The chancellor George Osborne has said that he does not want the UK to be at the forefront of efforts to prevent climate change, as the country may risk pricing itself out of international energy markets.
His comments come in the wake of a pledge from Labour leader Ed Miliband to freeze energy bills if his party wins the 2015 general election.
But most significantly, they also follow the release of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose research says that human activity is ‘unequivocally’ causing global warming.
The IPCC study warns that if greenhouse gas emissions, produced largely by the burning of fossil fuels in energy generation, remained at current rates, then within 20-30 years global warming of more than 2C would be almost inevitable. The consequences of such a warming could be catastrophic, causing rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions.
Commenting on the IPCC report, energy secretary Ed Davey said, “Without urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions this warming will continue, with potentially dangerous impacts upon our societies and economy.”
However, speaking to the Times ahead of the Conservative party conference, Osborne said, “I want to provide for the country the cheapest energy possible, consistent with having it reliable, in other words as a steady supply, and consistent with us playing our part in an international effort to tackle climate change.
“But I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.”
The chancellor also criticised Labour’s proposals to phase out energy generated by burning carbon from the power sector by 2030. He argued that if an aluminium smelter left the UK and to go to another country, it would not make much difference to climate change. But, he said, it would make a “huge difference” to Britons who lost their jobs as a result.
The Conservative conference opened on Sunday in Manchester.