09 Jan 2015, 00:21
I will try to ensure this blog post does not read like one long whinge, but in the interests of full disclosure I'll warn you now that I am unlikely to succeed.
Like tens of thousands of other commuters my first week back at work has been severely disrupted by the public transport chaos centring on London Bridge station. For those of you living outside the capital, the past week has seen one of London's busiest station descend into shambolic and dangerous levels of over-crowding and confusion as long planned work to upgrade the platform and concourse entered a new phase. Trains were cancelled at a moment's notice, appalling planning saw information boards stuck in a corner of the concourse leading to genuinely dangerous levels of overcrowding, severe delays have become endemic as operators somehow failed to anticipate what would happen when the number of tracks in and out of the station was halved. The changes had been months in the planning and yet the chaos has now been going on for three days with little confidence that there is a simple solution available.
For me, a commute that typically took just under two hours each day has been extended to the point where it has been pushing three hours for a return journey of under nine miles. With some reports suggesting the disruption could extend into 2018 my wife and I are currently resigning ourselves to the sad fact that when our soon to be born first child appears I may struggle to make it home for their bed time. Self-pity is not a great look, and I am fully aware I am lucky to have a job to commute to and a flat to commute from. But I can't help but find the looming reality of these precious lost hours both upsetting and infuriating. Those fellow commuters facing disruption to journeys that are already longer than mine will have it much worse.
As I write Mayor Boris Johnson is reported to be meeting with Network Rail to demand an explanation as to why this chaos was not avoided and attempt to work out what can be done to tackle the problem. Perhaps he'll tackle the mounting fear that public transport riots could actually become a thing by proposing a £60m cable car for each and every delayed commuter.
Why am I venting about all of this on a blog dedicated to environmental and business issues, beyond the obvious desire for a cathartic rant? Well, the scandalous mismanagement of the London Bridge upgrade is an infrastructure issue in the same way that climate resilience and the low carbon economy is an infrastructure issue. In fact, as part of the UK's wide-ranging national rail upgrade programme the project is part of efforts to shift to a lower carbon transport model.
The problem for the UK, not to mention many other countries, is that the chaotic scenes at London Bridge are anything but an isolated incident. From energy to transport, infrastructure is creaking across numerous industrialised nations, further fuelling understandable hostility towards the fares, bills and taxes needed to pay for increasingly essential upgrades. The net result is everyone is left facing a miserable set of choices: Rail network, over-crowded and over-priced? Try getting in a car and adding to toxic air pollution and congestion. Or why not get on a bike and risk traffic accidents and breathing that toxic air? Fed up with commuting altogether? You could try working from home, but that assumes you can actually get a mobile phone signal and live in an area with half way decent broadband. Our collective infrastructure needs an overhaul, and yet no one, myself included, wants to pay for it, nor endure the disruption that comes with new projects.
However, if we are to deliver the long promised financial and lifestyle benefits that should come with a more sustainable economy our inter-related infrastructures urgently need transforming. Meanwhile, climate change looms like a multi-headed hydra threatening to make complex infrastructure challenges ever more daunting. The combination of the need to make essential infrastructure resilient to climate impacts (and bear in mind that some of the disruption to London commuters this week was a result of ice on rail tracks) and the need to deliver new low carbon sources of energy and forms of transport means the pace of infrastructure deployment is going to have to accelerate drastically over the next two decades. And yet almost every attempt to deliver much needed upgrades risks disruption that further erodes public support and confidence in these essential services, at the same time as dealing yet another blow to already worryingly low levels of economic productivity.
There is ample evidence to show modern, clean, sustainable, efficient, and life-affirming metropolises are both possible and desirable. Over the next few decades it should be possible to build green cities where people travel manageable distances from comfortable green homes to ultra-efficient and inspiring workplaces using zero emission transport - all of the necessary technologies already exist. But such a vision is only possible if we get a lot better at the kind of long term, integrated planning and astute project management that has been sorely lacking in the capital (and plenty of other cities) in recent years.
As the London Bridge chaos proves, much greater value needs to be placed on the basic project management, public engagement, and contingency planning skills that help minimise disruption from infrastructure construction and maximise satisfaction with the end result. Sometimes that may mean taking longer to deliver projects, other times it may mean dishing out compensation or offering stakeholders investment opportunities. It definitely means having the foresight and common sense to modify rail timetables whenever you close a load of platforms and lines.
