David Cameron must show courage to face down Ukip-friendly backbenchers or UK risks undermining a strong 2030 goal on saving energy, warn MEPs.
Ukip is casting a shadow over Europe’s climate change policy, MEPs say, as David Cameron and EU leaders arrive in Brussels on Thursday to agree goals on carbon emissions and energy.
The meeting on Thursday and Friday is a chance for leaders to set out their stall for action to tackle greenhouse gas emissions ahead of a global UN summit in Paris next year, where it is hoped nearly 200 countries will agree a climate pact.
But MEPs say the UK is “dancing to Ukip’s tune”, and undermining a strong goal on saving energy for fear of being seen to be pandering to the EU over rules on energy-guzzling devices, such as high-powered vacuum cleaners and inefficient light bulbs.
Europe is on track to meet goals adopted in 2009 to cut emissions 20% by 2020 and have 20% of energy come from renewable sources such as wind power, but is lagging behind a third target to cut energy waste 20% by the end of the decade.
The subsequent financial crash means a slower pace of climate action has been tabled for 2030 versions of the targets.
Cameron’s government has made the running in calling for emissions cuts of at least 40% and up to 50% if other countries act, but it has also tried to block strong targets for renewable energy and for reducing energy use – which many experts say is the only verifiable way of ensuring that emissions have actually been cut.
British opposition to EU oversight of national energy policy is long-standing but MEPs, EU commissioners and diplomats increasingly cite Ukip’s rise, and tabloid campaigns over EU measures to improve the efficiency of household items such as vacuum cleaners, as factors influencing Cameron’s thinking.
“It seems to me that the Conservatives are dancing to Ukip’s tune,” the Labour MEP Seb Dance told the Guardian. “In opposing binding targets on renewables and energy efficiency, they are completely following Ukip’s lead and it is regrettable to say the least.”
Green MEP Claude Turmes said: “Further watering down of the package is expected to come from the UK pushing for even lower ambition on [energy] efficiency. The EU is being taken hostage by Cameron’s internal party struggle with eurosceptics from Ukip.”
The Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder called on Cameron to build on the European coalition that she said the energy minister, Ed Davey, had taken a leadership role in constructing.
“David Cameron must not bow to Ukip pressure and try to sabotage Ed’s good work,” she said. “Any watering-down of targets would do irrevocable damage to the EU’s status as a leader in the fight against climate change in the build-up to global talks in Paris next year.”
Dance said: “You just can’t push short-term party political interests on the basis of a few by-election results and some polls, to put the entire EU climate and energy policy on the back-burner . It is absolutely ridiculous, a complete abdication of responsibility and leadership on the PM’s part and I’ve no doubt that this is motivated by a fear of Ukip and the fact that so many of the PM’s party in the past secretly – and now increasingly openly – agree with Ukip’s position.”
Roger Helmer, Ukip’s European parliament leader and energy spokesman, has controversially said climate change is a “myth” and that “fossil fuels are the future” of British energy policy.
Following the furore over vacuum cleaners, his most recent intervention in EU parliamentary debate was to condemn what he said were plans by Brussels to regulate for more efficient electric kettles.
He told the Guardian that Ukip would be campaigning on the doorstep in the next election over energy prices, an issue which the Daily Mail today linked to EU green energy policies, citing a report by the pro-free market Open Europe think tank.
“In many areas we are leading Conservative party opinion because we are saying what many Conservative party members and MP’s actually believe,” he said. “Conservative backbenchers and activists are saying ‘we’re really embarrassed because Ukip has a sensible policy in this area and the Conservative party doesn’t’.”
He continued: “The EU’s climate and energy policy is a disaster.It is damaging the economy and driving energy intensive business offshore, frequently to jurisdictions with lower standards. I primarily blame Brussels, but the current government has made climate policy worse than it needs to be under EU law.”
Ukip’s positioning has already raised hackles in Brussels, with the EU’s energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger warning earlier this summer that campaigns against efficiency measures were being used as a proxy for stirring anti-European sentiment.
“Political parties have fulminated against the Union’s efforts to reduce the energy consumption of, for example, light bulbs, vacuum cleaners and coffee machines,” Oettinger wrote in a letter to energy ministers.
“We have seen similar attempts in the past, when national press [sic] has used these measures in a way that risks creating anti-European feelings amongst citizens. This should not be taken lightly. Attempts at undermining ecodesign and energy labelling directly undermine our energy policy.”
Energy efficiency measures increased business competitiveness, cut household bills, and reduced CO2 emissions, Oettinger said.
SOURCE: The Guardian, October 24th 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/23/eu-climate-policy-bei...