Source: BBC Radio 4: Today Programme
Date: 10/05/2011
EventRoger Harrabin speculates about the UK cabinet split over carbon emission targets

  • Roger Harrabin: BBC's Environment Analyst
  • John HumphrysPresenter, BBC Radio 4 Today programme

John Humphrys: It's emerged that the coalition cabinet is split over the government's policy on climate change. Our environment analyst is Roger Harrabin. Roger, it seems to come down to the Energy Secretary saying, um, we should - this country should - halve emissions by 2025, from a baseline of 1990. The Treasury, Department for Transport, say no.

Roger Harrabin: Er, yes, a little bit broader than that, because the Foreign Office are involved, and I suspect some others, too. It comes down, John, to how the government reacts to the advice given it by its official advisor, the Climate Change Committee. If you remember right, the Climate Change Act actually mandates the UK to do, er, step by step cuts in carbon emissions right through to 2050, where we have to achieve at least 80%. And when the government set up this framework, they acknowledged that, you know, come times of economic difficulty, governments might get a bit, a bit wavering about this. So they put the Committee in place to say: okay, this is what you need to do in this time period to hit that target. And we're now looking at the target around 2025, in which the Committee's recommended the cut you suggested there, and it has, as you say, divided the Cabinet, um with Environment and Energy, sorry - yes, Environment and Energy and Climate Change saying yes we should stick with it, and very interestingly being backed by William Hague at the Foreign Office. I've got a leaked letter from him talking about it, but being opposed quite strongly by BIS, the Business Department, and also, I understand, the Treasury and Transport.  

John Humphrys: Is there a little bit of - a couple of bald men arguing over a comb, in all this? Because even if they agree that these cuts should be made, they don't quite know how they're going to make them, do they?

Roger Harrabin: No, that's absolutely right, John. But this is a fundamental difference from what has gone before. Because in the past, governments have said: okay, we're going to hit that target, keep to our commitment. And environmentalists - critics - have been very wary about whether or not they would make the targets that they set out to achieve. This would be rather different, because Vince Cable is saying that the government shouldn't even agree to the target. And that is being seen by Greenpeace and others as a major betrayal of the government's commitment on climate change. That's one of the reasons why William Hague, incidentally, is so hot on this. He says the UK's a world leader in this, and if we don't follow the Committee's recommendation, we risk, we risk our own international reputation. 

John Humphrys: Just a sentence, if you would: where's David Cameron?

Roger Harrabin: Haha, well that'll be the interesting one. On Monday I understand there's a meeting of cabinet [sic] to discuss this, and is David Cameron going to swoop in and prove that he's going to run the greenest government ever, as he promised on election? Er, or is he going to follow the dictum of Vince Cable, who says in a leaked letter, I see: "Agreeing too aggressive a level (of carbon cuts) risks burdening the UK economy with extra costs which would be detrimental to the UK undermining the UK's competitiveness and our attractiveness as a place to do business." And we will see which way Mr Cameron swings.

John Humphrys: Well, he might give us a ring before the end of the programme, who knows. Thanks, Roger.