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MPs vote against 2030 decarbonisation target

Narrow defeat, despite voting support from Tories and Lib Dems

Tim YeoThe coalition’s upcoming Energy Bill will not include a 2030 decarbonisation target, following a narrow defeat in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

A bid to include a target to decarbonise electricity generation in the UK by the year 2030 has been narrowly defeated in the House of Commons, after being proposed by senior Conservative backbencher Tim Yeo.

Mr Yeo had told the Commons that putting the target in place would not add a “single penny” to energy bills over the next seven years. He also underlined that putting the decision off would create uncertainty regarding the government’s intentions.

At a debate on Tuesday, energy minister Michael Fallon urged MPs not to rely on “blind faith” and vote for “decarbonisation by dogma or default”. He emphasised that a 2030 target that was legally binding could force some generating plants out of business, and increase costs for the industries that are already struggling to keep up with lower energy costs abroad.

Energy Bill update

MPs voted down the amendment by a slim margin of 290 votes to 267, making it one of the narrowest victories for the government in a whipped vote since the beginning of this parliament.

Interestingly, several Tories and Liberal Democrats went against the coalition’s stance and voted in favour of the measure. However, several potential rebels managed to be convinced to allow the 2030 decarbonisation to be considered in 2016 instead – after the general election.

Ministers said that putting the target in place would put too many restrictions on business at a time of economic difficulty.

If the amendment had been pushed through, electricity generators would have had to utilise more renewables, as well as carbon capture and storage and nuclear power. The goal would have been to cut carbon production to nearly zero by 2030.

Many businesses, green campaigners and industry organisations united in favour of the amendment.

The government says it could include a target in future secondary legislation. However, it will only make this decision after the fourth carbon budget review.

The fourth carbon budget review

It appears as if the 2030 goal will now be considered in 2016. However, before this, the government will also review the fourth carbon budget, which sets out how much carbon dioxide the UK is able to produce each year until 2027.

While prime minister David Cameron vowed early in the coalition that he would lay out a strict carbon budget, he then agreed with chancellor George Osborne that a review of the carbon target could take place in 2014. The original target was roughly aiming to halve carbon output in the UK by the late 2020s.

A ‘huge missed opportunity’

In a message on Twitter after the vote, Labour leader Ed Miliband said the failure to put the target in place was a “huge missed opportunity”. He also suggested that many MPs had failed to back their own party’s policy.

This comes after party activists at the Lib Dem conference last September overwhelmingly backed the 2030 target.