It may also require customers and affected businesses being more directly involved in the planning and project management process. None of this is easy, but it may prove essential if massive disruption is to be avoided. To this end, Green Alliance's recent call for a new approach to infrastructure planning that invites the public to take much greater ownership of the projects they rely on represents an important development that demands political and business support.
Truly green and sustainable cities are not about vanity cable cars, sky gardens, and forest bridges, nice as they may be. They are about clean and low carbon transport and energy networks, connecting green buildings and spaces, and delivered in a way that supports and engages businesses and communities. With the right management and investment green cities can become a reality, and what is more they can be delivered without pushing current infrastructure to the brink of collapse - but only if we heed the lessons learned as angry commuters are this week once again forced on to delayed and overcrowded trains.
05 Jan 2015, 16:52
It is one of the most widely quoted and possibly apocryphal anecdotes in US political history. In one of his early Congressional campaigns Lyndon Johnson is said to have instructed his staff to let it be known that his opponent had enjoyed carnal relations with a pig. "We can't do that, it's not true," the unfortunate aide protested. To which Johnson replied, "of course it's not true, but let's make the son of a bitch deny it".
It might not be quite as scurrilous an allegation, but George Osborne pulled the fiscal equivalent of Johnson's pig trick today, forcing Labour to deny allegations it is planning £20.7bn of unfunded spending commitments.
The most cursory of glances at the Tories' 'dodgy dossier' confirms it is based on a raft of dubious assumptions, implausible predictions, and outright misrepresentations of Labour's plans. That is not to say Labour wouldn't borrow more than the Conservatives over the course of the parliament, after all the opposition has left itself significantly more room for infrastructure investment through policies such as its house-building programme and the decision to allow the Green Investment Bank to borrow. It is just that the allegation Labour would borrow precisely £20.7bn more during the first year of the Parliament needs to be taken with the proverbial truckload of salt. It is notable that even some of the Conservative's natural allies in the media have spent the afternoon tearing the document to shreds.
The level of political spin is particularly acute in the assertion Labour would borrow almost £4.3bn next year to devote to various green projects and initiatives.
The assumption a Green Investment Bank capitalised with just £3bn would within 12 months of being told by Prime Minister Miliband that it can now start borrowing (as originally planned by Chancellor George Osborne) have mobilised a further £3.7bn of deficit-stretching green infrastructure funding is heroic in the extreme.
The allegation Labour's domestic energy efficiency plans will load nearly £90m of cost onto the Treasury is based on the assumption Labour would deliver an explosion in demand for the Green Deal with immediate effect from May this year and an evidence-free rejection of the opposition's claims it can fund its commitments through existing energy efficiency funds and the ongoing ECO scheme.
The suggestion Labour would impose costs totalling £477m by banning food waste from landfill is based on either wilful misrepresentation of Labour's current policy or a genuine failure to pick up on the fact the opposition quietly backed away from a previous commitment by former Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh to introduce such a ban.
The prediction that it would cost precisely the same amount to set up an Energy Security Board as it would to set up the Office for Budget Responsibility is more than a little strange, given the former would analyse one section of the economy and the later is responsible for fact-checking almost everything politicians say.
However, in making these various allegations the Conservatives present Labour with the near impossible political challenge that Johnson once presented his unfortunate opponent. Labour can't ignore these accusations, but in refuting them the opposition draws yet more attention to deficit-related issues and spends the first day of what is going to be an exhaustingly long election campaign fighting on the territory of the Chancellor's choosing.
Moreover, the dossier forces Labour to provide more details on more policies than it would probably want to at this stage. For example, Labour sources today confirmed that in order to pay for its interest-free energy efficiency loan scheme the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund grant scheme would face the chop. On balance, replacing a costly grant scheme that is snapped up by savvy middle-class households with a more equitable interest-free loan scheme that can reach thousands more households is a good move. But I doubt Labour wanted to start the year talking about cutting a wildly popular energy efficiency scheme. Similarly, publicly reiterating that Labour has ruled out a landfill ban on food waste that many of the party's prospective supporters would actually favour is not a great position to be forced into.
