Fighting Gaia with Kaya

Ben has an article about Roger Pielke Jr’s criticism of the UK’s Climate Change Act on Spiked.

The rate of decarbonisation required to meet these targets would, according to Roger Pielke, be ‘more aggressive than has ever been documented in any developed country at any time ever’. But isn’t this the ‘drastic action’ that environmentalists have been demanding, and politicians have been promising, for many years now? The problem is the difference between goals and action. ‘One of the implications is that the UK would have to be as carbon-efficient as France within the next decade’, Pielke tells me. France’s energy policy gives us a good benchmark for understanding the scale of the numerical goals in more practical terms. To become that efficient in that time frame is equivalent to building 30 nuclear power stations by 2015. ‘There’s a fine line between aspirational goals, and fictional goals’, says Pielke, ‘but from a political and societal perspective, it’s just not going to happen. We should be rethinking the process that’s been put in place to achieve these goals.’

While you’re there, have a look at Frank Furedi’s piece on the Green rebranding of Lent.

The campaign for a carbon fast is a morally illiterate attempt to recycle the practice of fasting during Lent as a form of environmentally correct behaviour. The aim is to provide religious authority to the condemnation of everyday behaviour that green moralists find objectionable. So, the tips offered to those embarking on the carbon fast include: don’t drink water from a plastic bottle; forget about having your morning latte (it uses too much water apparently); turn down the lights; eat ‘slow food’ (fast food is too carbon-intensive); and give the dishwasher a break (1). Through rebranding these environmentalist rituals as moral obligations, campaigners hope to invest their cause with meaning.

The Stupid Stansted Stupid Defence

The Stansted protesters have had their day in court.

Most of the 22 campaigners, who are members of the group Plane Stupid, were ordered to do between 50 and 90 hours community service after admitting aggravated trespass. The incident closed the airport in Essex for five hours.

Each of the protesters must pay compensation of £60 to cover £3,000 worth of damage to the perimeter fence, which they cut through in the early hours of 8 December, and orders made for court costs totalled £570.

According to the Guardian, the group also face being sued for £2 million. That’ll dent the trust funds.

None of this is as interesting as the account given by the defence lawyer. According to the same article,

Benjamin Newton, defending, said the group regretted what they saw as the necessity of taking part in the protest, but had done so as a “last, desperate act” having exhausted all traditional means of influencing the democratic process. “They felt government policy was directly contrary to meeting the country’s international obligations to mitigate climate change and that those policies were going to make us closer to the tipping point,” he said.

This is a nonsense defence.

The ‘democratic process’ had, just a week and a bit before the protest, produced the UK’s Climate Change Act, which commits the country to an 80% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050 – going further than ‘meeting the country’s international obligations to mitigate climate change’ by a third. But as we pointed out, the process wasn’t democratic. There was no real debate, and the ‘democratic institution’ – parliament – defers decisions to an unaccountable committee of ‘experts’, who have their own interests served by climate legislation.

Worst than this, however, is the idea that these protesters see themselves as above the ‘democratic process’. In their view, they’ve failed to influence the debate, yet don’t pause to reflect on that failure as the consequence of their own shortcomings.

Let’s not say that all disruptive action of this kind is a necessary wrong. It’s not, at least in our view. Feel free to disagree in the comments below. But these protesters don’t have any such grievance. They are not excluded, or persecuted in any way. As the Guardian point out, they’re actually from rather privileged backgrounds. Yet these well-heeled kids beleive they have been alienated by a process that they are entitled to rule over.

Their defence is that there’s something stupid about the democratic process. It’s failed to listen to them. But it is their failure to mount a convincing argument, and to build popular support. Consider the words of Ed Milliband MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who said on the day of the protest

When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilization. Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here.

The establishment welcomed the protestors – it needs them. It has embraced their environmental concern – it needs it too. The protestors and the sense of crisis generated by the environmental movement legitimise the Government’s environmental policies. These policies are retogressive, authoritarian, and serve the interests of the political establishment, that otherwise struggles to identify its purpose. The kids at the protest say that “We’re here because our parents’ generation has failed us and its now down to young people to stop climate change…”, but really, they’re doing the work of the very institutions that they imagine themselves to be pitched against.

So who’s stupid?

Coincidence?

Last week, the UK’s Climate Change Bill was passed, and became the Climate Change Act.

Today, the Climate Change Committee published it’s report, Building a low-carbon economy – the UK’s contribution to tackling climate change.

The committee were asked to give their advice to parliament before the publication of the report. That advice was that the UK should commit itself to reducing its CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Almost without question, MPs in the House of Commons accepted the advice.

Yet the MPs could not have been aware of the basis for the advice, because it came before the publication of the report. How could the Climate Change Committee’s reasoning been understood by MPs in sufficient detail to commit themselves to nearly half a century of policy?

It cannot have been.

MPs have taken the advice of the Committee with no scrutiny of the CCC itself, its member’s interests, or the substance of its advice.

Also beginning today was The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznań, Poland.

There is something fishy about the timing of these three events.

The CCC was conceived of just a year and a month ago. It was not formed until the beginning of the year, and did not start work until the Spring, possibly even the Summer. In less than 9 months, it arrived at a decision based on ‘facts’ about what the next 43 years of energy policy in the UK ought to be, behind closed doors, unaccountably, and without scrutiny. In spite of the ‘thousands of the world’s best scientists’, and the efforts of many many more all working in collaboration with economists, scientists, and other experts from all over the world, never before has any definitive policy been formulated from ‘the science’.

But suddenly, just 8 people, comprising just one climate scientist, one ecologist, and a handful of economists, were able to organise ‘the facts’ into unchallengeable, objectively sound, and robust policy recommendation.

