Repealing the Climate Change Act

by | Apr 17, 2015

I have a very short piece over at the Institute of Ideas (IOI) website, outlining the reasons for repealing the Climate Change Act. It is very short, so I won’t give much away here:

It might be easy to imagine that scepticism towards claims that we face catastrophic climate change would be the main reason anybody could object to the Climate Change Act 2008 (CCA). But that would be a mistake.

It’s part of a series the IOI is running over the election period on the theme, ‘If I could repeal one law…‘ all of which are (and will be) worth checking out.

I was given a fairly strict word limit. So there’s plenty left out.

There are many ways the CCA could be criticised. It has always been defended on that tired old notion that the debate about climate policy divides on the fact of climate change, between scientists who claim ‘climate change is real’ and deniers who claim the opposite. But most of the argument has been about the effectiveness and feasibility of reducing CO2 intensity in this way — most famously Roger Pielke Jr and Bjorn Lomborg who have emphasised technology-up rather than policy-down solutions — and the costs of these policies. But I was more concerned with what form of politics the CCA represents.

That is to say that, whatever the facts of climate change, dealing with it has other political implications. For example, here is a clip I ran into recently from the 2011 BBC film, ‘Meet the Climate Sceptics’, which was notable for being something of a set-up and hatchet job on Christopher Monckton.

The main political implication of climate change is, according to Mayer Hillman, that democracy is inadequate. The only defence of democracy considered by the film maker, Rupert Murray, is that offered by the cartoonishly “right-wing” media and pundits — Monckton, Delingpole, Fox News, Alex Jones. Murray presents these arguments with very little depth — sceptics just want ice in their drinks, and to be free to shoot their guns and ride their motorcycles, and everyone else can get stuffed. It’s as if Mayer Hillman had no political agenda of his own.

But Hillman’s own website explains,

Our continuing uneconomic growth makes us complicit in a process that is triggering an ecological catastrophe for our children and generations beyond them. They will justifiably sit in judgment{sic} on our failure to have prevented its devastating consequences knowing that we chose to look the other way.

But whatever the scientific facts of climate change, and whatever the depth of the putative ‘right-wing’ counter-argument, or wherever you stand between left and right, there is more to this than a picture of gun-toting bikers and innocent scientists.

Is Hillman’s frustration with democracy really owed to the imperatives that are the necessary consequence of climate science’s discoveries? Or does his frustration precede the scientific facts of the argument? It strikes me that climate catastrophism is used in the service of political arguments, because the exhaustion of those who attach themselves to a particular view of how society should be organised leaves them unable to articulate a compelling argument for such change, be it left or right. That’s not to say Hillman is aware of this, such that we can say he intends to benefit from misleading people. On the contrary, I am sure his genuine convictions about the climate make him feel very important indeed. But it is to say that the facts of the matter are not so clear that we can take them, or his interpretation of them, at face value.

Ditto, can we take at face value, the UK Parliament’s response to climate change in the form of the CCA?

The CCA is not just a policy, it has broader political implications. It says something about the relationship, as policy-makers understand it, between the public and the state, and the responsibilities of government, which go beyond simple legislation. This has always been the point.

Hillman’s contempt for democracy is contempt for people. It says they are too stupid to understand the risks they are exposed to, and expose themselves and future generations to, and are therefore incapable of participating in the decisions that affect them. It is not a coincidence that this is the dominant mood in politics. And it is the background to the construction of the CCA. Consider this Newsweek article on Tony Blair, for example:


Blair had sharpened his ideas about leadership and the failings of democracy in the years since he left power. Democracy, he now concluded, faced an “efficacy challenge”. “Slow, bureaucratic and weak,” it was too often “failing its citizens” and “failing to deliver”. The price was grave, and apparent. Without effective action by democratic governments to stem it, volatility and uncertainty were spreading. Public fear and disillusionment was stoking the return of the far Right in Europe and the United States. “Suddenly, to some, Putinism – the cult of the strong leader who goes in the direction he pleases, seemingly contemptuous of opposition – has its appeal,” wrote Blair. “If we truly believe in democracy, the time has come to improve it.” Every few years, democracy was about the people’s vote. But most of the time, it was about their elected representatives harnessing the machinery of government to effect change on their behalf. Attempts to be a cipher for popular opinion Blair dismissed as “governing by Twitter”. Leaders had to lead.

