New Thinking: the man at the bar

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on Dec 18, 15 • posted by

New Thinking: the man at the bar

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The man at the bar

Catherine Mitchell, IGov Team, 18th December 2015

DECC has just announced that it is cutting financial support to solar. This follows on from Amber Rudd’s ‘reset speech; the Chancellor’s Spending Review ; the 2nd capacity auction which continues to primarily support existing fossil fuels; and this week’s vote by MPs to allow fracking under national parks. Together this has left British energy policy based on nuclear power and gas – neither of which will come through under current, extremely expensive policies. Two brilliant blogs: one by Damian Carrington and the other by Alan Whitehead both show the total lack of logic in GB energy policy if GB wants a secure, affordable or low cost energy system, never mind an energy system to fulfil the needs of GB obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Compare this with the US which has just announced the new federal tax credit support. Or at a meeting in Berlin on 16 December to discuss post COP21, with amongst other the German Chief negotiator to Paris. German policy is all about how to move from words to actions; about working together – within Germany, within Europe and within the world; and how to bring society along with the needs of the planet (there will be another blog on this shortly).

When faced with the GB energy policy decisions, and trying to make sense of them, I am reminded of the cliché of a man at a bar pontificating on some subject – talking as if they know everything and know all the answers, but actually knowing few facts and understanding little of the difficulties. In that situation, one usually just smiles politely and backs away – sadly not possible with GB energy policy.

So why is Britain taking these decisions? Why are the ranks of academics, NGOs, think tanks, MPs, companies and so on (who understand the complexities of energy policy, of technology and innovation policy; of sector transformation policies) not listened to sufficiently so that their knowledge and ideas are translated into policy? It seems to me everyone in the environmental world is doing a great job [eg STA; FoE; Green Alliance; IPPR; E3G; Carbon Brief; ECIU]; academics are listened to; solutions are put forward. Nevertheless, it is clear that whilst we all have to keep doing good work, and working together, doing good work is just not enough.

Nor is it sufficient to say that our energy policy decisions are being taken by the Treasury in an age of austerity, based on narrow energy policy advice. It is not just that the policies are the ‘wrong’ ones but, as Damian and Alan so ably point out, they are very unlikely to work. One answer is to try to persuade ‘credible’ people in the eyes of the Treasury / Government to be more vocal and provide them with direct advice. I don’t think we in Britian should feel terrible – Paris is great and has set the world on a sutainable path – but collectively we now have to build on that.

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