by the rest of his speech they are less important than tired attacks on health and safety rules or lame jokes about Ken Clarke’s liberal tendencies.

Should green businesses be concerned by this clear sidelining of the low carbon economy?

In the short term, it is unlikely to make much of a difference to a low carbon sector that is continuing to grow at over four per cent while the rest of the UK economy flat lines.

It is frustrating to see political leaders no longer making climate change and low carbon opportunities a key component of their speeches, but it is understandable that they are currently prioritising shorter term social and economic concerns.

Meanwhile, the handful of anti-green Conservative policies announced this week may create infuriating inconsistencies across government, but they will do nothing to derail the much larger package of low carbon measures designed to drive investment in green technologies and business models.

Electricity market reforms, the Green Investment Bank, the Green Deal, the Renewable Heat Incentive, they will all continue apace, creating huge commercial opportunities for low carbon businesses and investors. Similarly, global climate change risks, surging investment in clean tech, and rising energy prices and supply insecurity will all continue regardless of whether or not the prime minister chooses to mention climate change in his speeches. The fundamentals driving the low carbon economy remain as robust as ever, and progressive businesses understand this implicitly.

However, at the same time it appears that the political consensus that defined action to curb carbon emissions and tackle climate change is drawing to a close.

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