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Green groups should look beyond Osborne's rhetoric and admire Huhne's deeds

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Government may be planning a ten-fold increase in the number of wind turbines to 32,000 (see today's Sunday TImes (£)). It may have established a £3 billion Green Investment Bank. It may have introduced its insulate-your-home-now-but-pay-later Green Deal. It may be spending £1 billion on addressing climate change in Africa (last week's Sunday Telegraph). It may have vetoed a third runway at Heathrow. It may be investing huge amounts in the greenest of all transport systems - rail, particularly HS2... But none of this is enough for Britain's green campaigners. In separate and heated letters to The Observer, two different green posses have dragged the Coalition's environmental credentials through the mud.

One letter comes from people that the Government will be readier to ignore. Caroline Lucas, George Monbiot and Jonathan Porritt sign a deeply political letter that concludes "the coalition is on a path to becoming the most environmentally destructive government to hold power in this country since the modern environmental movement was born". The other letter will worry ministers more and it's hardly less damning. Signed by the RSPB, CPRE, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - and triggered by the Chancellor's Autumn Statement - David Cameron and Nick Clegg are accused of a "stunning disregard... for the value of the natural environment". You can read both letters here.

Both the Liberal Democrats and David Cameron have long proclaimed their green credentials and will feel these attacks keenly. They will worry how the hundreds of thousands of supporters of groups like the RSPB will now see the Government. The love or ire of third party groups has become powerful in an age when politicians are distrusted.

Although George Osborne has recently tried to protect manufacturing, in particular, from the high costs of climate change policies the reality is that Chris Huhne is a remarkably successful and powerful minister who is delivering very bold (and expensive) action on climate change. Tim Yeo, the Conservative chairman of the House of Commons energy and climate committee, acknowledges this in remarks to The Observer:

"We are getting a change of rhetoric, with more emphasis on the burdens that green projects could put on the economy. But it is out of step with what the government is doing, much of which is radical and forward-looking."

Exactly. The rhetoric has changed but the same Government policies continue. Policies that are increasing energy bills for every British consumer but, in the absence of global agreement, are doing nothing to reduce the world's carbon emissions. In a leading article The Sunday Times (£) makes a very good point about today's news that Huhne is planning another 32,000 wind turbines. It points out that current green technologies are immature and a "rush to invest" now could lumber Britain with expensive and out-of-date energy sources. More sensible nations (I guess they are thinking of the BRIC economies) will wait until today's huge investments in green technology have delivered fruits.

Christopher Booker has today's must-read column in The Sunday Telegraph. He wonders if the two political loves of Mr Huhne's life - Europe and fighting climate change - might be related:

"The reasons why a European single currency could not work without a massive transfer of resources from richer countries to poorer ones were clearly laid out more than 30 years ago, when the MacDougall report was presented to the Commission in 1978. And the reasons why the Copenhagen treaty was never going to happen were obvious even before Kyoto in 1997 – when China, India and other developing countries made it clear that there could be no treaty on global warming unless its economic burden was carried by the developed nations of the West."

I also read that the UK delegation to the Durban climate change summit numbers 45. I don't know if that includes John Prescott but these summits are at least great for the international airline business.


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