If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Increasingly, the Prime Minister seems to think that setting ambitious targets is a substitute for any real action. We’re facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis, but instead of concrete measures to cut excessive spending we get a “Fiscal Responsibility Bill” with a target to halve the deficit.
The Government are particularly fond of this trick when it comes to climate change policy. Ed Miliband is proud that: “We’re the first country to put carbon targets into law, and our target of an 80% reduction by 2050 is one of the most ambitious.” We lead the world in setting targets!
The reality, of course, is that the challenge is to cut emissions without imposing a ruinous cost on families and businesses. The research we released earlier this week shows that an excessive and deeply harmful burden is being imposed by green taxes and regulations. The public don’t want to see ever more of their money go to ineffective measures to try and cut emissions, particularly in the wake of the Climate Gate scandal.
Instead of confronting that affordability crisis, the Government are going to – if they get any kind of deal at Copenhagen – sign us up to 42% emissions cuts by 2020. This morning, at the TPA we’ve released a new research note showing that, even if Britain maintains its strong performance in getting more efficient and cutting emissions intensity, such a target could require cutting our national income in 2020 by 30 per cent, or just over half a trillion pounds. Given that most analysts think that even existing options like nuclear power, tidal power and carbon capture and storage won’t be able to make a significant contribution in such a short time (and that even the existing 2020 target therefore locks in unnecessarily high costs) there isn’t much chance of a technological miracle giving us a get out of jail free card.
But, why should he care? All Brown is thinking about now is the few months till an election. The long term health of the British economy can go hang as far as he is concerned.