It is relatively rare in politics for there to be something approaching universal support for a single policy. Yet that is where we are, or were, in relation to setting a target for the decarbonisation of the power sector by 2030, and it is why MPs from the governing parties should today give their backing to Labour's amendment to include a target in the Energy Bill.
Last year, Ed Miliband was the first party leader to come out in support for cleaning up Britain's power sector. The Lib Dem party conference followed suit, overwhelmingly supporting a motion moved personally by Danny Alexander calling for a 2030 target. And just two years ago, the prime minister conceded that decarbonisation is necessary if we are to meet our ambitious climate change commitments.
The cross-party consensus continued when the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, chaired by a former Tory energy minister and made up of Labour, Lib Dem and Tory MPs, last year unanimously called for a target to be set in legislation.
It isn't just politicians who agree. There is support from the energy industry, campaigners, investors, academics and business too. From the Big Six energy companies like EDF and SSE, to green groups such as Friends of the Earth, and from Professor Catherine Mitchell of Exeter University to businesses such as Phillips, Kingfisher, Microsoft, and even Asda and Sky, the message is clear.
An indication of how wide-ranging and comprehensive the backing for a 2030 target is came when under questioning from MPs last month, Energy secretary Ed Davey was unable to name a single company opposed to the measure.
Last year over 50 of these organisations wrote to the Chancellor, George Osborne, urging him to support a target that would provide investors with the long term confidence they need to transform our electricity market and make investments capable of driving wider economic growth. The businesses cited the successful cross-party consensus that resulted in the world's first ever Climate Change Act which created a "robust model for others to replicate internationally and spurring on an important high-growth industry domestically."
A decarbonisation target is an argument in favour of jobs, growth and UK manufacturing industry - yet the government which reiterates the need to rebalance and diversify the economy has signally failed to act. Instead of including a target in the bill, energy secretary Ed Davey lost an internal battle with the Treasury, and has retreated to promising to introduce a measure which would allow the government to set a target at some ill-defined point beyond 2016.
The government has argued that we already have targets to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% in 2050. Yet these targets are economy wide. As the select committee pointed out, what is needed is a specific goal for the power sector.
Those who do oppose a 2030 target argue that it will result in higher bills for consumers. However the government's own figures estimate that bills would actually fall between now and 2030 compared to what will happen if we do nothing.
The biggest threat to rising consumer bills isn't decarbonisation but an over-reliance on unabated gas, and an inbalance in the exposure to world gas prices. Eon put it best recently when the company said to MPs that the UK's energy market will need to be balanced by gas, but not based on it. The combination of a failure to decarbonise our electricity sector and an increased reliance on gas could mean higher energy bills, less reliable sources of energy and the potential failure to meet our climate change goals.
Labour has tabled an amendment to the Energy Bill which would set a target to decarbonise the UK's power sector by 2030. Given the near unanimous support for this measure during the last two years, the government should do the right thing, and join us in casting a vote for jobs and growth today.
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