In other words, where democratic processes have been unable to produce a political consensus on policy, in spite of ‘the facts’ represented by ‘the scientific consensus’, undemocratic, unaccountable bodies don’t fail. No surprises here. (That’s not a criticism of democracy, incidentally)

The point of all this is that the UK Government’s need to have successfully created a a strong climate law, in place by now, December the 1st 2008, is owed, not to the Government’s commitment to ‘saving the planet’, nor even the UK population, but to the designs its members have on being ‘world leaders’.

That is to say that the ‘climate crisis’ turns one of the least popular Governments ever into planet-saving superheroes. But if it couldn’t even sort out a Climate Change Act at home, how could it ever strike a pose on the World Stage, this week, in Poland?

There was only one problem for the Government – democracy. It needed to get its costume – the Climate Change Act – ready for this fancy-dress party. But as we pointed out, the other parties threatened to upstage the Labour Government at home, by committing themselves to greater emissions cuts than they had proposed. They wanted to be the superheroes.

Enter the CCC to save the hour. Not for the planet, but for the Government. In return, they and their associates will be entitled to the carbon markets that the Climate Change Act will create.

That is why, on the first of December, 2008, the UK has a Climate Change Act, a pointless and damaging document called Building a low-carbon economy, and a Government posturing in Poland. And that is why your future just got a little dimmer.

The real crisis, as we have said before, is not in the sky. It is at the heart of British politics.

Climate Change Bill. Part 3 – 'Ayes' Wide Shut

There is a list of the MPs – our ‘democratic representatives’ – in the house of commons who voted for the Climate Change Bill ammendment’s on Tuesday at

http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2008-10-28&number=298&showall=yes#voters

470 (out of 646) MPs voted. Only 5 of them (all Conservatives) voted against the ammendments. They were,

Christopher Chope (Christchurch), Philip Davies (Shipley), Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harpenden), Andrew Tyrie (Chichester), Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone & The Weald). Well done to them. The rest of the MPs have clearly failed to consider what they are creating. They seem to believe that reducing the UK to some kind of peasant society will somehow make the world watch in awe, making them world leaders. 

Please let your MP know what you think. To save yourself some effort, you can send a message to your MP through this neat service. But a letter might count for more. A couple of readers have emailed us with their letters, and they are most excellent. If you want to cite any data, or research, but don’t know where to find it, we’d be happy to help. Let us know through our contact page. 

 

The Climate Change Bill. Part 2 – Appealing to Authority.

Here is an exchange between Peter Lilley MP, and other members of the House of Commons on Tuesday’s reading of the Climate Change Bill. 

Notice how Elliot Morley cites Stern and Lord Turner as authorities. 

It is as if Stern had no critics. The entire house of commons appears to be in his thrall. One man, who now is Vice Chairman of a group of companies with a commercial interest in climate change legislation, is being cited in lieu of democratic debate. 

Lord Turner, who is also cited, has written no more than a letter to Ed Milliband. And Lord Turner, as a former Trustee of the World Wildlife Fund, and a former member of the board of advisors at Climate Change Capital, cannot be said to be politically impatial, nor without financial interests. 

The house voted hugely in favour of the ammendments to the Bill, which means that shipping and aviation will now be included in the 80% target. If the bill is passed, then it will mean big fat profits for Stern, Turner, and their associates as shipping and aviation companies seek their services. 

Meanwhile, people in the UK will be unable to afford to travel, facing rising costs, and face job losses. 

—————————————————————–

Mr. Lilley: I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Interests.

In the speeches of a number of hon. Members, it has been assumed that the whole House is unanimous on the measures before us, and on the Bill that they amend or add to. Historically, the House has made its worst mistakes not when it is divided, but when it is virtually unanimous; not when it is adversarial, but when MPs switch off their critical faculties in a spasm of moral self-congratulation. My concern is that, in considering these measures, we are displaying that tendency. It is vital that we bring the House back down to earth by considering the hard costs and benefits of, and alternatives to, what is proposed and what we are doing. We have not done that very much so far in the debates in the House. Only once in Committee was mention made of the costs and benefits of what we are proposing.

Mr. Morley: The right hon. Gentleman will find that, apart from the Stern report, which addressed the issue of costs and benefits, the report by Lord Turner specifically identified some of the projected costs for his recommendations, which are now being incorporated in the Bill. They were relatively modest.

Mr. Lilley: I am not in any way disputing what the hon. Gentleman says, but no hon. Members, in either the House or Committee, have addressed the question of costs and benefits. They could have done so, as the Government have produced an impact assessment spelling out their estimate of the costs and benefits involved. Those figures are all we have when it comes to trying to assess the costs and benefits of the specific clauses and amendments before us.
28 Oct 2008 : Column 760
The Government’s impact assessment has three very important implications. The first is that the costs of the Bill as a whole are potentially huge, and they will be even more onerous if these proposals are accepted. The impact assessment puts the transitional costs at between 1.3 and 2 per cent. of gross domestic product up to 2020. In addition, there will be competitive costs to this country as a result of industry being driven overseas, even though that will not reduce the level of carbon emissions. Ignoring both those costs and making the heroic assumption that British industry can instantly and perfectly implement the latest and most cost-effective technology to meet the targets, means that the estimated cost of the Bill as a whole—even before the target for emission reductions is increased from 60 per cent. to 80 per cent.—comes to £205 billion.

That is a lot of money. We have to ask whether we are prepared to increase it by including aviation and shipping, as the measures before us propose. I do not know whether hon. Members have consulted their constituents, but £205 billion would equal over £10,000 from every family in every constituency.

People are used to hearing about the large sums of money being used to rescue the banks, but that has been in the form of loans that one hopes ultimately will be repaid. The costs that we are incurring through the amendments—and by the Bill even if it remains unamended—are real money. Our constituents will cough up that £10,000 in taxes and lost incomes, and never see it again. Before we add even more onerous burdens by including aviation and shipping in the Bill, we must be very sure that we are happy with the costs that we are already incurring.

