Conservatives Fail To Control The Carbs

Peter Judge

The failure to introduce carbon accounting is one more broken environmental promise by the Conservative government, says Peter Judge

The government missed a four-year deadline yesterday. It was required to get large businesses reporting their carbon emissions in order to start cutting Britain’s carbon footprint, but it failed to do so.

The Climate Change Act of 2008 said carbon reporting should be mandatory and gave the Government until 6 April this year to put it in place. Since Parliament is on holiday till after Easter now, that deadline has gone.

The dog ate my carbon accounting

Instead of introducing carbon reporting, Caroline Spelman, secretary of state at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). delivered a report explaining why there is no mandatory carbon reporting.

This report is in fact the lamest excuse imaginable. After setting out the story so far, Spelman delivered a weak conclusion: “No decision to make regulations has been reached. There has been extensive evidence gathered over the last couple of years [there was a consultation on carbon reporting between May and July 2011, which got 2018 responses], and Ministers require some additional time to consider this evidence to come to a decision.

“This evidence gathering process has taken longer than anticipated,” blustered Spelman, “and the analysis of the results is ongoing as the costs and benefits are fully considered so ministers make an informed decision.”

It’s not clear to me that this really consitutes an “explanation” of the failure, as required by the Act, but it continues the theme that this government has completely forgotten its intention to be “the greenest government ever”, if indeed it ever had any plans to keep the promise.

The government has the attitude that any environmental measure – like any rules for fair wages or the insistence that big companies pay much in the way of tax – is an unwarranted interference with the role of businesses. The downgrading of the CRC (currently in a last-gasp slimmed-down version)  is part of this.

Shift happens

Moving away from green initiatives is wrong becuase there is a fundamental underlying shift happening, from a time when we have plenty of fossil fuels, to a time when we have none. Adjusting to this change is actually an opportunity for business, not a burden.

Reporting carbon use is the best way to identify ways to save it (which means saving money), and if reporting persuades companies to cut, then they have more of a chance of still being here after the fossil fuel is used up.

There are plenty of businesses wanting to get started on making the change to a low-carbon economy. And there is also a mini-industry for carbon accounting software, which now looks like having the rug pulled from underneath it.

“Business has been patiently waiting for a clear signal to level the playing field on carbon reporting,” said Peter Young, chairman of business-led environmental body the Aldersgate Group. “Voluntary systems have run out of road and the UK risks losing its lead in carbon reporting, accounting and reduction. This failure to act now undermines business’ call for much greater transparency and consistency from Government.”

The UK has set itself overall carbon targets and these simply cannot be met, unless we know what carbon is being used by the organisations within this country, Young pointed out. “Carbon reporting is an essential step to meeting our carbon budgets and to driving efficiency and growth from UK business. Independent analysis demonstrates that it would have considerable economic benefits and it is supported by a large number of businesses and the CBI. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats pushed for mandatory carbon reporting in opposition and it is vital that they hold their resolve.”

The Climate Change Act was a Labour law, but the Conservatives and Liberals supported it. Indeed, the Conservative Party actually promised to bring forward the date of carbon reporting and to  “enhance” the powers of the Secretary of State. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg even signed a letter supporting mandatory reporting.

Yesterday’s failure betrays the environment, the businesses that are acting responsibly and going green, as well as the people who believed the Government’s promises.