Democracy isn’t “effective”, complains Blair, and he was a man concerned with getting things done, in spite of what everybody else thought ought to be done. Or not done, as the case was.

But ‘getting things done’ for Blair never meant rolling back bureaucracy as much as creating more of it. This is true for the forms of security from risk Blair was preoccupied with as it is true of the desire to save the planet from climate change. That is not to make equivalents of Islamic terrorists and carbon dioxide. But it is to suggest that what drove the response to terrorism and climate change are the same impulses: preoccupation with risk precedes the facts of the existence of both terrorism and global warming.

Blair’s solution is to get more billionaires and their flunkies together with decision-makers in more rooms more often. These set-ups achieve results, as Newsweek notes:

Government began millennia ago with kings and emperors. In time, their power was diluted by religious leaders, courtiers, generals, aristocrats and merchants. The past few centuries have witnessed the steady displacement of all of these by politicians: conservatives, liberals, revolutionaries and, most recently, elected centrists. And now, it seems, power is shifting again.

The World Economic Forum is our foremost example of the rise of a self-selected global elite. It is only one of thousands of new private institutes focused on public service around the world. Many are led by individuals. Blair is one.

Others include the billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros and his Open Society, which bolsters democracy by working through non-governmental activists in 100 countries. Another is the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, founded by the Sudanese telecoms billionaire to work on African governance.

Then there is the $350-million Clinton Foundation, founded by a former President of the United States and a former Secretary of State, which works in health, education and applies a “business-oriented approach to fight climate change worldwide and to promote sustainable economic growth in Africa and Latin America”. Biggest of the new groups is the 15-year-old $41bn Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which takes the resources of the world’s richest man, and its second richest, Warren Buffett, and focuses them on health, mostly in poor parts of Asia and Africa.

And it goes on to ask…

If there are paradoxes in the Davos agenda – how did a non-governmental super-class manage to appropriate the subject of governance from government? how did the super-rich reserve inequality as a discussion for themselves? – what’s missing is a discussion on legitimacy. In a world increasingly run by the self-anointed, do we now make our CEOs and pop stars as accountable as our politicians – in case their good fortune one day convinces them to try to change the world? Should we choose our computers or movies according to the political beliefs of the bosses who make them? Can we trust a Gates, a Soros, a Blair?

To take the climate change issue at face value, then, is to ignore the pertinence of those questions. Blair’s troubled machinations about the shortcomings of democracy are like the poison that thinks of itself as the antidote to itself. What would he have been without terrorism? What would any Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change — Ed Miliband, Chris Huhne, Ed Davey — have been without climate change? Lightweight, self-serving political hacks.

Blair didn’t arrive in office on a wave of popular support for anything. He enjoyed a brief honeymoon period, because the other leading, but by then, deeply unpopular party had been in government for 18 years. Its political battles, formed in the dark days of the 1970s, won, the Tory party struggled to identify itself or its purpose, and it collapsed into its own internal chaos while the Labour party had rescued itself from its own malaise by cutting the party machine off from its traditional constituency, and reinvented its image. But the freshness lasted only a few years. Tony Blair was sceptical of democracy, not because of its inherent flaws, but because his ability to contribute to it was not equal to his desire for power. It is that simple. And that is the dynamic that forces so many politicians to hide behind ‘science’. Unable to achieve a convincing mandate from the public, political power searches for authority elsewhere. Power always has to justify itself, to itself, whether it be through ideas about Divine Right, or through invisible risks.

Politicians not standing for anything apart from slightly different forms of superficial niceness — Blair’s trademark was insincere modesty, forced emotion, estuarine twang and emphatic hand gestures — is the cause of the political malaise that Blair ponders. The rot that set in — the overreach of billionaires and their pet NGOs — is the disease that follows, not the remedy, to such political impotence and sterility. Blair epitomised the estrangement of government and ordinary life — professional, managerial politics — the evacuation of substance from politics. Billionaires and their entourages fill the vacuum.

Aside from the War on Terror, the rise of environmental politics as the most perfect expression of that form of politics. It aims to build political institutions above democratic control, comprised of expert panels, directed by non-governmental organisations, financed by faceless interests. Totally unaccountable to the public, and completely indifferent, if not entirely hostile to its interests, this compact is at the moment immune to criticism. Whether or not climate change is real, it protects politicians and the privileged against the public. Popular green wisdom has it that ‘global problems need global solutions’, but the fact is that global solutions need global problems. The real problem addressed by global solutions are domestic in origin: contemporary politicians’ inability to legitimise themselves and their agendas. The problems caused to political leaders’ by their distance from ordinary life appear to them as problems with the balance of gasses in the atmosphere.

