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ConDems consign Kyoto to the dustbin

Big and dirty – that's the energy future envisaged by the Coalition government and backed up with tax breaks in the budget.

The ConDems are progressively dismantling the measures put in place to implement the Kyoto Protocol – the better-than-nothing emissions reduction treaty – which Britain signed but is now left withering on the vine.

The decrease in Britain's greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) achieved by the switch from coal to gas can only be maintained if a switch is made now to renewable energy sources, along with huge energy-saving measures.

The new policy is the exact opposite.

Chancellor Osborne is ready to let rip, exempting industries with high GGEs from the Climate Change Levy and using taxpayers’ money to subsidise fossil fuels.

Exploiting the big lie that tackling climate change means lost jobs and high fuel prices, he announced exemption for the ceramics industry and confirmed he will add others to the list. The industrial lobbyists are queuing up outside his office in Downing Street.

Osborne confirmed that Drax Group plc will get a share in a billion pound subsidy to build a 425MW coal-burning power station in Yorkshire fitted with unproven carbon capture and storage technology. This will be, to all intents and purposes, a a new coal-fired power station.

Oil corporations will get tax breaks to cover the cost of decommissioning North Sea rigs. This is part of the price they’re demanding for taking on expensive, environmentally-disastrous but very profitable, contracts for deep sea drilling in the North Sea.

Osborne promised to kick start shale gas drilling – fracking – with a "generous new tax regime" and looser planning regulations. "Shale gas is part of the future," Osborne says, "and we will make it happen." The ConDems are oblivious to the disastrous environmental, health and human cost people in the US are paying for the fracking boom.

And it does not offer any kind of an energy future, as the new publication Drill, Baby, Drill explains. The authors note that once hooked up to a pipeline, shale gas wells decline rapidly: "For five of the biggest shale plays that account for 80% of US gas production, the well declines are such that production of the average well is down 80-90% after three years."  

The dash for shale gas in the US has put the country on a financial treadmill. As production rose in the initial boom, so gas prices fell. That made drilling in marginal areas unprofitable, so companies are holding off until prices rise again. Instead of being held to ransom by foreign oil, the US consumer is being screwed by home-grown profiteers.

Osborne boasted of the planning permission granted to EDF to build a Leviathan nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point. But with no storage for the waste and the energy corporation EDF demanding price guarantees, how sustainable is that?

China already has 16 nuclear plants and plans 24 more. As demand for uranium increases, prices will rise and consumers will have to pay to sustain EDF's profits. Uranium is a finite fossil fuel too, in case you didn't notice.

"Creating a low carbon economy should be done in a way that creates jobs rather than costing them," says Osborne. Or not at all – that's the real policy.

While the ConDems use our money to underwrite the profits of the energy giants, many small to medium renewables companies balance on the edge of bankruptcy.

Sooner or later we will have to switch to renewables, but that incontrovertible reality cuts no ice in an economic system that sees no further than this week's share values and next year's profits.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
22 March 2013

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