And here we get to the difficulties for green businesses contained in the first few days of an election campaign that promises to be brutishly long and depressingly ill-tempered.
Firstly, the decision by Conservative HQ to load green policies into its first detailed attack on Labour further highlights the polarisation between the two main parties on environmental issues. We already know a Tory government would block new onshore wind farms, crack down on solar farms, and continue to delay a decision on a decarbonisation target for the power sector. The dossier suggests it would also continue to hold off giving the Green Investment Bank borrowing powers, offer little in the way of new funding for domestic energy efficiency schemes, and rule out any move to tighten landfill bans. With the exception of landfill bans, a Labour-led government would take a markedly different approach on each of these important issues. Faced with such significant policy uncertainty plenty of green investors will adopt a wait-and-see stance during the first half of this year, while those who do take the plunge will have to price in significant political risk.
Secondly, the row between the Tories and Labour over this dossier betrays the paucity of innovative green policy thinking and the continued dominance of short termism among the mainstream political parties. Yes, Labour and the Lib Dems look set to offer a significantly more progressive green policy package than our fracking obsessed Prime Minister, but where is the truly bold thinking commensurate with the scale of the climate change crisis and the green economic opportunity?
The continued dominance of the deficit hawks on both sides of the political divide means no one wants to aggressively make the case for using the Green Investment Bank or Green Quantitive Easing to deliver a low carbon Keynsian stimulus package that would drive growth and help tackle climate change. On the same day as former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, of all people, calls for a US carbon tax of £25 a tonne, there is no equivalent figure in the UK loudly calling for greater use of carbon pricing as an effective, sustainable, and potentially equitable means of tackling the deficit. Labour is not even willing to make the case for pumping infrastructure funding into energy efficiency schemes or banning sending food waste for landfill, two policies that would almost certainly deliver net economic and environmental benefits over the course of a parliament, for fear of being branded profligate.
Those green business leaders who are desperate to lead the development of a competitive low carbon economy are left facing a disorientating political landscape whereby green policy thinking is simultaneously too polarised and yet far too narrow. Even those environmental policies that can deliver significant gains while requiring minimal government spending, such as tighter green building standards or effective landfill bans, are being jettisoned as the parties shrink the offer and prepare for the fog of election battle.
Like Johnson's pig allegation, Osborne's dossier might make for good politics. But both the dossier and Labour's response is bad for public faith in politics, bad for the increasingly nominal bi-partisan commitment to climate action, and bad for the green economy.
17 Dec 2014, 08:49
I've already written extensively on the flaws in David Cameron's performance before the Liaison Committee as part of our live blog, but one final point deserves to be made.
This is the third time the Prime Minister has been quizzed by the Liaison Committee about the UK's longer term decarbonisation plans - the first was in late 2012 and the second in early 2014 - and it is the third time he has refused to be drawn on decarbonisation targets for the 2020s on the grounds we need to wait and see if carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology can prove effective first.
This argument has always had its flaws in so much as it embraces the risk of the UK locking in new fossil fuel infrastructure, such as fracking projects and North Sea oil and gas expansion, that will make it extremely difficult to meet legally binding emissions targets if CCS proves to be a crock (or just very expensive). But it could also be argued that it just about held water, in so much as you wouldn't want to block fossil fuel investment now in the event CCS proves a cost effective form of clean energy, which it one day might.
The problem for Cameron is that his position begs a follow up question: if CCS is so important, what progress have you made on delivering CCS in the UK? The answer, sadly, is very little.
The CCS-reliant argument Cameron presented in the middle of the parliament looks a lot weaker towards the end of a parliament when his government is still yet to award a contract for a $1bn CCS demonstration project, has seen a number of projects fall by the wayside, and has singularly failed to offer the sector the political love, attention, and tax breaks showered upon the similarly nascent fracking industry. The CCS industry has been waiting for more than five years to get off the ground (plans were already underway during the last government), it has complained over and over again it needs more support and a clearer long term policy framework for after the initial demonstration project gets built, and it has shown internationally that projects can and do work. And still it waits.
