Science & Environment

Just 2% believe coalition is 'greenest government', survey suggests

David Cameron on glacier with dogs
Image caption Mr Cameron famously went to a glacier early in his tenure - but have his green credentials melted?

Just 2% of the UK public believe they live under the "greenest government ever", according to an opinion poll.

And only 4% want to see laws protecting the countryside weakened, as the government is expected to do this week.

Prime Minister David Cameronpledgedto lead the "greenest government ever" on taking office in 2010.

Critics say that recent decisions on climate change, forests, badger culling, urban pollution and nature protection have undermined the claim.

But a government spokesman said it was "firmly committed" to being the greenest government ever and wanted to be judged on actions.

Environmental groups are particularly highlighting an announcement made on Saturday that will allow gas-fired power stations to continue emitting carbon dioxide at their current rate until 2045.

The poll, commissioned by Greenpeace and the RSPB from YouGov, shows that 53% of the UK electorate believes the government is about average on green issues, while 10% say it is greener than average.

Only 3% of Conservative voters say it lives up to the "greenest ever" tag. The figure for Lib Dems is 0%.

Prime Minister David Cameron held a photo-opportunity with huskies on a glacier in 2006, when he described climate change as "one of the biggest threats facing the world" and called for "a much greater sense of urgency" in tackling it.

But Greenpeace's chief policy adviser Ruth Davis said the poll showed the British public "can't be duped by catchphrases or husky-hugging".

"However, it's not too late for David Cameron to turn this around and leave an environmental legacy he can be proud of," she said.

"He can start by reining in his chancellor, who seems hell-bent on trashing the environment."

'Sums wrong'

In December, Chancellor George Osborne told MPs he wanted to make sure that "gold plating of EU rules on things like habitats" were not putting "ridiculous costs" on firms.

The government is expected to publish new rules on planning this week, which will make it easier for developers to exploit green spaces and important ecological areas.

The poll showed that only 4% of the electorate backs these planning moves - but 40% would like protection strengthened.

RSPB chief executive Mike Clarke said the chancellor had got his economic sums wrong.

"There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest protection of the environment is a barrier to economic growth, but plenty to suggest smart regulation is actually a stimulus to growth," he said.

"Because of this lack of understanding, the Budget this week has the potential to be a 'Black Wednesday' for the environment."

Gas and carbon

Mr Osborne is also being slated by environment groups overan announcementmade jointly by the Treasury and the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) on Saturday.

It will allow gas-fired power stations to emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as they do now until 2045.

Mr Osborne said the move "provides certainty to businesses that want to invest in gas".

However, the Committee on Climate Change, the government's statutory advisers, say that in order to meet long-term climate targets, the electricity generating sector should be "virtually decarbonised" by 2030.

That would mean a mixture of renewables, nuclear, and fossil fuel power stations that capture and store the carbon dioxide they produce.

Analysts say that in order to meet the 2030 target - which Mr Cameron said he "basically endorsed" last year - only about 10% of UK electricity can come from gas-fired power stations emitting at current levels.

If the figure ends up being closer to 50%, which some analysts believe likely, long-term climate targets will be much more difficult to achieve.

In response to the poll results, a government spokesman said: "We are firmly committed to being the greenest government ever and want to be judged on actions.

"We have delivered an ambitious programme of policies to protect and enhance our natural environment, including the first Natural Environment White Paper in 20 years and a Water White Paper to ensure a secure, affordable and sustainable future water supply."

The Green Investment Bank, securing investment in low-carbon energy, and tree-planting were among the other government successes, he said.

YouGov polled 1,738 adults on 13-14 March 2012. The figures were weighted to be representative of all GB adults.

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