Secondly, we need to look at the benefits, which the impact assessment also considers. Although it shows that the maximum costs, even excluding all the things proposed in the measures before us, are potentially £205 billion, the striking thing is that it puts the maximum benefits of the actions proposed in the Bill at £110 billion, or just over half that total. Do the authors of the new proposals believe that their costs will eventually exceed their benefits, as is the case with the Bill as a whole, or can they reassure us that the benefits will be greater than the costs?

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Colin Challen: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lilley: I will give way in a moment, and especially to the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen).

I have reservations about the certainty with which some people adopt the scientific case behind global alarmism, but I am equally uncertain that it is necessarily wrong, so I am quite prepared to take out an insurance policy against the possibility that we will face global warming, just as I insure my house against the possibility of fire. However, I ask the House whether it is sensible to buy into an insurance policy whose premiums could be twice the value of one’s house—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced and skilful debater in this House, but I think that he must realise himself that he is building a 
28 Oct 2008 : Column 761
broad case on a narrow foundation. The remarks that he is making are, in terms of good order and debate, more strictly applicable to later parts of the Bill, and particularly to Third Reading. Therefore, I really must direct him to the specific matter covered in this group of new clauses and amendments.

Mr. Lilley: Of course I take your remarks to heart, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We have to remember the normal laws of declining marginal benefit and increasing marginal cost. If we tighten the Bill by adding more rigorous burdens regarding aviation and shipping, we must expect the costs to be higher than the costs of meeting the 60 per cent. target, let alone the 80 per cent. target, and we must expect the benefits to be less than the marginal benefits that were to be accrued.

5.30 pm

David Howarth: The right hon. Gentleman will of course be aware of the work that Professor Barker did with Pan, Köhler, Warren and Winne, published in 2006 in The Energy Journal, which showed that as the targets become stricter, the world growth rate increases because of induced technological change. Economics has moved on slightly since he was at Cambridge.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Oh dear. The hon. Gentleman is enticing the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) towards the wider aspects of the Bill again. I must remind the House that we want to make progress on to other matters, and we should therefore stick strictly to the terms of the amendments before us.

Mr. Lilley: I will do just that and avoid discussing with the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) my experience of Cambridge, which was splendid. I instead return to the measure before us, which asks the Committee on Climate Change to assess the cost of including aviation and shipping in the Bill. However, the new clause does not say how those assessments are to be made. We must assume that they are to be made on the basis that Lord Stern used to assess the costs and benefits in the report to which the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) referred, or on the basis used in the impact assessment that the Government put before the House, although that assessment refuses to give us any costings specifically on aviation and shipping.

It is interesting that the impact assessment totally contradicts Lord Stern, who said that the costs of the measure, including aviation, would be far short of the benefits. Of course, he only reached that conclusion by discounting the future at such a low rate that the benefits exceeded the costs. According to Nordhaus, the leading valuator of this sort of methodology, half the benefits that Sir Nicholas Stern takes into account will not occur until after the year 2800, but so low is his discount rate that they outweigh the costs that we will incur in this century.

More sensibly, the Government rejected that. I asked them what interest rate they think should be used, and presumably want to use, in the assessments that they require in new clause 15. They say that they are using the traditional, conventional discount rate required by the Treasury of 3.5 per cent. in real terms. That is why 
28 Oct 2008 : Column 762
their calculations show that the costs are not necessarily much lower than the benefits, and could well be twice as great as the benefits. Presumably, if the Committee follows the Government’s methodology, it could reach the same conclusion for aviation and shipping.

Rob Marris rose—

Mr. Lilley: I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who made by far the best speech on Second Reading.

Rob Marris: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Like other industries, aviation and shipping are, of course, susceptible to technological change. On the £205 billion cost—that is the upper end; the lower end is £30 billion—may I point out that the impact assessment said:

    “Upper end of the range assumes no technological change”?

There may well be technological change in aviation and shipping. Conversely, on the benefits, which are between £82 billion and £110 billion, the impact assessment says:

    “Benefits are therefore likely to be higher.”

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is being a little pessimistic about aviation and shipping, and about the cost-benefit analysis.

Mr. Lilley: I may be wrong, of course, but I am using the Government’s figures. Throughout the debate no one else has bothered even to mention the Government’s figures, and they were mentioned only once in Committee. It is only sensible that we should do so, and if we do, and if in particular we reach the conclusion that they should use the methodology implied in the impact assessment and not the absurd methods used by Sir Nicholas Stern, now Lord Stern—he received his reward—they would reach a conclusion very similar to that advocated by the hon. Gentleman on Second Reading: that we should put far more emphasis on adaptation to helping poor countries cope with climate change, rather than on crippling our industries—aviation, shipping and all the other industries—to little avail.

Mr. Tyrie: rose—

Mr. Lilley: I give way to my hon. Friend, who made the equal best speech on Second Reading.

Mr. Tyrie: I hope that my right hon. Friend has not devalued the compliment that he threw across the Floor of the House; heaven knows what he will say when another Member seeks to intervene.

The question at issue has been whether technology in aviation and shipping can proceed at a pace to enable the costs to be kept reasonably low and therefore to allow us to pick up the benefits of a low carbon technology without extra cost. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the leading estimates of the improvement needed in carbon productivity are that it needs to increase fourfold over the next 40 years—that is, that the average of the past 15 years, which is 1.5 per cent. per annum, needs to increase to about 6 per cent. per annum if we are to get anywhere near meeting the 80 per cent. target? Will he speculate on whether it is plausible that a fourfold increase can be achieved?
28 Oct 2008 : Column 763
Mr. Lilley: That would be extremely demanding, but the implications of the Government’s impact assessment both for aviation and shipping and for industries more generally is that we must find more effective ways of reducing costs and carbon utilisation than they themselves think are available or would result from the measures in the Bill.