We are left facing a choice, either Cameron is being economical with the actualite when he says he is serious about tackling climate change or he is being incompetent in his failure to deliver greater progress on a technology he regards as critical to climate action. I'm not sure which is worse. Either way he is being reckless in his insistence that wider long term decarbonisation plans cannot be finalised until he is satisfied about the efficacy of CCS.
The reality is that Cameron's triangulation on the issue of longer term carbon targets looks ever more like a cynical attempt to mobilise ever more fossil fuel investment while nominally staying true to the Conservative's stated green goals - an attempt that is working judging by recent figures showing the extent to which high carbon project have started to dominate the UK infrastructure pipeline. If the Prime Minister had strained every sinew to get CCS online then he would deserve the benefit of the doubt, but he hasn't, so he doesn't.
Instead, by crossing its fingers and hoping for the best on CCS the Conservatives have been able to justify watering down the energy efficiency efforts and denigrating the onshore wind and solar farm development that we know works as a means of cutting carbon emissions in an increasingly cost effective manner.
Yesterday's bad-mouthing wind farms for narrow political purposes and the failure to offer adequate assurances about fracking impacts were bad, but the contradictions at the heart of what passes for Cameron's post-2020 decarbonisation strategy were even worse.
The problem for Cameron is his current stance cannot hold indefinitely. If he forms the next government one of his tasks next year will be to consider the Committee on Climate Change's recommendation for the fifth carbon budget that runs through to 2032. By then he will be hoping a CCS project will finally be underway and he will be able to point to it and show how the continued expansion of the UK's on and offshore oil and gas industry is compatible with steep cuts in emissions. However, given his government's woeful track record on CCS to date he should not hold his breath. He might end up needing those onshore wind farms that he erroneously thinks most people are fed up with after all.
15 Dec 2014, 13:38
Ultimately, it all ended just as you'd expected. The final few days of the Lima Climate Summit were as predictable, familiar, and derivative as a One Direction album. Early progress stalled, negotiations got bogged down on technical issues that even some of the diplomats in the room would admit in their darker moments they struggle to keep track of, the chair intervened and banged heads together, a compromise deal that pleased no-one was finalised after two nights of talks, the text was gavelled through by insomniacs in crumpled suits who vaguely resembled the ministers who started the process two weeks before, and then the spin operation began with some hailing historic success and others bemoaning an impending apocalypse. For Lima, read Cancun, or Durban or Warsaw, or indeed any of the cities that have staged the climate diplomacy caravan over the past 20 years.
And yet, this cynical characterisation of the UN talks, while technically accurate, misses something important. This year, like each of the years since the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, progress was made towards a new international climate change agreement, further signals were sent to the global business and investment community that climate action is now the norm, and a framework for a new Paris Climate Treaty was advanced. Amidst the fractious fallout from the on-going rows over inadequate climate funding and "common but differentiated responsibilities" it is crucial to remember these three points.
Watching from afar, one of the most notable aspects of the Lima Summit was the extent to which the key foundation for a Paris Agreement, already dubbed the Paris Alliance, are largely agreed and uncontested. The proposals that will see every nation produce climate action plans, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in the jargon, appear to have been accepted across the board. Instead arguments focused on how these INDCs will be monitored and whether developing nations should submit them on the basis of "common but differentiated responsibility" or "in light of [their] national circumstances" - a distinction that is crucial to those involved in the talks, even if any outside observer taking those words on face value would conclude they mean basically the same thing.
This consensus in favour of INDCs represents great news for green businesses everywhere. They may be voluntary and the precise contents of the plans may be vague, but the Lima deal raises the prospect of each and every country producing a climate action plan. Many of these national plans will be based on legally binding emissions reductions targets, while all of them will serve to mobilise increased investment in clean technology. It is notable that the name adopted for the Lima agreement, the Lima Call for Climate Action, foregrounds the focus on tangible climate action provided by these promised national commitments. This has to be seen as a positive development.
