Blair agreed to green energy target ‘by mistake’
In November BBC Panorama broadcast a film called “What’s Fuelling Your Energy Bill?” which claimed that Tony Blair had agreed a demanding target of obtaining 15 per cent of UK energy from renewable sources by 2020 at a March 2007 EU summit – and that he had agreed to it by mistake, confusing a target for electricity with one for energy as a whole (including gas and transport fuel).
This was seized on by Christopher Booker and the climate change sceptics as evidence of mind-boggling incompetence and conspiracy. Or something.
But the Panorama programme is a parody of what actually happened. What Blair agreed at a Brussels summit on 9 March 2007 was an EU target of obtaining 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020. Each country would have its own “differentiated” national target, to be negotiated separately.
The negotiations over the UK’s figure continued after Blair left office. They were hard-fought, both in the Gordon Brown government (between John Hutton, the Business Secretary, and Hilary Benn at Environment) and between the UK and the European Commission.
The national targets were not set until 23 January 2008. The UK’s target, of 15 per cent, was the third lowest in the EU, after Malta and Luxembourg.
The central witness for Panorama’s ”Blair gaffe” story was Sir David King, who was the Government’s chief scientific adviser until the end of 2007. He spoke about “very tired people in the meeting” at the end of the March 2007 summit, explaining the apparent confusion between “electricity” and total “energy”. Or it could have been that “people just took their eye off the ball”, he said.
Was it a gaffe, the BBC asked? “It could have been,” he said. “But was it a bad gaffe? Is it a good target? It may well be a good target.”
I know officials, including Sir David, were surprised that the 20 per cent target was agreed, and there were suggestions at the time that EU leaders did not realise how hard it would be to achieve.
But I do not know if Panorama was suggesting that the original agreement, to an EU-wide 20 per cent target, was a “gaffe”, in which case it was one made by 26 other countries too; or whether it was Gordon Brown’s failure to negotiate a lower UK target, lower than one already lower than any other large economy, that was a mistake.
Neither seems plausible; either would be misleading. The BBC’s contribution to contemporary history is once again found wanting.
Photograph of Tony Blair arriving at Brussels summit, March 2007: Photographic Library of the Council of the EUTagged in: climate change, contemporary history, Energy, tony blair
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