Either that, or we must adopt the route proposed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and devote more effort to adaptation to climate change rather than mitigation, which would remove the burden—the almost impossible task—of bringing aviation and shipping into the scheme. It would also mean that, if global warming continues but turns out not to be predominantly the result of human activity, we would still be able to help the people in poor countries who would suffer from it, whereas we would not help them if we relied only on mitigation efforts.

The implications of the clauses before us are extremely serious. We are potentially asking our constituents to bear a burden of £10,000 for every household, should we increase it. We are potentially producing benefits that may be only half the costs that we are incurring. We have been using a method to assess future costs and benefits that has been surreptitiously abandoned by the Government, but they have told us nothing about it. These issues ought to be discussed more fully before the Bill becomes law, and it is a sad day when Parliament refuses to face up to these hard facts.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): There is a real danger of the House misleading itself into debates which, although important, are not the debates that should be taking place on the amendments. There are issues to be addressed concerning the methodology of impact assessments, but at this stage the House is being asked to address the principle of the inclusion of the Government’s assessment of carbon impacts in the way in which we set our carbon budgets. It is important to bring the debate back to that.

It is also important not to allow ourselves to conduct a caricature debate about the choices that we face. The choices are not between unilateralism or multilateralism, or between mitigation or adaptation. We will have to do both. When the ship is sinking, the last thing we want to hear is someone running round the decks saying, “No action until there is a global refit.” If the ship is sinking, we want action taken on the threat that we face at that time.

What we need to recognise from the scientific reports, which have been coming to us in their own tsunamis, is that the climate and the planet are the part of the equation that is in the process of taking the most enormous unilateral action. We will have to address huge upheavals in the whole framework of how we consider societies and economies capable of working viably throughout the whole of this century.

I had hoped that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) would be here for his customary intervention on this issue. The answer to the question about oil is that by the time we come out of the current global financial crisis, two things will be queuing up. The first will be the climate crises already in the pipeline. Secondly, by that time we will probably have passed the peak oil level anyway, and we will have to move to a post-oil economy if we want a viable economy of any sort.

The Climate Change Bill. Part 1 – They Don't Work for You.

The third reading of the Climate Change Bill took place in parliament yesterday. More on that later.

The reading was preceded by an Early Day Motion (EDM) to include shipping and aviation in the scope of the bill.

EDM 2233 – CLIMATE CHANGE BILL (No. 2) – 14.10.2008

Griffiths, Nigel

That this House welcomes the Prime Minister’s decision to ask the Shadow Committee on Climate Change for early advice on the Climate Change Bill to inform the final stages of debate in Parliament; congratulates the Committee and its chair Lord Turner for providing robust advice despite the time pressure; welcomes their recommendation that the United Kingdom should be more ambitious in its target with cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; further welcomes Lord Turner’s further statement that this should include all emissions, including aviation and shipping; and urges all parties to support amendments to incorporate these changes in the Climate Change Bill.

The policies that the MPs signing this motion want to create will lead to a loss of jobs and a substantial reduction in the standard of living for people throughout the UK. Meanwhile, members of the Climate Change Committee, the companies they work for and are associated with will profit handsomely from the legislation they have created.

MPs are elected on the basis that they will take part in political, democratic debate. Instead, the following gutless, spineless, and brainless UK MPs have put their name to a motion to defer policy decisions to an unaccountable, undemocratic, and self-interested committee, whose decisions are based on spurious calculations about the future.

If your MP is listed below (find out here), let them know (here) what you think about their climate posturing, their failure to subject environmental policies to scrutiny, and their deferring of political debate to an undemocratic committee. Ask your friends and relatives to do the same. 

  • Abbott, Diane
  • Ainger, Nick
  • Allen, Graham
  • Anderson, Janet
  • Austin, John
  • Battle, John
  • Bayley, Hugh
  • Begg, Anne
  • Berry, Roger
  • Betts, Clive
  • Bottomley, Peter
  • Brooke, Annette
  • Burgon, Colin
  • Campbell, Ronnie
  • Caton, Martin
  • Chaytor, David
  • Clapham, Michael
  • Clark, Katy
  • Clarke, Tom
  • Cohen, Harry
  • Connarty, Michael
  • Cook, Frank
  • Corbyn, Jeremy
  • Cousins, Jim
  • Dean, Janet
  • Devine, Jim
  • Dobbin, Jim
  • Dobson, Frank
  • Drew, David
  • Durkan, Mark
  • Etherington, Bill
  • Fisher, Mark
  • Flynn, Paul
  • Francis, Hywel
  • Galloway, George
  • Gapes, Mike
  • Gerrard, Neil
  • Gibson, Ian
  • Gilroy, Linda
  • Griffiths, Nigel
  • Grogan, John
  • Hall, Patrick
  • Hancock, Mike
  • Havard, Dai
  • Hermon, Lady
  • Hood, Jim
  • Hopkins, Kelvin
  • Iddon, Brian
  • Jackson, Glenda
  • Jenkins, Brian
  • Jones, Lynne
  • Kaufman, Gerald
  • Levitt, Tom
  • Linton, Martin
  • Lloyd, Tony
  • Llwyd, Elfyn
  • Marsden, Gordon
  • Marshall-Andrews, Robert
  • McCafferty, Chris
  • McCartney, Ian
  • McDonnell, Alasdair
  • McDonnell, John
  • Meacher, Michael
  • Meale, Alan
  • Morley, Elliot
  • Mullin, Chris
  • Murphy, Denis
  • Naysmith, Doug
  • O’Hara, Edward
  • Olner, Bill
  • Pelling, Andrew
  • Pope, Greg
  • Prentice, Gordon
  • Purchase, Ken
  • Riordan, Linda
  • Russell, Bob
  • Sheerman, Barry
  • Short, Clare
  • Simpson, Alan
  • Singh, Marsha
  • Stewart, Ian
  • Strang, Gavin
  • Stunell, Andrew
  • Taylor, David
  • Thornberry, Emily
  • Tipping, Paddy
  • Truswell, Paul
  • Turner, Desmond
  • Vis, Rudi
  • Walley, Joan
  • Wareing, Robert N
  • Weir, Mike
  • Williams, Betty
  • Willott, Jenny
  • Wishart, Pete
  • Wood, Mike
  • Wright, Anthony D
  • Younger-Ross, Richard

The Climate Change Bill and the Nobs

Read Ben’s article on the Register, about the Climate Change Bill being debated in Parliament today, and the elite who stand to gain from it. 