In the weird world occupied by the Great and the Good, wars, poverty, famine, plague, pestilence and natural disasters can all be abolished. All we need to do is drive our cars less, recycle more, and put up some windmills, say these billionaires. Peace will break out, all over the globe. It is the politicians’ responsibility, then, not to respond to the wishes of the public, after public contests of ideas and values, but to act in spite of them — to tell people what they are entitled to. Whereas in earlier idealogical battles people fought for their interests as they understood them, today’s political leaders are more inclined to say that what people should expect is what is ‘sustainable’.

Never mind the physics of CO2 or its counter theories… Never mind the balance of positive and negative feedback mechanisms… Never mind estimates of “impacts”… Nor even the merits and demerits of wind turbines… The climate debate is at its core about the form of politics that established itself in the late 20th century. It is that movement which prefigures all cost-benefit analyses and debates about risk and the management of risk, be it risk from terrorism, climate change or drunken behaviour. After all, democracy has “failed” to stop people getting fat and drunk, too. Something “effective” must be done.

The cross-party consensus on climate change, renewed for the 2015 General Election, is not about about climate change. It re-cements the compact between the political establishment, businesses and private interests, and NGOs which brokered the deal. It promises to keep this relationship intact, and to protect it from the public and from democratic debate. No doubt all those organisations and their membership really believe in the fact of climate change. But if it didn’t exist, it would be some other issue which formed the putative object of an identical agreement.

The Climate Change Act, you will remember, came into being after coordination between NGOs and the government. The latter being unable to make the case to the public, Friends of the Earth were tasked with not only drafting much of the bill in both its 2005 and 2007 forms, but mobilising a charade of public support for it, involving the usual suspects in a ‘Web March’ — a virtual protest in which video clips of green activists and celebrities were uploaded to Youtube. There was no significant public demand for the legislation. There was no pressing crisis. There was no public debate about the need or terms of such a policy.

The Climate Change Act, then, is an instance of this compact between government, interests and organisations, reproduced as policy.


  1. Dr Norman Page

    The CCA and the whole Eco-facist UNFCCC circus depends on the general acceptance of the IPCC model based climate forecasts.
    Here is an exchange with Freeman Dyson on CO2- Climate- the quality of IPCC science and the probable coming cooling.

    E-mail 4/7/15
    Dr Norman Page
    Professor Dyson
    Saw your Vancouver Sun interview. I agree that CO2 is beneficial. This will be even more so in future because it is more likely than not that the earth has already entered a long term cooling trend following the recent temperature peak in the quasi-millennial solar driven periodicity . The climate models on which the entire Catastrophic Global Warming delusion rests are built without regard to the natural 60 and more importantly 1000 year periodicities so obvious in the temperature record. The modelers approach is simply a scientific disaster and lacks even average commonsense .It is exactly like taking the temperature trend from say Feb – July and projecting it ahead linearly for 20 years or so. They back tune their models for less than 100 years when the relevant time scale is millennial. This is scientific malfeasance on a grand scale. The temperature projections of the IPCC – UK Met office models and all the impact studies which derive from them have no solid foundation in empirical science being derived from inherently useless and specifically structurally flawed models. They provide no basis for the discussion of future climate trends and represent an enormous waste of time and money. As a foundation for Governmental climate and energy policy their forecasts are already seen to be grossly in error and are therefore worse than useless. A new forecasting paradigm needs to be adopted. For forecasts of the timing and extent of the coming cooling based on the natural solar activity cycles – most importantly the millennial cycle – and using the neutron count and 10Be record as the most useful proxy for solar activity check my blog-post at
    The most important factor in climate forecasting is where earth is in regard to the quasi- millennial natural solar activity cycle which has a period in the 960 – 1020 year range. For evidence of this cycle see Figs 5-9. From Fig 9 it is obvious that the earth is just approaching ,just at or just past a peak in the millennial cycle. I suggest that more likely than not the general trends from 1000- 2000 seen in Fig 9 will likely generally repeat from 2000-3000 with the depths of the next LIA at about 2650. The best proxy for solar activity is the neutron monitor count and 10 Be data. My view ,based on the Oulu neutron count – Fig 14 is that the solar activity millennial maximum peaked in Cycle 22 in about 1991. There is a varying lag between the change in the in solar activity and the change in the different temperature metrics. There is a 12 year delay between the neutron peak and the probable millennial cyclic temperature peak seen in the RSS data in 2003.
    There has been a cooling temperature trend since then (Usually interpreted as a “pause”) There is likely to be a steepening of the cooling trend in 2017- 2018 corresponding to the very important Ap index break below all recent base values in 2005-6. Fig 13. The Polar excursions of the last few winters in North America are harbingers of even more extreme winters to come more frequently in the near future. I would be very happy to discuss this with you by E-mail or phone .It is important that you use your position and visibility to influence United States government policy and also change the perceptions of the MSM and U.S public in this matter. If my forecast cooling actually occurs the policy of CO2 emission reduction will add to the increasing stress on global food production caused by a cooling and generally more arid climate. Best Regards Norman Page

