Gordon Brown will next week reveal he has rejected a Whitehall attempt to abandon the government commitment to supply a fifth of British energy needs from renewables by 2020. The commitment is intended as a landmark move to show Britain can remain a world green leader.
The prime minister is also likely to insist at an international conference in Bali in December that international progress towards a new climate change accord can be maintained.
The conference is trying to agree an international framework to cut emissions after 2012 when the current Kyoto agreement expires. Neither the US or Australia are signatory to the Kyoto accord.
The business and enterprise secretary, John Hutton, has been lobbying inside government to warn there were severe practical difficulties meeting the 20% energy from renewables target set in successive government white papers.
The Guardian last month revealed that Hutton warned it was difficult to persuade the Ministry of Defence and the shipping industry to accept more offshore wind power, as well as increased research and development costs for marine and tidal power.
Hutton said the cost might be as high as £4bn a year just to achieve a 9% share of renewable energy by 2020.
In 2005, 4% of the UK’s electricity supply came from eligible sources of renewable energy. Renewables are currently contributing only 2%, and the government has admitted that on current trajectory the government will reach only 5% by 2020.
But Britain has the best tidal, wave and wind resources in Europe, and a minister insisted yesterday the figures can rise very fast in the years approaching 2020.
Mr Brown and his environment secretary, Hilary Benn, are expected to announce a range of measures including a tighter renewables obligation on electricity companies, a commitment to the Severn tidal barrage and an offshore Thames estuary wind farm capable of supplying a quarter of London’s electricity with 341 wind turbines.
The UK’s outstanding tidal resources could provide at least 10% of the country’s electricity, the government’s sustainable development commission has insisted.
Government sources also pointed to a decision by 10 US midwest governors to back a regional carbon cap and trade scheme. Most US states, including California are favouring market based carbon emission trading schemes.
Ministers believe the alliance of US states, as well as shifting opinion in the US Congress, can undercut the opposition from the White House. Senior government figures claim Midwest Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, agreed at a two day conference, is a clear sign that even industrial states want to cut emissions.
They also take it as an indication that the political atmosphere is changing in the US and that after the US elections next year, if not before, the White House will shift to a more progressive approach, so making it easier to strike long term agreements with India and China, the two industrialising super powers.
One source said: “The aim is to keep the US in the game at Bali and then to work on Hillary Clinton and the US Congress to get a good environmental policy thereafter. We do not need a final agreement for another two years”.
By Patrick Wintour, political editor
17 November 2007
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