Doing the Honourable Thing

16 Nov 2015 | Ian Thomas

Last week we were treated to a scoop from The Ecologist (no, not the Economist) which revealed a leaked letter from Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change, to her Cabinet colleagues. This missive admitted that, contrary to the strong impression Ms Rudd had given to Parliament, the UK is not on track to meet its (legally binding) 2020 renewable energy targets. However, the fine detail behind the controversy seems to have been Ms Rudd highlighting that renewable heat generation and renewable transport fuels have failed to match the progress made in renewable electricity generation, thereby risking a failure to meet the overall energy commitment.

What would failure mean?
We could take the view that countries sign up to all sorts of international commitments and then fail to honour them completely (or, in some cases, at all). In the context of climate change, the US signed the Kyoto Protocol, then failed to ratify or implement it. Canada signed up to Kyoto, at least made some weak efforts to implement it and only then abandoned the effort several years later. The European Union (as a whole), on the other hand, has a pretty decent track record of honouring its main Kyoto commitments, even if some of the associated initiatives (like the Emissions Trading Scheme) have failed.

Critics argue that the UK is responsible for a very small proportion of global GHG emissions and, therefore, what we do or don’t do on renewable energy is insignificant compared to the US, China, India and others. Others say that we must lead by example given that we were a leading proponent of global industrialisation (which largely caused the problem in the first place) and remain an influential player in international affairs.

The UK, as a leading member of the European Union, signed up to a commitment to generate 20% of its energy from renewables by 2020. Since then, successive governments have broadly adhered to that commitment though putting in place the regulatory framework and financial incentives to stimulate investment in the required infrastructure. We are now in the final straight and achieving the goal is within reach. Notwithstanding that the financial situation is tighter than before, that some other countries have not met their commitments and that, arguably, the Kyoto framework has been shown to be flawed, we should deliver on the 20% target.

A number of Turquoise clients are developing technologies and business models to help meet these goals. What they need is a stable and supportive regulatory framework in which to attract investment. Global warming has not gone away, the science has not been disproven and we cannot expect others to take positive action when we fall short. Particularly when it will be perceived that we chose to do so for political reasons when it was within our grasp.

Ian Thomas

Managing Director