    E-Mail 4/9/15
    Dear Norman Page, Thank you for your message and for the blog. That all makes sense. I wish I knew how to get important people to listen to you. But there is not much that I can do. I have zero credibility as an expert on climate. I am just a theoretical physicist, 91 years old and obviously out of touch with the real world. I do what I can, writing reviews and giving talks, but important people are not listening to me. They will listen when the glaciers start growing in Kentucky, but I will not be around then. With all good wishes, yours ever, Freeman Dyson.
    Email 4/9/15
    Professor Dyson Would you have any objection to my posting our email exchange on my blog? > Best Regards Norman Page

    E-Mail 4/9/15
    Yes, you are welcome to post this exchange any way you like. Thank you for asking. Yours, Freeman Dyson.

  2. Robin Guenier

    Interesting, Ben – but the CCA is potentially disastrous for Britain and what matters is to identify the most cogent argument for its repeal. Pointing out that its purpose is the propping up of an exhausted political establishment is not that argument. The Lomborg/Pielke approach has considerably more mileage.

    Few Western politicians seem to understand that the world has changed dramatically in recent years. Increasingly, few people and governments around the world are any longer interested in Western political preoccupations. Their interests and priorities are quite different. And their primary concern is economic development and – along with that – poverty elimination. Both require prodigious amounts of reliable, affordable energy. That means the continued – and probably increased – burning of fossil fuels. Yet the economies concerned are already responsible for nearly 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009 failed and why this year’s conference in Paris will fail. Britain is responsible for little more than 1% of emissions: nothing we can do can make any difference to the global position.

    Therefore the CCA is pointless. And therefore it should be repealed.

    And that’s true whatever the reality of climate science. I’m sorry Dr Page, but your approach – however sensible scientifically – will get nowhere.

  3. Ben Pile

    Robin – The Lomborg/Pielke approach has considerably more mileage.

    I don’t disagree that Lomborg and Pielke’s approach is necessary, I argued that it wasn’t sufficient.

    Since the CCA’s failures, which RP jr. predicted, we’ve had the EMR attempt to patch it up. And then more legislation will follow, as EMR fails, and as PM Miliband tries to manage the fallout of price-freezing and so on.

    You say that the UNFCCC process has failed, and will continue to fail. Of course that’s partly true, but something will be rescued for climate bureaucracy at Paris, and the same institutions will be constructed, whether out of climate, or sustainability, or population growth or something else. Politics is about more than policy, and policies are about more than the matters they seem to be intended to address.

    Therefore the CCA is pointless. And therefore it should be repealed.

    But you’re still taking a face-value reading of the CCA, which is what I argued we shouldn’t do. It’s not about climate change. It’s about shoring-up political power in a ‘changing world’, not necessarily to sustain influence over it as much as over domestic politics. Too narrow a focus on climate change obscures the context of climate politics.

  4. geoff Chambers

    In a normal world, on any other subject , the points made by Ben and Robin would be the subject of widespread media discussion among journaists, politicians and academics, and the dissenting view of a Freeman Dyson would be front page news.
    The fact that this is not the case is a sign of the unique nature of the climate change scare, and why it couldn not possibly be replaced with any other subject. (Sustainability is simply the reverse of the same environmental medal. But imagine if anyone tried to close a debate on population by claiming that the “science is in” and anyone not toeing the official line was a science denier).