An aristocracy is a form of government by an elite that considers itself to possess greater virtues than the hoi polloi, giving it the right to rule in its own interests. Aristocrats were referred to as ‘the nobility’, or ‘nobs’. These days we prefer decisions to be made democratically – the idea being that we can judge for ourselves which ideas serve our interests, thank you very much, ma’am.

But in recent years, politicians have sought legitimacy for their positions from outside of the democratic process. A new aristocracy is emerging from the emptiness of UK politics – and it’s considerably more virtuous than thou.

80% and the Climate Change Aristocracy

The Independent newspaper announced yesterday that

The UK should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by mid-century, the Government’s climate change committee recommended today.

The committee said a more stringent target than the 60 per cent cut currently in the Climate Change Bill was needed, because new information suggested the dangers of global warming were greater than previously thought.

The dangers of climate change were worse than previously thought? What possible worse scenario could there be, than the barrage of catastrophic visions we have been subjected to by activists, politicians, and the media, over the last few years?

When we started this blog in April 2007, we said:

Because of a perception that the public mood demands action to mitigate climate change, the UK government has used the IPCC findings to justify committing the country to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Like much environmental policy, this has gone largely unchallenged by opposition parties.

Nobody in UK politics was challenging the often very tenuous claims that climate change would mean catastrophe. And even fewer people were challenging the even less credible idea that the only way to prevent catastrophe was to prevent CO2 emissions. And worst of all, everybody involved in UK politics seemed to be using the looming catastrophe to demand that people use less, expect less, and obey the tenets of environmentalism. There being no challenge to this orthodoxy, and no questions asked about either its effectiveness or its consequences, how could the process of the greening of the UK be seen as democratic?

In March last year, the government published a Draft Climate Change Bill, proposing that the UK reduces its CO2 emissions by 2050. This lead to criticism that it hadn’t gone far enough. The Conservatives said they would reduce emissions by 80%, and the Liberals 100% by 2050. The Government wasn’t taking the threat of climate change seriously enough, they said, and the 60% figure proved it. This shows that there is only one way that the politicians in the UK can respond to the perception of a crisis; they have to make it worse, and worse, and worse, and promise that they are the only party that can hope to solve this terrible mess, and that the other parties are so incompetent, that only a terrible catastrophe can follow their inevitable failure.

Following this game of politics-by-numbers, on October 2007, the Environment Secretary announced changes to the bill:

The changes to the draft Bill, set out in a Command Paper entitled ‘Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill’ published today, include:

  • As announced by the Prime Minister in September, asking the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the Government’s target to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 should be strengthened further;
  • Asking the Committee to look at the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in theUK’s targets as part of this review;
  • Strengthening the role and responsibilities of the Committee on Climate Change, including by requiring the Government to seek the Committee’s advice before amending the 2020 or 2050 targets in the Bill;
  • Strengthening the Committee’s independence from Government, by confirming that it will appoint its own chief executive and staff, and increasing its analytical resources;

It would no longer be the responsibility of politicians to determine the level of CO2 emissions that the UK would allow. It would instead be determined by an expert committee. This would end the silly squabbling between parties about which percentage cut in CO2 best reflected the ‘scientific’ advice. But it also removes the possibility that we or you might influence the environmental policies of the UK through the democratic process. As we’ve pointed out many times before, environmentalism is a political idea; it aims to reorganise society around its values and ethics. Yet this ideology has never been tested democratically. It hasn’t won any seats in the UK parliament, yet almost the entire house of commons has embraced environmentalism. Its as though, one morning, the House of Commons turned up for a debate, not as the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the independents, but as members of the Green Party. This is a failure of UK politics and democracy.

Today, as the changes to the Draft bill stipulated, Lord Adair Turner of Ecchinswell, the chair of the committee, wrote to the Environment secretary that, as the Independent reported, ‘The UK should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by mid-century’. What a surprise. So what lay behind the decision to increase the UK’s target from 60% to 80%? The letter said:

The Committee looked at whether the UK’s current target for a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 was likely to be sufficient given what we know about the latest developments in climate science. This target was recommended in the report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) published in 2000. Since the report, however, new information has become available. This suggests that the dangers of significant climate change are greater than previously assessed which argues for larger global, and thus UK, reductions.

This gives the impression that the scientific basis of the bill was the 2000 Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution(RCEP). But curiously, there is no mention of the RCEP in the March Draft Climate Change Bill. The report is, as you’d expect it to be, based principally on IPCC AR4, and the Stern report. The figure of 60%, it seems, stems from a 2003 White Paper.

The Government would therefore like to enshrine the commitments in the Energy White Paper 2003 to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% on 1990 levels by 2050; and to achieve “real progress” by 2020 (which would equate to reductions of 26-32%) towards the long-term goal within a new legal carbon management framework (outlined in Section 5).

This White Paper does mention the RCEP2000 report.

We therefore accept the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s (RCEP’s) recommendation that the UK should put itself on a path towards a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of some 60% from current levels by about 2050.

