Nigel Farage speaks during a press conference with Ukip MEPs in London on May 26, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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It's time to challenge Ukip over its climate change denial

The party should face a far more rigorous examination of its unscientific beliefs.

The success of Ukip in the local and European elections should bring greater scrutiny of its policies, particularly on energy, ahead of next year’s general election. While the party capitalised on concerns about immigration and the EU in order to gain MEPs and councillors in many parts of the country, its manifestos also outlined energy policies that reflect an outright denial of man-made climate change.

The Ukip European manifesto attacked EU targets for renewables and efforts to close the most polluting coal-fired power plants, on the grounds that they increase the "risk of blackouts", but also promised to scrap the UK’s targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce fuel duty on petrol. The party’s manifesto for the English local elections offered fewer pledges on energy, but vowed to "end wasteful EU and UK subsidies to 'renewable energy scams,' such as wind turbines and solar farms."

These commitments were very loosely based on Ukip's energy policy pamphlet, which now lies relatively hidden on the party’s website after its publication earlier this year. The pamphlet complains of policies that are "dictated by Brussels," but also lashes out at domestic measures, suggesting we should abandon renewables and instead "base our energy strategy on gas, nuclear and coal."

Most strikingly of all, it recommends "a re-think" to allow the UK to exploit its remaining coal reserves, claiming that the local impacts of mining can be avoided by "emerging technologies enabling energy to be recovered from coal by underground combustion".  But it fails to admit that although underground coal gasification has been the subject of research for many years, it is still far from being proven as a widespread commercially viable technology.

While acknowledging that coal-fired power stations "must use clean technology to remove sulphur and nitrogen oxides, particulates and other pollutants", the pamphlet attacks the Large Combustion Plant Directive which requires all member states to limit such emissions. This is one of many stark examples of Ukip opposing EU rules on ideological grounds, even though it is purportedly in favour of the UK adopting such restrictions unilaterally.

The pamphlet goes on to state that nuclear waste should be buried underground, while dismissing the risks of an escape of radioactive material in the long term on the spectacularly optimistic grounds that "our descendants in a few hundred years will have made vast technical strides that we cannot even imagine today" and "may be mining our waste deposits, safely, to reuse in new ways."

Further inconsistency is evident in its criticism of public support for renewables, "especially in current economic times", while simultaneously arguing for bigger tax cuts to promote the exploitation of shale gas through fracking. The pamphlet claims that fracking will lead to "cheaper and abundant energy," even though analysts have pointed out that the UK is unlikely to have enough shale gas to reduce the European price of natural gas.

Given the apparent concerns about costs, one might have expected the pamphlet to discuss the price tag on its proposals to increase the UK’s dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power. But it offers no such estimate. Apart from its rejection of Europe-wide policies on principle, the other common theme running throughout the pamphlet is an avowed denial of the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. It claims that the rise in global average temperature so far is due to "natural" causes, and refuses to accept that carbon dioxide has anything but a beneficial effect because it is "essential to plant growth and life on earth".

It is not surprising, then, that Ukip wants to repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act and to abandon its legally-binding targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The architect of Ukip's energy policy is Roger Helmer, who was re-elected this weekend as an MEP for the East Midlands. Helmer is also the party’s candidate for the Newark by-election next week, and has already publicly reiterated his hatred of wind turbines as a key part of his campaign.

Newark’s voters can gain an insight into Helmer’s worldview by visiting his blog where he recently used public protests against the annual slaughter of migrating birds by hunters in Malta to highlight his own greater concerns about the threat posed by wind turbines. Earlier this year, his blog publicised a book that suggested the sun, rather than greenhouse gas emissions, is driving global warming.

Helmer is not the only Ukip MEP who actively promotes climate change denial. He is joined by Paul Nuttall, the party’s deputy leader, who represents North-West England in the European Parliament where he has been a member of Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. Last September, Nuttall made a speech against biofuels and described "so-called global warming due to man-made carbon emissions" as "increasingly discredited as a climate theory". He cited the recent slowdown in the rate of rise in global average surface temperature as justification, along with a notorious article in the Mail on Sunday, which wrongly suggested that Arctic sea ice extent increased by 60 per cent between 2012 and 2013.

Of course, Ukip is not the only party to have openly denied the science of climate change while supposedly representing the best interests of British voters. The BNP shares Ukip's disregard for the scientific evidence, with its leader, Nick Griffin, previously having called global warming "a hoax".

But with the wipeout of the BNP in last week’s European elections, Ukip has become the standard bearer for all those who believe that the science of climate change has been concocted by environmental groups and scientists. However, with Ukip now setting its sights on seats at Westminster, and Nigel Farage speculating openly about holding the balance of power in a hung parliament, its candidates should face a far more rigorous examination of their unscientific beliefs and the lack of robust analysis behind their energy policy.

Bob Ward is policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital