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New Infrastructure Bill Puts UK Climate Ambition at Risk

14/01/2015 17:21 | Updated 16 March 2015

The UK's climate change ambition will be in serious jeopardy once the Infrastructure Bill is passed into law. If that's not worrying enough, barely anyone seems to be taking notice.

The clock is ticking down for our supposed 'greenest government ever' - it only has a few months left in power before the May general election. So to ensure that fossil fuels can't possibly be eschewed by whoever enters government next, it is quietly trying to slip in a legal duty to pollute our planet under the guise of the Infrastructure Bill.

The Lib Dem initiated bill is a hodgepodge of unrelated issues stuffed into one bag. In the rising trend of 'all or nothing' legislation, if you want one particular measure passed, you must agree to the whole bundle or vote it down in its entirety.

Nestled within this haystack is one needle sharp enough to burst the bubble of hope that the UK will take climate change seriously. Let me introduce to you clause 36.

If passed, it would bind Britain to "maximising economic recovery of UK petroleum". In other words, current and future governments will be legally obligated to extract as much oil and gas from the ground as possible right when we need, more than anything, to slow it down.

Described as the 2008 Climate Change Act's "evil twin", environmental journalist George Monbiot argues that clause 36 "undermines every claim [the government] has made about preventing dangerous climate change".

The Infrastructure Bill directly contradicts the UK's goal to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 1990 baseline. Let me remind you this emissions target, as enforced under the 2008 act, is also a legal obligation.

It will be an interesting test - and sadly probably not at all a surprising one - to see which piece of legislation trumps the other in practice.

Clause 36 also completely defies scientific evidence. Last week, University College London released findings that 80% of our fossil fuel reserves must remain "unburnable" if we want to avoid dangerous climate change.

But this shouldn't come as a surprise, not you or me and certainly not to the MPs that drafted this bill. Report after report, experts have been warning leaders to move away from fossil fuels and towards green alternatives.

Don't forget, this past November the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explicitly stated that "unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change".

While I struggle to find some optimism in all of this, there might be one glimmer of hope. Maybe. The bill is currently being debated in the House of Commons before it passes to the report stage sometime after 15 January. At this time MPs can bring forward new amendments to the bill and table previous ones. And you can be sure clause 36 will be among them.

Green MP Caroline Lucas and Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, for example, have already launched an initiative to remove the clause from the bill entirely. During the report stage they will have a chance to defend this amendment - let's hope the rest of our MPs see good sense and vote the clause down.

Kyla Mandel is the Deputy Editor of DeSmog UK, a climate blog dedicated to clearing the PR pollution that clouds climate science.