In case you missed it, last week was the government’s Green Great Britain Week (GGBW), a self-styled celebration of all the successes the UK’s clean sectors have achieved so far. Only the party didn’t exactly go according to plan, and ended up being bookended by serious questions asked of the government’s true level of ambition.
In truth, there was already something of a shadow cast over GGBW from the preceding week. The Committee on Climate Change’s calls for a more ambitious EV roll-out were almost immediately juxtaposed with transport secretary Chris Grayling’s announcement of an overhaul of the Plug-in Car Grant that will cut available funds in November, exactly the kind of jarring announcement the CCC has become increasingly exasperated with. But more from that particular committee later.
GGBW eventually kicked-off on the Monday with a handful of announcements from big businesses, made to much fanfare. Amazon and HSBC revealed they’d be backing solar with sizeable investments, while a raft of other UK firms said they’d too be cleaning up their act.
Then energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry, very much GGBW’s travelling compere for the week, spent Tuesday hot-footing around London. After appearances at parliament and the Energy UK annual conference, Perry spoke at BusinessGreen’s Leaders Summit where, amongst other things, she decided to double down on some anti-FiTs rhetoric.
Having told the BBC’s Roger Harrabin an anecdote about a constituent of hers receiving 12% returns on their residential solar panels – the kind of returns not achievable since late 2015 – she followed that up by remarking that FiT were not the kind of investment the government should be making.
And now back to the aforementioned CCC.
Speaking at this parish’s Solar & Storage Live exhibition, Lord Deben fell just short of Howard Beale and let loose at a government he said needed a “kick up the backside”.
BEIS had the prior day responded to the CCC’s progress report, offering its own version of climate-related events and policies the department has put into place in a bid to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. But Lord Deben was none too pleased with the response, arguing it “just wasn’t good enough”.
“It does not produce the necessary steps which, by law, they have to reach,” he said, but did not stop there. “It won’t be us that takes them to court, but I fear I will be first witness for the prosecution.”
It’s difficult to overstate the significance of this. Here is the chairman of the government’s own climate watchdog, saying that the government has failed to follow through with the kind of clarity and detail necessary to meet its legally binding targets, and basically suggesting he’d make a pretty damn good witness for any prosecution that might fancy taking up a legal challenge.
If Green Great Britain Week was meant to be a celebration, Lord Deben’s the parent who’s returned home earlier than expected to find the kids have made a mess of the place.
Only, a handful of other parents then turned up to have their say. Friday saw the release of the BEIS select committee’s report on EVs and associated infrastructure, within which the government was criticised for a lack of necessary ambition.
“For all the rhetoric of the UK becoming a world leader in EVs, the reality is that the government’s deeds do not match the ambitions of their words,” Rachel Reeves, the select committee’s chair, said, somewhat echoing Lord Deben’s claims elsewhere.
And then, it was over. An event established with all the best intentions had drawn to a fairly anti-climactic close, with the key headlines stolen from BEIS’ grasp by damning reports, ill-timed announcements and a mild dash of hypocrisy.
And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that courtesy of court challenges, the entirety of GGBW was set against the backdrop of fracking being both rubber stamped and held aloft by the government as a future industry worth pursuing. The minor earthquakes that have since been recorded in the vicinity of the now infamous Cuadrilla drilling site could offer an apt metaphor for how that policy decision is likely to play out.
In short, GGBW was a Quiet Bat People-esque announcement shy of being an episode of The Thick Of It.
But perhaps this is a good thing. There has for some time been a sense of detachment between the government’s climate policy and what’s actually occurring outside the walls of Whitehall. Solar is perhaps the most significant example of this. For nearly three years one of the cheapest, cleanest and most popular forms of generation the UK has to offer has been widely derided and excluded and, now, the government is being told we effectively need far more of it.
As a celebration, GGBW fell flat, but as an encapsulating moment for this government’s climate ambition, it could well prove pivotal.