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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What happens when a president refuses to step down?

An approaching constitutional crisis has triggered deep political unrest in the Congo.

Franck Diongo reached his party’s headquarters shortly after 10am and stepped out of a Range Rover. Staff and hangers-on rose from plastic chairs to greet the president of the Mouvement Lumumbiste Progressiste (MLP), named after the first elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Diongo, a compact and powerfully built man, was so tightly wound that his teeth ground as he talked. When agitated, he slammed his palms on the table and his speech became shrill. “We live under a dictatorial regime, so it used the security forces to kill us with live rounds to prevent our demonstration,” he said.

The MLP is part of a coalition of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement. Its aim is to ensure that the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, who has been president since 2001, leaves office on 19 December, at the end of his second and supposedly final term.

Yet the elections that were meant to take place late last month have not been organised. The government has blamed logistical and financial difficulties, but Kabila’s opponents claim that the president has hamstrung the electoral commission in the hope that he can use his extended mandate to change the rules. “Mr Kabila doesn’t want to quit power,” said Diongo, expressing a widespread belief here.

On 19 September, the Rassemblement planned a march in Kinshasa, the capital, to protest the failure to deliver elections and to remind the president that his departure from office was imminent. But the demonstration never took place. At sunrise, clashes broke out between police and protesters in opposition strongholds. The military was deployed. By the time peace was restored 36 hours later, dozens had died. Kabila’s interior minister, claiming that the government had faced down an insurrection, acknowledged the deaths of 32 people but said that they were killed by criminals during looting.

Subsequent inquiries by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) told a different story. They recorded more fatalities – at least 53 and 56, respectively – and said that the state had been responsible for most of the deaths. They claimed that the Congolese authorities had obstructed the investigators, and the true number of casualties was likely higher. According to HRW, security forces had seized and removed bodies “in an apparent effort to hide the evidence”.

The UN found that the lethal response was directed from a “central command centre. . . jointly managed” by officials from the police, army, presidential bodyguard and intelligence agency that “authorised the use of force, including firearms”.

The reports validated claims made by the Rassemblement that it was soldiers who had set fire to several opposition parties’ headquarters on 20 September. Six men were killed when the compound of the UDPS party was attacked.

On 1 November, their funerals took place where they fell. White coffins, each draped in a UDPS flag, were shielded from the midday sun by a gazebo, while mourners found shade inside the charred building. Pierrot Tshibangu lost his younger sibling, Evariste, in the attack. “When we arrived, we found my brother’s body covered in stab marks and bullet wounds,” he recalled.

Once the government had suppressed the demonstration, the attorney general compiled a list of influential figures in the Rassemblement – including Diongo – and forbade them from leaving the capital. Kinshasa’s governor then outlawed all political protest.

It was easy to understand why Diongo felt embattled, even paranoid. Midway through our conversation, his staff apprehended a man loitering in the courtyard. Several minutes of mayhem ensued before he was restrained and confined under suspicion of spying for the government.

Kabila is seldom seen in public and almost never addresses the nation. His long-term intentions are unclear, but the president’s chief diplomatic adviser maintains that his boss has no designs on altering the constitution or securing a third term. He insists that Kabila will happily step down once the country is ready for the polls.

Most refuse to believe such assurances. On 18 October, Kabila’s ruling alliance struck a deal with a different, smaller opposition faction. It allows Kabila to stay in office until the next election, which has been postponed until April 2018. A rickety government of national unity is being put in place but discord is already rife.

Jean-Lucien Bussa of the CDER party helped to negotiate the deal and is now a front-runner for a ministerial portfolio. At a corner table in the national assembly’s restaurant, he told me that the Rassemblement was guilty of “a lack of realism”, and that its fears were misplaced because Kabila won’t be able to prolong his presidency any further.

“On 29 April 2018, the Congolese will go to the ballot box to vote for their next president,” he said. “There is no other alternative for democrats than to find a negotiated solution, and this accord has given us one.”

Diongo was scathing of the pact (he called it “a farce intended to deceive”) and he excommunicated its adherents from his faction. “They are Mr Kabila’s collaborators, who came to divide the opposition,” he told me. “What kind of oppositionist can give Mr Kabila the power to violate the constitution beyond 19 December?”

Diongo is convinced that the president has no intention of walking away from power in April 2018. “Kabila will never organise elections if he cannot change the constitution,” he warned.

Diongo’s anger peaked at the suggestion that it will be an uphill struggle to dislodge a head of state who has control of the security forces. “What you need to consider,” he said, “is that no army can defy a people determined to take control of their destiny . . . The Congolese people will have the last word!”

A recent poll suggested that the president would win less than 8 per cent of the vote if an election were held this year. One can only assume that Kabila is hoping that the population will have no say at all.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage