2015 is a crucial year for the environment. Global climate negotiations in Paris are fast approaching. A newly elected Conservative government stands ready to become the greenest government in this nation’s history. Never before has the need for an informed and objective conversation about the future of UK energy policy been more pressing.
However, it saddens me to say that there is a small but vocal group of environmental lobbyists who claim to be acting in the country’s interest but instead are the ones putting it at risk.
Take for example a subject that is close to my heart: biomass. Despite the recent noise around onshore wind, in 2014 the largest single renewable power project in the UK actually generated electricity by burning sustainably sourced, low-value wood. Throughout the year, when the wind wasn’t blowing and the sun wasn’t shining, biomass was providing a low carbon, affordable and reliable source of power.
Biomass is a success story for the UK of which we should be proud. In recent years, hundreds of jobs have been created and millions of pounds invested in the biomass industry. In my own constituency, what was once Europe’s second largest polluter has become Europe’s largest decarbonisation project by switching power generating units from coal to biomass. This reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and delivers millions of tonnes of carbon savings we simply would not have seen without biomass.
Biomass is good news for forests too. In North America, demand from UK energy companies for biomass has created a market for low value wood that would otherwise have been left to rot or incinerated. This new demand has encouraged foresters to manage their forests more effectively, creating larger and more productive forests in the process. It is because of demand for wood that US forest growth has exceeded harvest for each of the last 50 years.
It is entirely reasonable for these environmental NGOs to hold biomass users to account and to demand that only sustainably sourced biomass is used. The tragedy is, having made a compelling case, some now resort to misrepresentation, over simplification and distortion of the science simply to grab the next headline. Ultimately though, these headlines come at the cost of their wider cause – it sets back the fight against climate change.
This begs the question: who do these NGOs serve and to whom are they accountable? Regrettably, my experience on the biomass issue seems to show that ultimately they serve themselves and they are accountable to themselves. Influence without responsibility cannot be right and it is time we took a proper look at this accountability deficit right at the heart of our civil society.
Nigel Adams is the Member of Parliament for Selby and Ainsty