A White Paper is a particular form of "Command paper", a document presented to Parliament by the UK government and so-called because they are said to be presented by royal command. It usually follows a Green Paper, which in many cases is the first step towards legislation. The purpose of the Green Paper is really to open up the debate on a policy area and stakeholders and the public will be invited to submit their views on various alternative policies. A White Paper is the next step in the process. Whilst it may invite further consultation, it is clearly published with a view to producing new legislation so that such consultation is likely to be on detailed aspects of policy rather than on policy itself. The term "White Paper" has also been adopted in other sectors, generally to describe marketing communications used to promote a company or technology, but clearly this is a separate category of document and does not relate to the government or the legislative process.
The Energy White Paper, entitled "Meeting the Energy Challenge", aimed to do just that, although we shall not go into its detail here. There is increasing worldwide concern over energy and particularly over security of supply. The UK is still largely dependent on fossil fuels for the production of electricity. Although experts say that fossil fuels are not likely to run out for some time to come, they are becoming increasingly expensive and the UK is having to rely more and more on supplies imported from elsewhere. The situation was highlighted by recent concerns over the EU's relationship with Russia, where much of our gas is imported from. The second big issue that the White Paper had to address was the question of climate change, and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.
In order to address these concerns, the White Paper proposed a raft of changes. Its strategy, is stated as being to: "establish an international framework to tackle climate change; provide legally binding carbon targets for the whole UK economy, progressively reducing emissions; make further progress in achieving fully competitive and transparent international markets; encourage more energy saving through better information, incentives and regulation; provide more support for low carbon technologies and finally ensure the right conditions for investment. Several consultations were also launched by the White Paper, most notably the nuclear consultation.
The White Paper raises particular concerns for Scotland as although energy is a reserved issue, planning is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and hence the building of new nuclear power stations, for example, will require cooperation between Westminster and Holyrood. It remains to be seen whether this cooperation will be achieved or not, since the SNP have a resolutely anti-nuclear stance and have stated that they will not allow any new nuclear power stations to be built in Scotland. It is likely therefore that renewables will become the main focus for Scotland. The White Paper has been criticised for not tackling grid access issues head on, so that development in the renewable sector remains somewhat difficult from this aspect. Overall, the White Paper seems to have been generally well-received.