Moreover, the agreement around INDCs highlights the oft-forgotten truth of the UN climate talks: any eventual agreement will not magically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will only prove successful in so much as it provides a policy framework that serves to accelerate decarbonisation. The primary purpose of the talks is to provide this framework. There are other important and contentious purposes, ranging from strengthening global climate adaptation efforts and providing climate funding for developing nations through to acknowledging the "loss and damage" these nations will incur from climate impacts. But without action on decarbonisation these talks are nothing. It is in this respect national climate action plans are such an important step forward. Anyone doubting this fact should consider the huge increase in European investment in clean technology and the gradual reductions in emissions that have been achieved since 2007, when the bloc adopted an energy and climate action plan that was effectively a forerunner for the INDC approach.
Criticism of this strategy justifiably centres on the fact asking nations to present their plans for tackling climate change boils down to a "we'll do what we can" commitment. As numerous environmental campaigners have observed, we already know the INDC pledges that are in the pipeline will not go far enough and will still leave the world staring down the barrel of more than 2C of warming.
But "we'll do what we can" is not nothing. Rather it could represent the kind of long term global commitment to decarbonisation that green businesses have been craving. These long term commitments should help further mobilise investment and slash the cost of clean technologies to a level where governments feel comfortable strengthening their action plans still further. Just because the pledges initially contained within the promised INDCs will not deliver a 2C world does not necessarily mean that a 2C world cannot yet be delivered.
A "we'll do what we can" Paris Treaty may sound depressingly defeatist, but it is likely to contain within it a Chinese pledge to peak its emissions, an EU pledge to slash emissions 40 per cent, a US pledge to double the rate of its decarbonisation, and an Indian pledge to funnel billions of dollars into solar technology. Even two years ago, green businesses and investors would have bitten off the hand of any policymaker offering such a wide range of credible climate policy commitments.
Following the Lima Summit, the foundations for a Paris Agreement appear to be in place. It seems increasingly likely Paris will deliver a system of INDCs, coupled with a vague mechanism for monitoring and updating these national action plans that will inevitably be deemed insufficiently robust. I'd also predict some tangible progress on those parts of the negotiations where quiet improvements have been being made for several years, such as deforestation and carbon offsets. Most importantly of all there are hugely encouraging signs a bold new target for delivering net zero emissions will be discussed and could even be finalised, given the already agreed 2C target logically demands a long term emissions goal.
And what of the rest of the issues being discussed? The issues that once again proved too difficult for negotiators in Lima?
It is around this point you would expect the truckload of caveats that have to come with any upbeat assessment of the UN climate talks, and I am not about to disappoint. The distance that remains between the various negotiating camps on the topics of climate funding and measurement, reporting, and verification continue to look all but unbridgeable. Progress on technology transfer and the highly controversial topic of 'loss and damage' looks equally challenging.
If world leaders can be corralled into attending the Paris Summit they may be willing to move from the entrenched positions that their negotiating teams have dug themselves into over the years. But equally it is hard to envisage how nations can move from vague talk about how to mobilise $100bn of climate funding a year from 2020 to the formal plan developing nations want to see, particularly when a large chunk of that funding would be likely to come from politically toxic carbon taxes. Similarly, rich nations are simply not going to agree to as formulation around 'loss and damage' that leaves the door open for compensation claims, while China and India appear equally resistant to calls for robust independent mechanisms for measuring emissions. A Republican victory in 2016's Presidential election could see the whole process plunged into crisis, regardless of what happens in Paris.
These deep divisions, coupled with the inherent dysfunction of some of the negotiating procedures, will create a volatile cocktail that could see the Paris Summit collapse at any time. Even if a formulation is reached that commits nations to the new system of INDCs, delivers more action on climate funding, and resolves differences over the legal and technical details that would determine the success or failure of any treaty, the harsh reality remains that the world remains a long way from delivering the emissions reductions that are needed.
And yet, while it may not be enough, such a treaty would be an historic step in the right direction.
Not only do the imminent INDCs hold out the promise of tangible climate action, they also demonstrate the extent to which commentators and campaigners are wrong to suggest that next year's Paris Summit represents a be all and end all for the climate. The promised treaty is an enabling mechanism for decarbonisation, a means of making investment in low carbon infrastructure easier - and as such tackling climate change without it will be far harder. But a system of national climate action plans shows that with or without a treaty, the world's biggest and most influential economies are committed to green policies that drive low carbon investment. They are committed to phasing out carbon emissions and accelerating clean technology deployment. They are, for all their many differences, agreed on the need to transform their economies for the better. Just as they are agreed on the fact that this transformation can be made in a way they boosts health and living standards.
