The ultra-quick summary of this part of the coalition agreement: a long list of Liberal Democrat policies – and then a bit about nuclear.
The longer version is that however questionable the Conservative Party’s commitment to green issues looked at times before polling day (particularly when Conservative Party conference was expressing its opposition to green taxes), out of the negotiations has come a firm commitment from the Conservatives to back a long, long list of green measures. Many of these, even on an optimistic interpretation of the Conservative Party’s record, would not have been passed by a Conservative majority government with a Conservative – rather than a Liberal Democrat – Cabinet minister in charge.
It’s why, to me, this section strongly illustrates how negotiating coalition wasn’t about abandoning principles, it was about sticking to our principles. You see, I really believe the stuff about caring for our environment being central to our approach as a party. And I really believe the stuff about the urgency for action.
Saying “Tories? Yuk!” and preferring instead to have a government with a worse green record wouldn’t have been about sticking to principles; it would have been about selling them out in the name of narrow-minded political tribalism.
So what is all this green goodness? Well, it includes pushing for the EU emission reduction target to be increased to 30%, increasing the target for renewable energy in the UK, establishing a smart grid, creating a green investment bank, encouraging marine energy, cancelling the third runway at Heathrow, replacing Air Passenger Duty with a per-flight duty (so encouraging fuller planes and less pollution), cutting central government carbon emissions by 10% within 12 months, encouraging community-owned renewable energy schemes and working for a global climate deal. Not to mention the many day to day decisions which will be made by Chris Huhne.
As for nuclear, the agreement at heart says that new nuclear power stations will not receive any form of public subsidy but otherwise can go ahead, subject to the normal planning process for major projects (under a new National Planning Statement). Liberal Democrat MPs can abstain on the key vote in Parliament.
In other words, this deal is very similar to that over Trident; if the financial case for a straight Trident replacement/nuclear really doesn’t stack up (in the way many campaigners have claimed in the past) then it won’t happen. But if those campaigners are wrong and the finances do stack up, they will go ahead.