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Renewables target ditched

On the day scientists announced that the Earth’s ability to soak up carbon emissions has dramatically declined, while at the same time we are seeing an acceleration in the rise of atmospheric carbon levels, it was revealed that the government is about to ditch a commitment to expand renewable energy generation.

A secret government document published by The Guardian makes it plain that New Labour is abandoning European Union agreements to increase renewables to provide 20% of all energy by 2020. As you would expect from this government, this suggestion doesn’t come from a climate scientist but from the Secretary of State for Business, John Hutton. Despite the cries of betrayal by environmental campaigners, the government’s Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks, is already trying his Orwellian best to re-write history by saying that the EU target was not specific to the UK.

Providing this amount of renewable energy “costs too much” complains the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (it has forecast that it would cost £4bn a year to achieve 9% of energy being produced from renewable sources). Even if it was going to cost £10bn a year to achieve 20% of energy generated from renewable sources this would only be 1% of the UK’s Gross National Product. One would think this represents a good investment in the future of the planet. Alternatively, the profits from an oil company or two could be expropriated to finance the required investment. Following the privatisation of energy industries this type of planning is now impossible.

Another reason for this change of heart is the government’s fear that providing so much renewable energy will undermine the EU’s carbon trading scheme, which has already been exposed as a fraud and which has no impact on overall levels of carbon emissions. Clearly New Labour’s market state cannot countenance any disruption to new opportunities for profit generation through the trading scheme’s commodification of carbon emissions. The government is quite prepared to change any policy at the drop of a hat to allow global capital to carry on carbon trading rather than trying to save the planet.

While the government is conspiring to set lower targets for renewable energy, a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the efficiency of forests and oceans to absorb carbon has fallen significantly over the last 50 years (as carbon emissions have accelerated with the expansion of global capitalism) and they are no longer able to absorb as much carbon as they previously did. The effect of this is that climate “feedback” mechanisms, which scientist thought were decades away from happening, are already starting to happen.

The Brown government has no answers whatsoever to the climate change crisis because it is locked into the status quo of the market economy. There is now a desperate need to move society beyond this failing system and create new social structures in which we can establish sustainable energy industries, owned and operated by its own workers and the communities they serve. These should be run on a not-for-profit basis, rather than relying on markets fueled by profits. This approach would be part of a plan to solve the eco-crisis we are facing through a planned transition to the use of a range of renewable energy sources for all our needs.

Stuart Barlow
29 October 2007

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