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We mustn’t cut emissions faster than European neighbours, says Osborne

Green policy news – by Louise Bateman
3rd October 2011
Cutting carbon emissions faster than other European nations will put British business at risk and will not help the environment, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has said.
Speaking to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester today, the Chancellor attacked "a decade of environmental laws and regulations" and hinted that UK carbon targets could be watered down if Europe did not pass more ambitious carbon reduction legislation that matched Britain’s.

"Now we know that a decade of environmental laws and regulations are piling costs on the energy bills of households and companies," Osborne told party loyalists.

"We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business," he went onto say. "So let’s at the very least resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe."

CO2 emissions targets
The UK Government is currently committed to cutting carbon emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050 and halving the countries carbon emissions on 1990 levels by 2025. However, the EU is only committed to cutting emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. Lobbying by a number of European countries, including Britain, and some businesses, to set a higher European target of 30 per cent has so far been unsuccessful.

Some business groups and energy intensive companies are saying the UK’s carbon policies are putting the UK economy at competitive disadvantage with other countries, and in an apparent show of solidarity with those critics today, Osborne seemed to be suggesting that the UK was sticking its neck out too far on its carbon targets.

"Britain makes up less than two per cent of the world’s carbon emissions to China and America’s 40 per cent," he said.

Change of policy
Osborne comments today raise the spectre of a change in Government policy over carbon emissions and could spark another ministerial row over the direction the UK should adopt in its transition to a green economy.

In May, the Government agreed to adopt a fourth carbon budget that set a limit on the total amount of greenhouse gases to be emitted by the UK between 2023 to 2027 to 1950 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, a cut of 50 per cent on 1990 levels. But the decision followed a row between the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which backed the targets, and the Treasury and the Department for Business, which were opposed to them, believing they might put UK jobs and the economy at risk. In the end the Government said it would adopt the fourth carbon budget but would review it in 2014.

Following Osborne's speech, Friends of the Earth said the Chancellor was undermining the Government’s pledge to be the "greenest Government ever", but business group the CBI said energy-intensive businesses would welcome his position. 

"For businesses, one of the challenges to growth is rising energy costs, so manufacturers will be encouraged by the Chancellor’s commitment that cutting emissions will be no faster than our European competitors," John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said.

While pouring cold water on tougher carbon targets, Osborne said today he agreed with investing in greener energy and said that was why he had given the go-ahead to the Green Investment Bank.

Graphene research hub
He also announced the Government would invest £50 million in a new research hub to commercialise graphene, a superthin material being developed by scientists at the University of Manchester that could be used in vehicles and aircraft to make them lighter and therefore more fuel-efficient. And in a move that should help improve the energy efficiency of businesses, he announced a £150 million fund to back high-performance computing programmes and IT infrastructure. 

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