UK Politics

Energy policy: Government sees off rebellion over 2030 carbon target

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Media captionTim Yeo's amendment for a target to decarbonise by 2030 was unsuccessful

The government has seen off a rebellion by Lib Dem and Conservative MPs over calls for a carbon emissions target for the energy industry.

Senior Tory backbencher Tim Yeo sought to amend the coalition's Energy Bill to set a "decarbonisation" target for the power sector by 2030.

But MPs rejected the move by 290 votes to 267 after a Commons debate.

Ministers say the target would place too many restrictions on business at a time of economic difficulty.

The issue has divided the coalition partners, with environmental campaigners arguing it shows David Cameron's pledge to lead "the greenest government ever" has not been fulfilled.

'Greater clarity'

Mr Yeo's amendment, calling for a decarbonisation "target range" to be set by April 2014, attracted support from a handful of Lib Dem and Conservative MPs as the government's majority was cut to 23.

Mr Yeo told the Commons that a target would not add a "single penny" to energy bills for the next seven years and delaying the decision would create uncertainty about the government's intentions.

In a statement after the vote, he said future governments could face "more costly action to curb emissions when the impacts of a changing climate become more acute".

In a message on Twitter after the vote, Labour leader Ed Miliband said it was a "huge missed opportunity" and suggested many Lib Dem MPs had failed to back their own party policy.

Party activists at last September's Lib Dem conference overwhelmingly backed the 2030 target but it was not binding on the government.

If it had been passed, the amendment would have ensured that almost all electricity was generated from carbon-free sources like wind and nuclear by 2030.

The government says it has the power to include a target in future secondary legislation but will only consider whether to do this after deciding its next carbon budget, covering the 2028-2032 period.

This will not happen until after the scheduled date of the election in 2015.

Speaking in Tuesday's debate, Energy Minister Michael Fallon urged MPs not to rely on "blind faith" and vote for "decarbonisation by dogma or default".

He suggested a legally binding target could potentially force some generating plants out of business and drive up costs for those industries struggling to compete against lower energy costs abroad.

Legally binding

The UK has legally binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for 2020 and 2050 but no specific target relating to emissions or the energy mix for 2030.

The Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government on its carbon budgets, has also backed such a move but Conservative MPs question the extra costs it would place on business and consumers.

Writing on the Conservative Home website, former energy minister Charles Hendry described the target as "a lofty ambition" but questioned whether it could be delivered.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas argued that a target was crucial if the UK was "serious about securing a global deal on climate change".

Few leading industrialised economies have similar carbon targets and the CBI employers' group said they were not central to pressing investment decisions needed to keep the UK's energy supply on track.

But Friends of the Earth said a "clean power" target would help tackle climate change, create thousands of jobs and save householders billions of pounds.

The Energy Bill aims to move the UK's energy production from a dependence on fossil fuels to a more diverse mix of energy sources, such as wind, nuclear and biomass.

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