The first document outlining the Con/Dem coalition agreement has been released (see above). As one might expect it’s worded in fairly general terms, but provides a signpost to the new government’s priorities. Although there will be plenty more meat to go at in the Queen’s Speech, here are some thoughts on the document’s climate change commitments and their relevance for the research.
Adam Vaughan identifies
the areas where both sides agreed pre-election (the last three having being introduced by the Labour Government):
- government sign up to 10:10,
- no new airport runways in the south-east,
- establishment of a green investment bank,
- a green loan scheme
- feed-in tariff for microgeneration.
So, considerable continuity along with some changes not impacting directly on sub-national implementation. However, there are areas which do have the potential for causing changes in policy.
Vaughan contrasts the Lib Dems’ previous proposal (not in their manifesto) of 15,000 new wind turbines? with the Conservatives’ more laissez-faire approach of letting the market decide on the energy mix once the government has established “the right incentives”.
The 2009 East Midlands energy review?identifies wind energy as key to reaching the region’s targets for renewable energy use (Faber Maunsell, 2009, p.78). However, the coalition agreement doesn’t mention wind explicitly; only pledging to increase the overall renewables targets under advice from the Climate Change Committee. Avoiding specific commitments to wind energy may be seen as an attempt not to upset Conservative local authorities who have been criticised for rejecting a far higher proportion of wind farm applications than other political parties. Although measures have already been taken to make the planning process more ‘renewable-friendly’, planning restrictions could provide an inherent disadvantage to large scale developments when compared to microgeneration (although the latter is by no means exempt from such concerns).?
In contrast, the coalition document explicitly advocates a “huge increase in energy from waste through anaerobic digestion”. The energy review estimates that even if the untapped potential of this technology is realised, it still remains far behind wind power in the renewable energy mix (tables from the Faber Maunsell report):
“The parties will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. This will include a full review of local government finance.”
This is not headline-grabbing stuff so perhaps it’s reasonable to wait until the Queen’s Speech before passing judgement. Without receiving much coverage in their “Localism” policy paper, the Conservatives have broadly welcomed Local Area Agreements (Sandford, 2009, p.12), which provide the setting for the climate change indicators which drive local and regional policy (East Midlands Regional Climate Change Partnership, 2009, p.15). Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have criticised Local Area Agreements for being unduly influenced by central government, wishing to give local government greater power in the negotiating process. If local priorities are given precedence over central government policy then one may expect a more patchy approach to climate change measures at local level, particularly if it is crowded out by more short-term issues.
Regions do not get a mention in the coalition document but can be expected to feature in the more detailed document to come. The Conservatives’ “Localism” paper has a section devoted to removing regional government, specifically stripping Regional Development Agencies of planning powers. Liberal Democrats have been similarly sceptical of the Agencies although both parties have retreated from a position of abolition following concerns from business (Larkin, 2009, p.4). While both parties have expressed a general aspiration to transfer powers from regional to local government, it’s so far unclear how this will affect climate change policy.
The balance of power between central and local government is a long-running issue, with the Labour government’s introduction of the regional tier introducing a new factor into the relationship.It remains to be seen whether the “seismic shift” proclaimed by David Cameron will be felt within these governance structu
res and the extent to which any changes change the way in which policy is implemented on the ground.
What does it mean for the sub-national climate picture?
Writing on only the second full day of the new government, it will take at least a little longer for the picture to become clearer, but couple of points are raised by this discussion:
- how will the Conservatives’ laissez-faire approach to renewables (if that is what prevails) square with the wide range of potential energy generation for different sources? The figures in the East Midlands energy review suggest that wind energy must be strongly developed if renewables are to be significantly increased.
- sub-national implementation is likely to be affected by changes in Local Area Agreements as much as any announcements from DECC.
Finally, the elephant in the room: spending cuts. Speculation is that cuts in non-protected budgets will be savage. The new government’s statement that any new nuclear provision will not receive state funding is an early sign of the new financial landscape. Expect these cuts to inform the changes in sub-national governance and energy policy in the years to come.
East Midlands Regional Climate Change Partnership (2009). Tackling Climate Change in the East Midlands. Regional Programme of Action, 2009-2011. Government Office for the East Midlands, Environment Agency, East Midlands Development Agency, East Midlands Regional Assembly.
Faber Maunsell (2009). Reviewing Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Targets. Cambridge: Faber Maunsell
Larkin, K. (2009). Regional development agencies: the politics. London: Centre for Cities.
Sandford, M. (2009). Local Area Agreements and Multi Area Agreements. House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/PC/3168