    Ben is surely right that the subject has a particular appeal to politicians who have lost faith in democracy. The reasons why, as Robin points out, the developing world isn’t buying it need exploring. Why should only countries facing dire problems of poverty take a rational view of energy policy? Europeans have good reasons to favour cheap reliable energy also, and infinitely greater opportunities for open discussion of the subject than the Chinese and Indians.

    Though opinion polls indicate the general public is little interested in climate change, there is something at work in society at large that is seen, in the eyes of politicians, to justify their extravagant expenditure of our money and their time on the subject. Cameron didn’t go to Greenland just to chase the tiny hardcore Green vote. It’s possible to take each interest group in turn and find a reason for their support of the scare (scientists in search of funding, UN functionaries in search of status etc) but nothing I’ve seen explains the almost total absence of a counter-movement.

  5. Robin Guenier

    Ben: we seem to be talking at cross-purposes. I’m trying to identify a feature of the CCA that could be a basis for its repeal (the subject of your article). And, in Geoff’s ‘normal world’ (hmm ..?) demonstrating that it’s pointless should be just that. In contrast, I don’t see how your observation (that it’s about the real politics of shoring up exhausted (domestic) political power) although perceptive and probably accurate, could conceivably achieve that. Please explain.

    Notwithstanding your comment, the CCA is about climate change. And my approach may not be completely fanciful. For example, in 2009 the DECC published an ‘Impact Assessment’ of the CCA: At the outset, it states that the principal objective of the CCA is ‘to increase the chances of a binding international emissions reduction agreement’. And there’s more. For example:

    If the UK were to deliver an 80% reduction in UK emissions while the rest of the world did not act … [the result would be] a small net benefit for the world as a whole, but … a very large net cost for the UK – close to all of the costs of the UK’s action. This highlights the central importance of co- operative and co-ordinated international action on climate change.[Emphasis in original text]

    Of course you’re right that ‘something will be rescued for climate bureaucracy at Paris’. But it won’t be the ‘binding international emissions reduction agreement’ referred to above. Not will it meet the expectations of the UK government’s recent statement about the Paris conference:
    Its opening sentence:

    In 15 months, the world will gather in Paris to secure a legally binding, global climate change agreement with emission reduction commitments from all countries for the
    first time ever.

    That’s not going to happen – because, as Geoff says, the developing world has other, more pressing priorities.

  6. Robin Guenier

    Ben: further to my earlier comment this morning, it seems that perhaps your intention is to show that, whatever the case for repeal, the current character of UK politics makes it virtually impossible. If so, you’ll find support in this morning’s Guardian: An extract:

    The party has also reiterated its promise to make the UK’s electricity supply virtually zero carbon by 2030 …

    It’s hard to see how such an impractical policy could survive a failure (see above) in Paris. But perhaps I’m underestimating our politicians’ capacity for foolishness. Sigh.

  7. yandoodan

    Of course these arguments are not mutually exclusive. I would advance the following points.

    1. Science indeed says that human carbon injection is increasing the heat balance of the atmosphere (anthropogenic global warming or AGW), but science does not say we need to create a global bureaucracy. Would-be global bureaucrats are the ones saying that.

    2. There’s every reason to believe that problems associated with AGW can be handled using technology, such as dykes for sea level rise (something even the medieval Dutch economy and technology could handle).

    3. There’s also every reason to believe that third world poverty is a much bigger threat to us than AGW, and a global bureaucracy that limits economic growth will make this worse, not better.

    4. The CCA has set the task of creating a growth-limiting climate bureaucracy just for Britain, in advance of any other countries doing anything at all. This has any point only if you think “setting a good example” will sway third world oligarchs from following their own self interests. Otherwise, Britain is just punishing its own poor to no purpose.

    5. Finally, the whole CCA/global-bureaucracy approach makes sense only if you think it necessary to replace open and democratic institutions with opaque collusions between government appointees and private parties, because anything else interferes with the ability of these people to plan for us efficiently (including planning to increase the cost and reduce the supply of energy for whatever reason).

    Note that, in the above five points, I’ve tried to eliminate any term that would upset a catastrophist. We need to convince them, and to find a common ground. In doing this I’ve also stipulated AGW itself. Arguing about it with a catastrophist just distracts us all from the main struggle, the defeat of the anti-democrats and techno-oligarchs. That’s why Ben is ultimately correct: we need to move the focus to the attack on democracy, openness, and self-direction and away from whatever excuse our self-appointed betters are using this decade to bamboozle voters into quiescence.



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