The question of a decarbonisation target has been a live issue throughout the passage of the Energy Bill to date, and within our own blog posts on this site (for the latest, see Stephen Tromans QC’s blog “A decarbonisation target: now, or possibly never…?”). Whilst not necessarily the most important measure in the Bill (that accolade surely goes to EMR), a 2030 decarbonisation target, with carbon intensity at below 100g, set in the foreseeable future rather than kicked into the long grass, has begun to acquire totemic status. For better or worse, it has come to represent the true test of the Government’s green credentials within the Bill.
As is well known, the inclusion of such a target in the Bill had the strong support of the (Liberal Democrat) Secretary of State for Energy (Ed Davey), but he toed the Coalition line in favour of deferring the setting of such a target (perhaps indefinitely, certainly long enough to facilitate the so-called “dash for gas”) through Commons Second Reading and Public Bill Committee. As is equally well known, Tim Yeo (Conservative) and Barry Gardiner (Labour) are championing a cross-party amendment for the inclusion of such a target, to be set by 1st April 2014.
We know, or at least we are led to believe, that Labour will back the Yeo/Gardiner amendment. And one can assume that one or two Conservatives will too. But with the great bulk of Conservatives expected to toe the Coalition (and in particular, the Treasury) line, and reject the amendment, all eyes have been on the Lib Dems.
Interesting, then, to note increasing rumblings from some reasonably prominent Lib Dems that suggest many may be about to throw off the Coalition traces on this issue.
The most recent indication, reported by the Guardian on 3rd March, being that the Lib Dem President, Tim Farron, had written to a constituent stating that he would back the amendment.
And there is a much wider political dimension to this debate, that goes beyond energy policy. Liberal Democrat confidence has risen following their Eastleigh by-election success, and risen for arguably the first time in what has been a brutal first few years in Government after decades looking on. Eastleigh saw the Lib Dems mount a forceful campaign aimed at differentiation from the Tories, all with an eye to the next election. The Tories, for their part, were shocked by the strength of the UKIP challenge, and many within the party have been calling for a major shift to the right that will only serve to underline the Tory/Liberal difference.
In the circumstances, a cross-party amendment tabled by a well-respected Conservative, and a former minister, which has the backing of another possible future coalition partner, not to mention industry (see Stephen Tromans QC’s previous blog for a sketch of the big-name players that support the Yeo/Gardiner amendment) might provide the perfect opportunity for the Lib Dems to expand upon that clear …green? (blue mixed with yellow?) water between them and the Tories.
What odds Nick Clegg will allow his MPs a free vote?