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 January 09, 2012
Government needs to change rhetoric if it wants praise on environment

 I get the impression there's a lot of sulking going on at the moment amongst those Conservative Ministers and MPs that are supportive of the green agenda.

In recent days DECC Minister Greg Barker branded critics the "environmental Taliban", and Zac Goldsmith has pleaded for more recognition of Government progress towards a green economy.

Their frustration is understandable. Days after coming into power David Cameron famously promised that his would be "the greenest Government ever". Barker, Goldsmith and others must have been inspired at the thought of what might be achieved in a government where there was support for a progressive green agenda at the very top of their party and, of course, from their traditionally environmentally-friendly Lib Dem partners.

But more than 18 months on, it's clear Cameron has not offered the hoped-for inspirational leadership. Nick Clegg has barely uttered a word on anything green.

This would be reason enough to disappoint anyone passionate about the huge opportunities available if the UK moves to a low carbon economy. But this lack of leadership falls in a context where Messrs Osborne and Pickles are actively seeking to destroy the broad consensus on the environment that has emerged in recent years.

It's unusual for a Conservative Chancellor to set his agenda against the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and major private sector investors. They are all clear that by playing politics with green policies, Ministers destroy vital investor confidence - and it's essential that Government leads ambitious action on the environment to create the type of economy that will deliver lasting prosperity for the UK.

The lack of understanding about the link between the economy and sustainability has been brutally exposed by the feed-in tariffs fiasco, which has left 30,000 solar jobs on the line and investor confidence in tatters. After winning a Judicial Review last month, Friends of the Earth and solar companies Solar Century and HomeSun are calling on the Government to halt their High Court appeal and get on with solving the problem instead.

Greg Barker acknowledges more money is needed for the feed-in tariff pot. Not only would this sustain a dynamic new green industry, at a smaller cost per kwh than previously imagined - it can even be funded using the substantial tax revenues the scheme generates. The scale of financial support needed to get solar back on track - as Friends of the Earth is calling for - is negligible. If this was money for Pickles' weekly bin collection or fuel duty cuts the crisis would be solved from Government petty cash.

Cameron said he would be the "fourth DECC Minister". He stepped up over the important decision on 2030 Climate Change Act targets. It's time for him to step up now on solar. But the CBI, Barker, Goldsmith, and others expect more than an intermittent problem-solver.
The Prime Minister must lead this country through the final years we have left to cure our addiction to fossil fuels and unshackle us from our costly polluting past.