The October ’07, amendments to the bill called Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill gave the CCC its responsibilities to check the 60% figure:

Bearing in mind however the weight of scientific evidence before the Committee that a target of more than 60% is likely to be necessary, we believe that as soon as possible after it is established, the Committee on Climate Change should review the most recent scientific research available and consider to what extent the target should be higher than 60%, with a view to making recommendations on the appropriate amendment to the long term target.

The very next paragraph mentions the RCEP:

The figure of 60% was arrived at by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) in 2000, following extensive research and analysis. We recognise the significant recent advances in scientific understanding, but also note that no comparable crosscutting research and analysis has been done since the RCEP report and there is no broad consensus around what the figure should be, if it is not 60%.

If the figure of 60% was based on the 2000 RCEP report, why was it not mentioned in the March Draft Bill? And if there has been no process since 2000 to determine what the level of CO2 emissions reduction should be, how can any figure be determined as appropriate?

It is clear that the October ’07 document created an opportunity for the CCC to reject 60% in favour of 80%. It might as well have said ‘the figure of 60% has given the opposition an opportunity to embarrass us, therefore, we have set up the CCC to report back in one year that the figure ought to be 80%’.

Last month, Lord Adair Turner was appointed chair of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the body which regulates the financial sector. It seems that the world’s problems are on his shoulders. But wouldn’t it be better to make the economic and ecological crises that we face the subject of political debate, rather than appoint people like Turner to make ‘expert’ decisions. After all, the FSA was unable to prevent today’s current economic problems from manifesting.

It is also interesting to note that Turner was until recently, a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and a member of the Advisory Board of Climate Change Capital, a firm offering services as an ‘investment manager and advisor specialising in the opportunities created by the transition to the low carbon economy’. As a member of the Advisory Board, he ‘assist[ed] senior management to develop the group’s medium-term strategy, extend the company’s network and evaluate opportunities’.

Had Turner emerged from an advisory role at a company lacking such spotless ethical credentials – let’s say, for example, one such as Exxonmobil – and had he suggested that 60% was a bit too strong a figure, and perhaps 40% was a better one, would there ever be an end to claims that this process was corrupt and undemocratic?

Yet here we see a man, with associations to commercial interests in the implementation of environmental policy (contrast with the speculation that surrounds sceptics who have worked with the oil industry), with a clear commitment to the environmental ethics espoused WWF, who is responsible for determining the UK’s policy over the next 45 years.

Working alongside Lord Turner on the CCC are:

Sir Brian Hoskins – a dynamical meteorologist and climatologist at the University of Reading and Imperial College London. He worked on the Stern review of climate change, and Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, which aims ‘To be a world-leading institute generating and communicating the highest quality research on climate-driven change and translating this into sustainable technological, political and socio-economic responses’. 

Lord Robert May – erstwhile President of the Royal Society, and a climate change alarmist second to none. As we have reported many times, Lord May’s involvement in the climate change debate has generated more heat than light.

Professor Jim Skea – Research Director at the UK Energy Research Centre and former Director at the Policy Studies Institute and the Economic and Social Research Council Global Environmental Change Programme, and contributor to the Stern Review.

Dr Samuel Fankhauser a visiting fellow in climate change economics at LSE, and Managing Director of IDEAcarbon, the parent company of which Sir Nicholas Stern is Vice-Chairman, and ‘an independent and professional provider of ratings, research and strategic advice on carbon finance. Our services are designed to provide leading financial institutions, corporations, governments, traders and developers with unbiased intelligence and analysis of the factors that affect the pricing of carbon market assets.’

Professor Michael Grubb – Chief Economist at the Carbon Trust, a Government-funded private company, and a Senior Research Associate, Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge.

Amongst these men are very clear interests in climate change policy, with lots to gain, both professionally, and economically from climate change policies. In other words, just as the political process failed to subject environmental ideas to scrutiny, so too does the outsourced task of determining our future.

This is not to say there is a conspiracy here, nor that this is corrupt. Yet having such an interested old boys club is clearly corrupting of the process by which policies that affect all our lives are determined. Lord May has made a hell of a lot of noise in recent times about the existence of a ‘well funded denial machine’ doing the work of the oil industry. Yet as we have shown, this ‘well funded’ effort is the beneficiary of a tiny fraction of the quantity of cash available to, for example, the Carbon Trust (£70+ million / year), whose aim is ‘to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy by working with organisations to reduce carbon emissions and develop commercial low carbon technologies’. And it is likely to be a lot less than the returns seen by IDEAcarbon and Climate Change Capital, when their services are made more profitable by climate change policies.

The problem is simply that there is no opposition allowed into this process, either to question the science, or the way the science informs the policy decision, nor to ask whether emissions reductions is the best solution in terms of the interests of the UK population, or throughout the world. Worst still, the shrill complaints made about people who challenge climate orthodoxy by Bob May effectively close down any possibility of debate. Indeed, on at least one occasion, we have found Bob May making stuff up about ‘deniers’. No, let’s call it what it is… Bob May is a liar. And he lies – while accusing others of lies, and conspiring – seemingly in order to secure his position in what is clearly a climate change aristocracy, not only in name.

So what is behind the decision made by the group that 80% is the right target? What ‘new information has become available’ which makes ‘the dangers of significant climate change greater than previously assessed’?

The CCC’s letter to the Environment Secretary says,

Firstly, we know more about how rising temperatures will reduce the effectiveness of carbon sinks: the science now tells us that for any given level of emissions, concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and temperatures will increase by more than the RCEP report anticipated.

The principal basis of climate change alarmism has always been that positive feedback mechanisms will produce ‘runaway climate change’. As the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC), to which the UK is committed, says, lack of understanding should not be used as a reason not to act. This embodiment of the precautionary principal means that, regardless of the state of knowledge in an area of climate science, the response is the same. It makes no difference how much is understood. The effect of new research emerging since the 2000 RCEP recommendation therefore ought to make no difference to policy. What matters is the ‘what if…’, not the ‘what’.

