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The wind industry has played down reports a UN legal tribunal ruling will put future projects in jeopardy.
According to reports today in the Independent, the United Nations Economic Commission Europe has found the UK is in breach of international law regarding public participation and the right to receive information on environmental issues and projects with particular regard to wind farm developments.
The newspaper reported that the tribunal had concluded the UK had denied the public decision-making powers over energy projects and “necessary information” over benefits or adverse effects, in contravention of Article 7 of the Aarhus Convention.
The complaint was brought by Christine Metcalfe, a community councillor from Argyll, who said the public had not been informed about wind power’s potential to reduce CO2 or any effects on health. These include so-called wind turbine syndrome, which has been dismissed as unfounded by health experts, but is commonly cited by anti-wind campaigners.
The ruling could mean that nationwide energy programmes similar to the National Renewable Energy Action Plan would have to be subject to public participation, potentially threatening future developments of wind farms, although environmental campaigners were quick to point out that the same ruling should also apply to new fossil fuel or nuclear generation projects.
However, a RenewableUK spokeswoman said that while the industry body is still looking into the judgment, it did not expect projects to be derailed.
“It appears [the ruling] is not that the government didn’t consult [on NREAP], but that they didn’t demonstrate they had taken into account all the evidence they received,” she said. “NREAP is based on the Renewable Energy Strategy, which was consulted on heavily. This is not going to affect projects on the ground.”
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) had not responded to a request for comment at time of going to press.
The ruling comes as the coalition is reportedly clashing again over the country’s carbon targets, which require emissions to be halved by the mid-2020s, but which some Conservative MPs view as standing in the way of new gas projects.
In 2011, the Chancellor secured a commitment that UK carbon targets for the mid-2020s could be cut if a December review of the targets undertaken by government advisory body the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) showed the UK was moving faster than the rest of the EU in its efforts to curb emissions.
A number of business groups, including manufacturers’ organisation EEF, are already calling for the targets to be watered down as they risk putting the UK at a disadvantage to competitors in Europe, and Osborne is said to be keen to see the targets axed.
However, the CCC wrote to the government earlier this year warning that the country should not change its targets even if ongoing efforts to strengthen EU efforts failed. Meanwhile, Lib Dem Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey is said to be preparing to mount a robust defence of the current targets, while negotiations are also ongoing in Europe to introduce ambitious new carbon targets for the whole bloc through to 2030.
Think tank Green Alliance has said it will urge the government to drop the December review entirely to avoid unsettling investors.
“Investors had planned to spend £180bn in the UK’s low carbon infrastructure, but they now wonder if their money is wanted here,” Alastair Harper, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance told the Financial Times. He added that many companies saw the review “as the final test of whether the UK government is serious about attracting their investment”.
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