Houses of parliament image via markspokes/flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 License.

 Three things you shouldn’t miss this week

  1. Article: Party leaders make joint climate commitment – Three main parties pledge to end coal burning for power generation in the UK – unless it uses new clean-up technology.
  1. Article: Fracking to be allowed beneath national parks despite ban pledge – Ministers accused of watering down commitment to ban controversial shale gas exploration in protected areas.
  1. Chart: Public consistently backs solar over shale.

 

 
In a rare moment of unity, the leaders of the UK’s three major parties last week agreed to work together on climate change.
 
They promised a joint effort to limit temperature rises to 2°C with a legally binding global deal, agree carbon budgets and end the use of coal without carbon capture. This is significant, but with just 11 weeks until the general election it’s important climate change isn’t now simply pushed off the agenda.
The UK is also pushing a relatively positive agenda in relation to next week’s decision on fixing the broken EU Emissions Trading System. The reform is intended to make fossil fuels more expensive by removing surplus carbon allowances from the system and restoring a meaningful price for carbon. Reuters’ sources suggest a compromise date of December 2018 for the change is likely; the UK, however, is pushing to bring that date forward.
The pressure on the fossil fuel industry continues to build from another direction, with the divestment movement organising protests all around the world on Global Divestment Day last Saturday. The Fossil Free campaign estimates that $50 billion have been divested since the movement emerged, and it’s clearly starting to hit a nerve.
 
In a speech to industry leaders Shell boss Ben van Beurden attacked “naïve” anti-fossil fuel campaigners, but warned delegates that they had a credibility issue on climate change, the issue which will most shape their industry in the coming decades. Meanwhile Malcolm Webb, chief executive of Oil and Gas UK, complained to Energy Secretary Ed Davey of conflicting government messages on oil and gas investment.
 
The government’s new Infrastructure Act mandates maximum economic recovery of petroleum (requiring more fossil fuel assets), yet Davey recently called for tougher rules of disclosure on “risky” fossil fuel assets. This basic conflict is obvious to the industry and its investors, but not, apparently, to the government.
 
And it’s not only oil fields where the government appears to be conflicted. Just a fortnight ago it committed to a ban on fracking for shale gas in National Parks, sites of special scientific interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Since then that commitment has been watered down by a series of amendments, including one that allows drilling underneath National Parks from outside their boundaries in the interest of not “unduly constraining the industry”. All this despite a consistent lack of public support for fracking (see our chart of the week).
 
So while we began this week with a pledge of unity, we end it with a broken promise. Let’s hope the party leaders’ agreement lasts longer than a fortnight.
 
Related Reports and Commentary
Leaders Joint Climate Agreement – David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband
BP Energy Outlook 2035 (2015 edition)