Pedantry aside, it is hard to work out what this ‘new understanding’ is, and what its effect on the outcome of global warming actually is. No new research is cited. Although we know more about carbon sinks, maybe, that they will respond to increases in global temperature in a way which is worse than previously thought should only be understood to inform a policy decision in the context of the total effect of climate change and society’s vulnerability to it.

The chapter relating to global temperature and sinks in the RCEP 2000 report uses a graph to consider the effect of CO2 on the atmosphere, under several different scenarios relating to CO2 emissions policies (left figure). The IPCC do the same thing in their Assessment Reports, the most recent (AR4, 2007) is also shown below, for comparison (right).

As the graphs show, if the RCEP 2000 report reflected the best available knowledge, then the understanding which has emerged since then does not, as has been reported, indicate that the situation is ‘worse than previously thought’. In fact, the IPCC 2007 graphic is far more optimistic than RCEP2000. So what basis is there for extending the 60% figure?

Secondly, unlike the authors of the RCEP report we had the benefit of models that included the warming effects of gases other than CO2. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4) shows that, for the stabilisation level outlined by RCEP, non-CO2 gases will increase the equivalent CO2 concentration in the atmosphere by approximately 100ppm.

This is not true. The RCEP report said ‘The concentration of methane has also been increased by human activities, more than doubling over the last 200 years. It is thought to contribute about one-fifth of the current enhancement in the greenhouse effect.’ This claim was cited to
IPCC (1996b) The Science of Climate Change 1995. Summary for Policymakers, page 8. Curiously, the SPM referred has only 5 pages, as far as we can tell, so it is hard to establish what the basis was.

Whatever it was, clearly methane at least was part of the RCEP’s calculations, and the IPCC AR4 gives a good indication that in 2000, we had a fairly good understanding of the contribution other gasses make to global warming. The IPCC’s 1995 report (SAR) gives methane (CH4) a 100 year ‘global warming potential’ (GWP ) figure of 21 (relative to carbon dioxide = 1). The 2007 report gives CH4 a global warming potential of 25. Not a massive increase, especially as the SAR gave Nitrous Oxide a GWP of 310, downgraded in 2007 to 298. As the basis for RCEP, IPCC SAR includes nearly all the greenhouse gasses included in AR4, and upgrades some, and downgrades others.

But this is pretty meaningless anyway. A DEFRA report published earlier this year showed that by 2006, ‘Methane emissions, excluding those from natural sources, were 53 per cent below 1990 levels’ and that ‘Nitrous oxide emissions fell by 40 per cent between 1990 and 2006.’

The UK clearly has reduced its CH4 and N2O levels substantially. What is more, the claim that new evidence has emerged with respect to the global warming potential of other greenhouses gasses is barely credible. The RCEP had access to the data relating to non-CO2 GHG’s GWP in 2000, which is almost identical to today’s. Therefore, there is no good reason to make this ‘new information’ the basis for increasing the target to 80%.

Thirdly, the reduction in the summer Arctic sea ice in recent years has been greater than predicted by any of the models. Also the summer melt of the Greenland ice sheet has accelerated. These observations have led to new concerns about the pace of global warming, particularly as it affects the Arctic and possible rates of sea level rise.

Presumably, this statement is based on the single paper published last year by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC). And let’s remember that such evidence does not bolster the claim that global warming is worse than previously thought, just that Arctic summer ice melt has been greater than the models predicted. If the models used to base policy on are wrong, then they are just wrong, and no further conclusion can be safely drawn. Wrong is wrong. It does not mean that things are ‘worse’ than expected’, it just means that the expectations and assumptions were wrong. And they still are wrong. Furthermore, there are only 30 years worth of data on which to base these models, from an area which is necessarily one of the most changeable and dynamic regions on earth. We know for example, that parts of the Arctic in the early C20th saw rates of change not dissimilar to, and possibly greater than today’s.

This argument clearly also rests on the news story of the year. But as the NSIDC told us, the record low 2007 ice extent was not the result of global warming, but principally a ‘perfect storm’, as part of natural variation. In much the same way, the unusually hot 1998 has not been attributed by scientists to anthropogenic climate change, but to natural variation. This is the same natural variation which was used by the Hadley Centre to explain its failure to accurately predict the temperatures of 2007, and the cold weather which has followed the La Nina event.

The ‘possible rate of sea level rise’ referred to has been substantially reduced by the IPCC from their previous estimates, and the range between upper and lower estimates narrowed. This has caused something of a split in the climate change community, with the increasingly lunatic James Hansen claiming that the IPCC estimate is dangerously conservative. This surely makes Hansen as remote from the ‘consensus’ as any ‘denier’, yet he is still celebrated by environmental activists, and we can assume, the CCC.

Again, the reasons given by the CCC for increasing the target to 80% lack substance.

Fourthly, it is now realised that atmospheric pollution has probably masked some of the greenhouse gas warming that would have occurred. As air quality improvements continue to be achieved, so even more warming can be expected.

We look forward to seeing the evidence for this statement presented in the report proper. It was only this year, for example, that a major and well-publicised (albeit for the wrong reasons) study found that components of atmospheric pollution are responsible for up to 60% as much warming compared to CO2. That’s not to say that other components (eg, sulphates) don’t have a cooling effect – they do – but the net effect of all these pollutants remains very poorly understood.

Fifthly, there is now a greater understanding of the range of potential climate change impacts, their regional variation and the possibility of abrupt or irreversible changes. These analyses also suggest greater damages once temperature increases become significant.

Ah yes, it’s always a good idea to squeeze ‘abrupt and irreversible’ into alarmist reports on climate change. But, as we’ve shown before, the phrase’s currency owes more to silly newspaper articles about AR4 than it does to AR4 itself.

Finally, latest global emission trends are higher than those anticipated in most IPCC scenarios, largely because of higher economic growth and a shift towards more carbon intensive sources of energy.