Businesses and investors need to realise that while the flawed nature of the UN talks may appear wearingly familiar, every year that the negotiations refuse to collapse further entrenches the global political consensus in favour of decarbonisation. A Paris Alliance, imperfect and insufficient as it will inevitably be, will further solidify that consensus. We will need to go further and faster, but Lima shows that governments around the world are more committed than ever to the climate action that is enabling a green business revolution.
09 Dec 2014, 00:05
For much of the past four years I have been part of that vanishingly small group of environmental commentators who think the government has not got the credit it deserves for its green efforts. Yes, numerous mistakes have been made, and yes, the government's low carbon policies have rarely been commensurate with the scale of the climate crisis; but on balance I'd argue the coalition has just about honoured David Cameron's pledge to lead the greenest government ever.
The extent to which this is a minority viewpoint was hammered home last week when I chaired the Environmental Industries Commission's Annual Conference. Charles Perry of green consultancy Anthesis Group asked how many people in the room would score the government more than five out of 10 against its stated goal of becoming the "greenest ever". Around 180 green executives sat on their hands - as I raised mine. I gave the government 5.5 out of 10.
The argument, which is not quite as incredible as many environmental campaigners would have you believe, goes something like this: any government of a modern industrial nation in 2014 is by default likely to be the greenest ever, as international climate change commitments, the drastic fall in the cost of clean technologies, and public and scientific pressure to take climate change seriously force ministers to deliver green policies that are ambitious by historic standards. Consequently, the passage of an Energy Act designed to deliver a surge in clean energy investment, the formation of the Green Investment Bank, the launch of an albeit flawed energy efficiency financing scheme, the introduction of the Carbon Reduction Commitment tax, the retention of the fourth carbon budget, and, most importantly, the compliance with the current carbon budget, the record levels of renewables investment and the continued growth of the green economy mean it is possible to argue this government is the greenest ever. It has been consistently greener than Gordon Brown with his Climate Change Act, Margaret Thatcher with her warnings about climate change, or even Clement Attlee and Anthony Eden with their National Parks and Clean Air Acts.
This government has failed to adequately address many environmental challenges and risks leaving the UK lagging far behind the US, Germany, and China in the global clean tech race, but it has also laid some of the foundations necessary for the next phase of decarbonisation.
However, this rose-tinted assessment took an almighty battering this weekend with the publication of Green Alliance's latest analysis of the Treasury's infrastructure pipeline. It showed for the first time since these figures were released in 2012 investment in fossil fuel infrastructure will outstrip clean energy spending this year. For anyone who cares about clean energy (which according to separate government polls constitutes about two thirds of the population), the data makes for depressing reading: the share of expected infrastructure spending on fossil fuel energy this year has increased from the eight per cent that was originally expected to 61 per cent; spending on low carbon energy has been revised down from £24.9bn to £9.8bn; projected spending on renewables for the period from 2015 to 2020 has been revised down by £9.3bn; projected spending on roads for the same period has soared from £1.6bn to £32.7bn, pushing the share of transport spending on roads and airports up from eight per cent to 36 per cent.
As Green Alliance's Matthew Spencer observed yesterday, "a series of short term decisions is unpicking long term plans to modernise our economy". "We find ourselves with an National Infrastructure Plan seriously at odds with our national interest, one that could reverse the modernisation of our economy," he added.
There are still some silver linings to this grey cloud of noxious pollution. The figures suggest that as the government's electricity market reform programme starts to take effect low carbon infrastructure spending will once again start to dominate the pipeline throughout the second half of the decade. Meanwhile, our continued adherence to EU and domestic emissions targets mean clean technology will become ever more dominant through the 2020s. It is also important to remember climate change and decarbonisation are not parochial issues, the harm done to low carbon investment by the changing nature of the UK's infrastructure pipeline is massively outweighed by the benefits arising from Germany's new green strategy and the US-China climate pact, not to mention the growing confidence a global climate agreement could be finalised next year.
