Guardian’s ‘Greenest-Government-Ever’ Meter Priorities

Damian Carrington at the Guardian has it right that the coalition government probably won’t do very well on the “greenest government ever-o-meter.”

But probably more for the reasons suggested in the comments of the article than for the factors that Carrington outlines: national forests, flood defense, and high speed rail. While these are important they aren’t the most important. The Guardian newspaper tends to focus on an environmental perspective despite the fact that serious economic and business positions are more likely to convince economic agents to ‘go-green.’ If ‘green’ policy is to be effective anywhere it needs to move away from the traditional debate over nature.

Carrington missed mentioning the pathetically under-capitalised Green Investment Bank.  Reader ‘tcobo’ calls it “neutered to the point of being almost useless.” This is rather accurate. £1 billion from something that was originally recommended to be capitalized with (under the previous government) £6 billion, in a clean-energy sector in the UK that’s wanting over £100 billion in necessary finance.

The reality of it though– the Guardian likes to leave this bit out– is that according to people inside green policy and finance in the UK, Labour probably wouldn’t be doing enough either. Don’t get me wrong, they might have done more than the current government but they wouldn’t have done everything that needed to be done simply for fears over national debt.  Though the ratings agencies are partly responsible for the Great Recession, somehow they are still allowed to dictate national finance policy by downgrading national debt ratings for several EU countries. The UK is on notice. Being the “greenest government ever” implicitly includes dealing with a finance system unfit for purpose.

Carrington also leaves out the abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission, which (according to reader ‘harrydamar’) sought to reassess the priorities of the current economic system. What social enterprise and national carbon emissions reduction (other rhetoric the Tory government likes to capitalize on) ultimately leads to (logically) is revaluation of economies based on the ‘Core Economy.’

The ‘Core Economy’ is what’s usually damaged by regular economic activities– health and well-being, the ability to care, even to take time to think and possibly innovate answers that don’t create more damage to the core economy.  Economists have only partially qualified these using a concept called “externalities,” a concept that is proven to be woefully insufficient.

The Sustainable Development Commission (and the previous Labour government) were leaning towards a Sarkozy-Stiglitz -Sen like conclusion that national well-being is as important as economic progress, that economies ultimately need to be revalued if we are to continue to ‘prosper’ as developed societies.

As for the Guardian’s meter? “Worse than Bush” should be “Worse than Obama” as the comparison makes a better metric. Here’s why: squandered opportunities.

Green business is unenthusiastically satisfied with the consumer clean energy incentives: the renewable heat incentives, the feed in tariffs, localism bill, and the green deal for homes. All of these will give market incentives to consumers and energy providers to switch to clean energy. Market prices have been guaranteed through at least 2013.

But the threat of missed opportunity lies in the next steps: rolling out the technology and educating consumers. There are worries that demand by consumers for PV panels, localized biomass, wind energy, and home energy efficiency retrofits will outstrip the ability to apply and install the technology.  Small to medium sized enterprises have a huge opportunity to enter the market as professional suppliers and maintenance for renewable technology– indeed an opportunity to provide long-term economic stability. But the money for training and production isn’t there. Yesterday, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister announced a measly £200 million for six technology and innovation centres throughout the UK.

There are also concerns (reminder from reader SteB1) that the message won’t be communicated to consumers: consumers can only take advantage of initiatives they know about.  It is important that the process of taking advantage of those initiatives is easy as well. When things are difficult to understand and hard to take advantage of there become substantial barriers to entry.

Without an active communication campaign the government will fail to hit its emissions reductions targets. As Carrington points out, the government has slashed the budget for the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the agency charged with communicating government energy policy to consumers and business alike. Policy implementation requires communication to be effective– the bureaucratic infrastructure required isn’t likely to be adequate.

Because the government is implementing an austerity budget too quickly it looks like it is about to squander the numerous market opportunities to arm British business with long-term sustainability. Many of its plans are at the beginning and even if the coalition in government doesn’t last the full five years or isn’t re-elected I hope that the Guardian is as tough on the Labour party as it is on the current government.

Ann Danylkiw is a freelance writer and digital media producer. Her background is Finance and Development Economics.While writing for Triple Pundit, she is currently producing her first social experiment / digital documentary, the lives in London but visits 'home' in Wisconsin during the summer.

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