Missing decarbonisation target could prompt Lib Dem rebellion

Liberal Democrat whips are facing the prospect of a potential rebellion over the energy bill's missing decarbonisation target.

The party's leadership had endorsed its support for a decarbonisation target during last autumn's Brighton conference.

But coalition negotiations failed to secure the target in the energy bill, which returns to the Commons later today and tomorrow.

In the run-up to this week's voting 11 Lib Dem backbenchers have signalled their readiness to vote against the government in a crunch amendment tabled by Tim Yeo, the Conservative chair of the energy and climate change committee, calling for the inclusion of a decarbonisation target.

In a major speech today, Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls called on Lib Dems to resist their party whip.

"I call on every Lib Dem who supports a low carbon future to join Labour, businesses and environmental groups and vote for a 2030 decarbonisation target," he said.

The coalition deal brokered between Davey and George Osborne in the Treasury sees a tripling of funding for renewable energy through to 2020, as well as a long-term policy framework.

In return the government deal has seen the Lib Dems abandon their party policy to secure a decarbonisation target for 2030. Many Lib Dems, including party president Tim Farron, have expressed dissatisfaction.

The government's climate change committee, chaired by Lord Deben, has argued a carbon intensity target holds "significant advantages".

In a letter to Davey sent in February he argued: "Early decarbonisation is economically sensible compared to the alternative of a dash for gas through the 2020s."

Today's announcement by iGas that there may be up to 170 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the Bowland Shale area of north-west England has renewed hopes that the UK could end its status as a gas importer, however.

The news that such a large amount could lie in wait will re-open the debate about shale gas, which relies on the controversial process of 'fracking' for extraction. It threatens to undermine the argument in favour of significant capital spending on developing the infrastructure for renewable energy, however.

Campaigners have expressed frustration that the Lib Dems are not prepared to push ahead with the decarbonisation target.

"There just seems to be a real lack of fire within the Liberal Democrat leadership at the moment on standing up for things its own party has voted for," energy campaigner Guy Shrubsole of Friends of the Earth said.

"They've got a prime opportunity to stand up for what they have voted for and said they believe in, when it comes to the crunch this week."