However, the drastic recovery in high carbon infrastructure spending orchestrated by the government provides a timely reminder that simply setting carbon budgets does not magically mean they will be met. Instead, faced with the chronic and yet under-reported failure of his growth and deficit reduction plans, Chancellor George Osborne released the high carbon spending tap and through North Sea tax breaks and road building turned a carefully calibrated infrastructure plan that was designed to be compatible with the UK's long term climate change goals into a polluters' bonanza. He didn't have to tear up the Climate Change Act or the government's clean energy plans, and nor would he have wanted to, but a handful of relatively minor infrastructure and tax decisions risk having much the same result.
It is at this point that most environmentalists lay the blame for this reversion to 1980s infrastructure policies solely at the door of Osborne's Treasury, but sadly it is not as simple as boot out the Chancellor and his fracking obsession and watch the infrastructure pipeline revert to the shiny green state of 2012.
Firstly, the fossil fuel investments the government has enabled this year and is planning for the next five years lock in infrastructure that will make it ever harder to decarbonise through the 2020s. Once roads are built, they will be used. Once North Sea oil and gas fields and fracking wells are opened up, the fossil fuels they produce will be burnt.
Secondly, the coalition's quiet U-turn on the content of the infrastructure pipeline is as much the result of structural decision-making in Whitehall as political choices at Conservative HQ.
The most vocal cheerleader for North Sea oil and gas tax breaks in the past year has been not Osborne, but his supposedly green Lib Dem colleague Danny Alexander, who now fully deserves his share of the blame for failing to impose the junior coalition party's green ethos on the UK's infrastructure priorities. For all Labour's increasingly encouraging commitment to decarbonisation and Ed Miliband's prioritising of climate action, does anyone seriously think Ed Balls would not have dusted off the road-building and North Sea tax breaks himself? A Labour government may well create a more encouraging investment climate for renewables and tighten shale gas regulations, but there are few signs Balls would revoke Osborne's oil and gas tax breaks, shelve his new roads, or be any less conflicted about new runways?
The blow to green infrastructure detailed by Green Alliance is as much a function of the political class' default position of reverting to the infrastructure of the 20th century when times are tough as it is a function of Osborne's particular enthusiasm for pollutocrats.
The key question, as always, is what can be done to get the UK's infrastructure plans back on track? The current strategy is not yet catastrophic, but to adopt the Prime Minister's recent turn of phrase, the lights are flashing on the dashboard for the UK's green economy.
The answer is that those modern businesses who want to drive the development of a low carbon economy (and this includes the membership of the CBI) need to join with those politicians and NGOs who are increasingly frustrated by the primacy of short term tactics over long term strategy and decry each and every one of those relatively small policy decisions that run counter to the UK's long term decarbonisation strategy.
That does not mean opposing each and every high carbon project, after all we will still need oil and gas for several decades to come, while not every new road project is inherently unjustified, particularly at a time when low emission vehicles are proving their viability.
However, it is essential these projects fit into a credible infrastructure pipeline that avoids locking in technologies we need to be phasing out and prioritises cleaner alternatives wherever possible. Consequently, it is not credible to dish out tax breaks to North Sea oil and gas or green light fracking projects without a coherent strategy to deliver carbon capture and storage and boost national energy efficiency. It is not credible for Ed Davey to warn about a carbon bubble at a time when his colleague, Danny Alexander, is praising policies to get every drop of oil out of the North Sea and failing to even mention climate change. It is not credible to drastically change the nature of the UK's infrastructure pipeline without having a public debate about why this has been done and what the implications are for decarbonisation efforts throughout the 2020s - decarbonisation efforts, remember, that all three main parties are signed up to and which an international climate change agreement may soon make essential.
This government has been greener than it has been given credit for. But in the final months of its term in office it now risks torching its green credentials through a short term reversion to 1980s infrastructure thinking that threatens to reverse much of the encouraging progress the green economy has made in recent years.
The business community needs to remind all politicians once again that the opportunities presented by clean technology and the challenge presented by climate change means there is now a new way of doing infrastructure. A way of doing infrastructure that still boosts the economy and the UK's productivity, but does it in a way that does not do immense damage to the environment and our clean tech competitiveness. Realise that, and this government will be the greenest ever. And the one that succeeds it will be greener still - just as it should be.
ABOUT JAMES' BLOG
Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray