THE BLOG

David Cameron's Short-Sighted Economics Are Going to Cost the Environment in the Long-Term

10/02/2014 17:20 GMT | Updated 12/04/2014 10:59 BST

"I want this to be the greenest government ever," said David Cameron in 2010. "A very simple ambition and one that I am absolutely committed to achieving," he purred, as Chris Huhne, the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change nodded along obediently.

But what started out as a noble agenda has slipped slowly into obscurity. The government's ideology has reverted to an ever-increasing move to the right - Cameron and Osborne have ditched environmental (and social) policies in favour of economic growth.

This has happened despite warnings that the world could face an average temperature rise of 2C by 2035 if greenhouse gas emissions remain at current rates. Enough to increase rates of sea level rise, heat waves, droughts and other extreme weather events. Events like the recent floods in the West Country and the destructive typhoon that struck the Philippines last year.

But not only that, the continual reliance on fossil-fuel energy will leave Britain stranded when reserves run dry, especially if we have not developed reliable alternatives. Alternative energies may not yet be efficient enough to outstrip oil and gas but without a long-term strategy the free market may well lead us to economic and environmental ruin.

It had all started so well for Cameron and chums. In that same 2010 speech the prime minister said: "If you think about it, we have five years to take the long-term decisions that are going to get this country on track. And nowhere are long-term decisions more needed than in the fields of energy, climate change and environment."

In fact, Cameron's Conservative party was laced with pro-environment rhetoric in its early days. From the 'vote blue, go green' slogan in the run up to the last General Election, to the change of logo that saw the traditional Conservative torch transformed into a green tree with a blue background - at once referencing the party's history but clearly signalling a step to modernisation. In recognition that a truly modern society must not only tackle economic and social issues but environmental ones too.

The coalition was full of pledges for 'long-term' policy, 'long-term' economic plans and 'long-term' sustainability. They coughed up £3.8bn of funding for the Green Investment Bank, promised to halve carbon emissions by 2025 and offered tax breaks for homes with solar panels.

But the wheels of that environmental bandwagon soon began to fall off. In 2011 George Osborne said he wanted to provide Britain with the cheapest energy possible. In his Autumn statement of that year he posited: "If we burden (British businesses) with endless social and environmental goals - however worthy in their own right - then not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer."

In April 2012 David Cameron seemed to have changed tack too. Speaking at a world energy summit in London the prime minister said the real challenge was to make renewable energy financially sustainable. "When we're fighting to get to grips with our debts, we don't just need greener energy, we need cheaper energy too."

Now that's all very well, in times of recession it sounds like a sensible policy to pursue short-term gains. The right-wing argument goes that if Britain is too tough on gas guzzlers it will become a pariah state for investment and Britain will lose out to international competitors. Growth at any cost is the order of the day. Yet the long-term consequences of that short-term decision-making could prove disastrous.

If we allow the free market to decide all our future energy plans we will run the world dry of its fossil fuels, pollute it with greenhouse gases, and leave it too late to develop efficient, sustainable alternatives.

Yet here was our prime minister telling his aides to "get rid of the green crap" when pushed to reduce the costs of domestic energy bills in November. Has Cameron buckled under the pressure of a continued economic downturn? Or was it all a charade in the first place?

This January, Cameron told the World Economic Forum at Davos that Europe must embrace shale gas through fracking or risk losing out to foreign competition. He even promised tax incentives for councils in Britain that backed fracking and urged the public to get behind the idea.

Yes, this is the same David Cameron that posed with huskies on a Norwegian glacier in 2006 to say that climate change is "one of the biggest threats facing the world" and called for "a much greater sense of urgency" to tackle it.

But take a look at the Conservative party website today and you'll notice that there is zero mention of the environment in their 'long-term economic plan'. Reducing the deficit, cutting income tax, creating more jobs, capping welfare, reducing immigration and 'schools and skills' are all worthy of mention - but no key words like green, environment, sustainable or renewable are seen anywhere.

The party even appears to have changed its logo again - gone is the green squiggle that represented its environmental modernity - replaced by the nationalistic red, white and blue of the Union Jack.

Britain has (or perhaps had) a chance to become a global leader in green energy, to create jobs and growth in an emerging market that one day will be in demand all over the world.

It is a short-sightedness and a lack of courage that has seen this u-turn in philosophy. Cameron and Osborne may be following traditional Conservative policies, but in doing so they are ignoring the long-term welfare of the nation. Investment in renewable energies is at risk of disappearing and our economy is moving ever closer to fossil fuel dependency.

Pro-environmental policies may mean short-term spending increases, but ultimately they will lead to long-term security. Sadly, as much as David Cameron promises to stick to his pledge, it is clear that the blue and yellow coalition has unequivocally failed to make a green government.