Cabinet ministers in the United Kingdom are announcing a “green deal” that would dramatically cut carbon emissions from one of Europe’s largest economies and position the UK to be a worldwide leader in the fight against climate change. The legally binding agreement is intended to put the UK on-track to reduce carbon emissions 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050, and 60% by 2030. It is designed to make the UK one of the most green energy-friendly countries in the world, in preparation for a future when 40% of the nation’s power will come from renewable sources by the year 2030.
The agreement comes at a time when the climate and energy policy of Prime Minister David Cameron has come under increasing fire from environmental groups. Cameron, who took office just over a year ago, said around the time he became prime minister that he would create the “greenest government ever” in the UK. Cameron promised large-scale investments in renewable energy and deep cuts in carbon emissions. Yet in the last year Cameron’s government has backtracked on issues like support for clean energy programs and protecting ecosystems that serve as natural carbon sinks. Just last week, leading green groups in the UK sent a letter to Cameron urging him to re-focus on his pledge.
“Our view is that your Government started with a strong sense of purpose on the environment but is now in danger of losing its way,” wrote official representatives of groups like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, and the Green Alliance. “Getting back on track will require strong leadership from you and your colleagues.”
It remains to be seen if the UK’s environmental organizations will be fully convinced that that the new “green deal” is the kind of strong leadership they are looking for. Yet the news so far looks promising, and Cameron’s government appears to have taken the concerns of green leaders to heart. Cameron himself weighed in to break a stalemate between energy secretary Chris Huhne on one side, and business secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne on the other. While Huhne was strongly supportive of an ambitious green plan, Cable and Osborne opposed the idea and argued it would be bad for the economy.
Cameron’s interjection apparently helped tip the debate toward an ambitious green plan, and it turns out the UK economy may actually be a winner in the deal. In the past year, uncertainty as to whether UK energy policy will focus on renewables has shifted the country from the third most attractive nation for renewable energy investments to the thirteenth. The green plan should help the UK reclaim its place as a sought-after destination for renewable energy business, and help attract companies that create hundreds or thousands of jobs.
The green deal also returns the UK to playing a leadership role in the international community’s fight against climate change. According to the UK Guardian, which was one of the first major media outlets to report on the deal, it is the first national-level agreement in any industrialized country that sets legally binding targets for reducing carbon emissions past the year 2020. “The package will require sweeping changes to domestic life, transport and business,” said the Guardian, “and will place Britain at the forefront of the global battle against climate change.”
A far-reaching climate plan in the UK could also prompt other nations to take similar action. Countries like the United States, Australia, and Canada have yet to pass any comprehensive climate strategy at all, and could benefit from having the example of a strong green plan to look to. In this sense the UK’s green deal could have a ripple effect that reaches far beyond its own national boundaries. It could even be a critical stepping stone toward the kind of global action needed to avert the worst effects of climate change.