Energy Bill decarbonisation amendment defeated

Peers in the House of Lords yesterday (28 October), voted by 216 to 202 to defeat a decarbonisation amendment to the Energy Bill. Should the motion have passed it would have required government to introduce a target for the electricity sector to move away from carbon-based power sources by 1 April 2014.

In its current form, the Energy Bill commits the government to set a decarbonisation target for electricity generation after the fifth carbon budget for the period 2028-2032 is passed by Parliament, probably in 2016.

However, the amendment – brought to the House of Lords by Lord Oxburgh, Lord Stern Of Brentford, and Baroness Worthington – would have forced ministers to bring forward this target and accelerate the move to renewable energy sources. This is particularly important, as the UK is set to shut over a third of existing coal-powered plans in 2015 to meet EU emissions standards.

The House of Lords vote marks the second time a proposed decarbonisation target has been rejected. In the third reading of the Energy Bill on 4 June, 290 MPs voted against bringing in a target to see nearly all of the UK’s electricity generated from renewable sources (rather than ‘dirty’ gas), by 2030 – just 23 more than those who were in favour. 

Speaking after the vote, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said: “We are pleased that the House of Lords has chosen to support government’s position on this. It makes sense to set a decarbonisation target range in 2016, once we have received advice from the Committee on Climate Change on the level of the fifth Carbon Budget, and know how much we need to reduce economy-wide emissions by in 2030.”  

Government is ‘procrastinating’

However, Lord Oxburgh told the House of Lords that the government was ‘procrastinating’, adding: “We know what the committee expects and what its forward look demands for 2030. Waiting for the next carbon budget is a little bit of a procrastination and I do not think that it is a serious, substantial objection.”

Several other commentators have spoken out against the decision, with Peter Young, Chairman of the Aldersgate Group saying: "This is a major missed opportunity, not just for UK green businesses which gave us a trade surplus of £5 billion last year, but to global businesses and investors poised to create jobs and contribute to growth here in the UK.

“The conflict between the government's green pretensions and its increasing determination to procrastinate whilst relying on high carbon, polluting technologies will send global investors elsewhere and slow sorely needed business growth in the UK.

“The uncertainty that this government has caused is already delaying desperately urgent UK investment. Meanwhile, our global competitors are developing tomorrow’s solutions with capital which could have been deployed in the UK to the benefit of our economy, both now and in the long term, when delayed modernisation of our power mix will be more expensive."

Andy Atkins, Executive Director of environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth, added that Ministers need to ‘accept the urgent need to replace our broken energy system with a low-carbon and affordable alternative’.

‘Decarbonisation is possible, but politics is barrier’

The vote follows on from a report released by Zero Carbon Britain that found that the UK has the technology to create a ‘modern, decarbonised’ energy sector now, but politics and society are holding it back.

Indeed, the defeat of the amendment comes despite reasonable cross-sectional support, having proved popular with businesses and environmentalists alike, along with members of the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and Green Party, as well as ‘rebel’ Conservative and Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem) MPs voicing support for introducing the target. 

Despite Liberal Democrat policy supporting decarbonisation, only one Lib Dem peer voted for the amendment (Lord Lester) along with one ‘rebel’ Conservative peer (Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben). Forty three cross benchers supported the amendment and only 15 opposed it, but the decision of 63 Lib Dem peers to back the Coalition Government’s position meant the amendment was defeated.

Atkins said: “The Liberal Democrats have played a sorry part in this decision – shamefully this is the second time they’ve blocked a clean power target, despite claiming to support it all along.” 

Read more about the Energy Bill, proposed amendments and barriers to change.