Nigel Farage speaks during a press conference with Ukip MEPs in London on May 26, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.