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Of all the coalition ministers, few hold such an awkward post as Greg Barker, the minister for climate change.
Despite the prime minister’s vow on coming to office that he wanted to head “the greenest government ever”, difficult economic conditions have forced a shift in focus away from environmental issues.
That change in rhetoric and emphasis was made clear in last month’s Budget when George Osborne, the chancellor, said: “Environmentally sustainable must always be fiscally sustainable.”
The photograph in Mr Barker’s office of he and David Cameron posing in the Arctic – a key moment in Tory attempts to rebrand the party – now looks like a scene from a different political era.
Yet Mr Barker remains bullish about the importance of green issues for the government, which is still proceeding with plans for a Green Investment Bank, a “Green Deal” to insulate millions of homes, and a £1bn pilot scheme for carbon capture and storage. Last week, he launched a £20m contest for a new pre-commercial wave-power project.
* George Osborne promises the government will not cut carbon emissions faster than elsewhere in the European Union. Infuriating green groups the chancellor says: “We are not going to save the planet by putting the country out of business”
* Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne, then the energy secretary, exposes coalition tensions by attacking “green economy deniers” who are sceptical about renewable energy
* In his autumn statement, George Osborne scraps a rise in fuel duty, promises to weaken wildlife habitat regulations and announces £250m of help for energy-intensive industry. “I am worried about the combined impact of the green policies adopted not just in Britain, but also by the European Union,” he declares
* Ministers announce deep cuts in subsidies for solar power, prompting a successful legal challenge from the industry. The government insists it is still increasing the overall pot for green energy subsidies
* Britain swings its weight behind an EU push to get a deal at talks in Durban on climate change
* Ministers unveil a “national planning policy framework” which will grant faster approval for “sustainable” projects.
* George Osborne says in the Budget that “environmentally sustainable must always be fiscally sustainable”
* The government relaunches a £1bn competition for energy companies to build a carbon capture and storage pilot to extract carbon dioxide emissions from power plants
* Greg Barker, climate change minister, says Britain will push for an increase in Europe’s emissions reduction target in EU talks this month
There have been U-turns in other areas, however, including Mr Osborne’s promise last month to consider dismantling the carbon reduction commitment, a £1bn burden on polluting companies.
Mr Barker has also been criticised by the solar power industry for cuts to the “feed-in” subsidy which has been the subject of legal battles between the government and green groups.
In an interview with the Financial Times, he said the government was still on track to be the “greenest ever”, albeit with fewer handouts for the renewable energy industry. It was time for companies in the “clean tech” sector to become more efficient and competitive – just as other industrial sectors had been asked to do so during the downturn.
“[The] clean tech sector is an exciting area for growth, but it is right that we should ask green sectors to bear down on costs,” he said. “But has there been any diminution of ambition? Certainly not.”
Pressure on the government to increase its energy generation from renewables has increased since Eon and RWE of Germany last month pulled out of plans to build new nuclear reactors in the UK. Mr Barker admits this was “disappointing” but not fatal to the country’s climate goals.
The government will host a clean energy ministerial conference in London this month with 20 politicians from large economies around the world.
Britain’s push for the European Union to deepen its carbon reduction targets at ministerial talks in Denmark next week appears to be another sign that the ruling coalition has not abandoned its green ambitions altogether.
The UK has become one of the most aggressive supporters of moves to increase the EU’s emissions reduction target to 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, compared with the current 20 per cent target.
Meanwhile, Mr Barker is pushing ahead with a government plan to insulate up to 14m homes by 2020 in an attempt to cut household energy use and the resulting carbon emissions.
Home insulation may not sound exciting, but the measures are seen as crucial to the coalition’s hopes of sustaining its remaining environmental credibility.
More than 20 companies signed up last week to be providers of the deal, which offers people financial incentives to insulate their homes and reduce emissions.
Mr Barker has set up a working group to engage with some heritage groups who fear the programme could alter the facades of historic buildings. “That is an area where more work needs to be done,” he said.
Critics have questioned whether the so-called green deal will work, citing a similar scheme offered by Sainsbury’s, the retailer, to its staff last summer which saw minimal take-up. But Mr Barker insists the government’s goals are realistic. “This could be really transformational,” he said.