10 Dec 2012, 00:05
Tomorrow at 4pm, the Liaison Committee of MPs will quiz the prime minister on just two topics: the future direction of policing and the criminal justice system, and "Green Government".
Given David Cameron consents to meaningful questioning about his views on environmental issues about as often as Manchester United changes its managers, this is a rare opportunity that our elected representatives should try and take full advantage of.
But what should they ask? The temptation will be there to launch an all-out attack on the prime minister's, let's say patchy, environmental record. But such an approach always produces more heat than light, and risks a repeat of the infuriatingly partisan free-for-all that is Prime Minister's Questions.
More useful to both businesses and the public would be a series of questions that try and clarify precisely where the prime minister stands on a host of green issues where political risk has become a major problem. It would also be nice to think that some well-aimed questions might convince the prime minister that allowing green issues to be hijacked by the right of his party is a mistake he cannot afford to make, but that would be asking for a lot.
Here are the 10 questions I would ask if I had the opportunity. There are actually far more than 10 questions (I'm a journalist, I couldn't resist) and they are far from perfect. But they do attempt to get to the bottom of why Cameron has failed to respond to the hostility expressed towards a green agenda that he used to publicly cherish. I'd also be keen to hear what you would ask if the opportunity arose, but here are my questions:
1. Why did you block David Kennedy's appointment as permanent secretary at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), after both the interview panel and the energy and climate change secretary deemed him the best man for the job?
2. Can you explain the thinking behind the appointments of John Hayes and Owen Paterson to DECC and Defra respectively? Are you concerned that their stated views on wind farms will undermine investor confidence and could open the government up to legal challenges? Are you concerned Defra's work on climate change science and adaptation will be undermined by a secretary of state who has made it clear he does not regard climate change as a serious issue?
3. Why are you ignoring the advice of the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) with regards to the adoption of a decarbonisation target for the power sector for 2030? Why are you proposing to review the fourth carbon budget before the end of the Parliament when the CCC has made plain the current target remains the least cost path towards decarbonisation?
4. Can you explain what the UK has to gain from following the chancellor's plans to establish a gas hub? What do you think will happen to gas prices over the next 10-20 years and what do you base these assumptions on? Do you believe shale gas can transform the UK's energy system? What guarantees can you give that an increase in gas capacity will remain compatible with the UK's carbon emission goals?
5. Do you still accept the manmade climate change presents a grave threat to the UK and the world as a whole? If so, why do you think the UK and Europe's response to climate change is not commensurate to the scale of the threat? Why, after pledging to be the fifth minister at DECC, have you failed to make one significant speech on the topic in two and a half years?
6. Are you concerned that the political consensus on climate change has shattered? How do you plan to convince those members of your government and your party who do not regard climate change as an important issue that more ambitious action is needed?
7. You have often touted the Green Investment Bank and the Green Deal as evidence of your government's progress on green issues, but why can't the Green Investment Bank borrow and why can't it underwrite Green Deal financing to lower the cost of capital?
8. You have in the past made the case for carbon pricing as a market-led mechanism for tackling emissions, but the EU carbon market is not working as planned and UK firms face numerous over-lapping carbon pricing schemes. Do you remain committed to delivering a workable carbon pricing mechanism for the UK?
9. Given media reports over the past 12 months of coalition in-fighting, your own chancellor's hostility to the green economy, and the repeated changes to clean energy policies, why should green firms invest in the UK? Do you accept, as business leaders allege, that the actions of your government have driven up the price of capital and increased political risk?
10. As a father of young children and a man who has undoubtedly seen frequent updates on climate change projections for the coming decades from the government's chief scientific advisor, how optimistic are you that the world can avoid the worst effects of climate change? What technologies, innovations and policies give you hope that potentially catastrophic impacts can be avoided?
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