Higher economic growth? How can a man who chairs the Financial Services Authority claim that we are experiencing ‘higher economic growth’? Secondly, ‘higher economic growth’ than anticipated means greater resilience to climate change, as is shown by the difference in outcomes between ‘natural’ disasters experienced in the industrialised world, and those in the developing world. Thirdly, a ‘shift towards more carbon intensive sources of energy’ means not burning wood, and dung, which contribute to deforestation and poor health. In other words, it represents progress. As a reason for increasing the UK’s cut of CO2 emissions it’s also rather poor, because the 60% figure and the targets outlined by Stern and Kyoto, for example, are predicated on the principle that emissions from developing nations will increase. These factors could therefore equally be given as reasons not to increase the UK’s target.

It seems that the CCC’s recommendation owes less to climate science than it does to climate headlines from the last 18 months. Headlines which, almost without fail, have painted a far more drastic and alarming story than the science warrants. ‘Sceptics’ are often criticised for placing emphasis on single studies whose findings fall outside of the opinion of the consensus, represented by the IPCC reports. Yet the CCC seem to have based their recommendation on whatever alarmist literature they can find.

The broader view of future climate in 2007 is arguably more positive than it was in 2000. Yet the CCC want us to believe that things are ‘worse than previously thought’ in order to justify an increase of the UK’s emissions reduction target. To do this, it waves scientific factoids around in a process which owes more to some kind of pagan ritual than to good science. Like the protesters at last year’s Climate Camp who turned pages from a climate change study into gloves, and marched under the slogan ‘we are armed: only with peer-reviewed science‘, the CCC seemingly wave science around to legitimise policies which will have far-reaching effects on society, and to justify the existence of a political elite which is increasingly estranged from the public.

This voodoo science ritual is being used to arm politicians with something that they desperately lack: direction. The climate change aristocracy now sit and dictate what the terms, values, and principles of UK politics ought to be. And as their influence increases no doubt, so do their cash returns. While their influence extends, so the opportunities to challenge environmentalism through the political process diminishes. Now all a politician has to do to answer critics of environmental policy is say that an ‘independent’ committee has produced its findings.

Politics: available in any colour, as long as it’s green.

Emissions Policy Policy Omission

Hilary Benn, Environment Secretary, son of Tony, successor to David Miliband, announced on Monday that the target of 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 set by his predecessor may not be enough. This comes in the wake of the Tories trumping the 60% figure, with 80%. This has been trumped in turn by the Liberal Democrats, who announced their plans for a zero carbon Britain.

This latest development isn’t yet the promise of a carbon negative Britain we have predicted, and there’s not much wriggle room after the Lib’s 100%. So how does Benn answer the other parties’ offers?

The changes to the draft Bill, set out in a Command Paper entitled ‘Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill’ published today, include:

  • As announced by the Prime Minister in September, asking the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the Government’s target to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 should be strengthened further;
  • Asking the Committee to look at the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in the UK’s targets as part of this review;
  • Strengthening the role and responsibilities of the Committee on Climate Change, including by requiring the Government to seek the Committee’s advice before amending the 2020 or 2050 targets in the Bill;
  • Strengthening the Committee’s independence from Government, by confirming that it will appoint its own chief executive and staff, and increasing its analytical resources;

… (our emphasis).

In other words, the latest policy is that there is no policy. Emissions targets in the future will be determined not by politicians (you know, those people we elect once every few years to make decisions), but deferred from politics, to a committee. According to the DEFRA website,

The Committee will be comprised of 5-8 members including the Chair, supported by a standing secretariat of staff to conduct in-depth analysis into the issues being considered.

To ensure its credibility, it is important that the Committee is able to clearly and rationally present the economics of the costs, benefits and risks of abatement decisions. This means that the Committee’s members should be experts in their field, rather than representing specific stakeholder groups. The following list provides an indication of the types of expertise that will be desirable in the overall composition of the Committee:

  • business competitiveness;
  • climate change policy in particular its social impacts.
  • climate science;
  • economic analysis and forecasting;
  • emissions trading;
  • energy production and supply;
  • financial investment; and
  • technology development and diffusion.

If passed, the Climate Change bill will force the government to “explain its reasons to Parliament if it does not accept the Committee’s advice on the level of the carbon budget, or if it does not meet a budget or target”, but won’t let us challenge the decisions made by this committee democratically. This is because, according to DEFRA:

The debate on climate change has shifted, from whether we need to act towards how much we need to do by when, and the economic implications of doing so. The time is therefore right for the introduction of a strong legal framework in the UK for tackling climate change.

When did the UK ever have a debate about “whether we need to act”? And when was it settled? Over the last ten or twenty years, the “debate” has been dominated by climate orthodoxy, not by differences of opinion. Political environmentalism has never been challenged by any UK party, let alone the climate science questioned. But this is because dissenting views have been excluded from debate far more than they have been invited, not because a debate has been had. We can tell this is the case because of the disparity between statements made by politicians, and statements made by scientists. Furthermore, this orthodoxy has thrived and gone mostly unchallenged because of a profound lack of defining political ideas across the political parties. As we have pointed out before, fears about climate change serve to provide a direction for directionless politics, and the sense of crisis evoked by alarmism provides political parties with legitimacy. With no crisis to manage, politicians face an existential crisis – “why am I here? What is my purpose?”. That is why we see this policy which misses something… politics. Even though what we decide to do with scientific evidence is ALL about politics.

But this move to put decisions which affect us outside of politics is not new. One of Gordon Brown’s first acts as Chancellor of the Exchequer was to put the Bank of England outside of political control, giving it responsibility for setting interest rates. As soon as a “debate” or an issue becomes inconvenient or just difficult for the government, it simply prevents it from being a political matter. So why not simply manage the country by committee? What is the point of politics? Don’t ask Mr Benn.