The former Environment Secretary airs his highly sceptical views about climate change. Photo: Getty
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Former Environment Secretary: climate change forecasts are “wildly exaggerated”

The Tory MP and former cabinet secretary Owen Paterson voices his highly sceptical views on climate change and energy.

The former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who lost his job in the government’s summer reshuffle this year, will call climate change forecasts “consistently and wildly exaggerated” in a speech today. Although he accepts the “main points of greenhouse theory”, he will question the consensus about how urgent the situation is:

Over the past 35 years, the earth’s atmosphere has warmed nothing like as fast as forecast, and over the last 18 years it has not warmed at all, according to some sources.

The Conservative MP’s sceptical views on global warming are no secret, and he could hardly contain his distaste for onshore wind farms even when serving in the cabinet. He has since referred to the environment lobby as the “Green Blob”, in an echo of Michael Gove’s mockery of critics in the education profession when he was Education Secretary.

Paterson is now clearly using the freedom provided by his relatively new seat in the backbenches to unleash the extent of his belief that government energy policy will “fail to keep the lights on”.

He is delivering a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the think tank thought to be a hub of climate change denial headed by arch sceptic and former Chancellor Nigel Lawson.

Paterson will condemn the government’s “blind adhesion” to carbon emissions targets, and call for the Climate Change Act’s legally-binding target to be suspended:

The 2050 target commits us to a huge expansion of electricity generation capacity, requiring vast investment.

Instead, Paterson is expected to champion fracking, combined heat and power plants, and “small modular nuclear reactors”.

He will add that it was “complete nonsense” that he was unable to repeal the hunting ban when in cabinet.

This intervention is significant because Paterson represents a Tory voice far away even from the alleged “green crap” of post-husky David Cameron. On the party’s right wing, Paterson speaks for a number of Conservative MPs, and voters, disgruntled with the leadership in general. Its commitment to the 2008 Climate Change Act means politicians like Paterson can tell horror stories to rural voters about wind farms, other renewable energy sources and the cost to the taxpayer of a government attempting to be environmentally friendly.

There was some chatter at Conservative party conference about Paterson being a potential stalking horse for the Tory party leadership, possibly ready to spring into action if the party loses the Rochester and Strood by-election in November. Although this is just a rumour, Paterson is certainly clearly differentiating himself from the party leadership he once served.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Forget gaining £350m a week, Brexit would cost the UK £300m a week

Figures from the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility reveal the negative economic impact Brexit would have. 

Even now, there are some who persist in claiming that Boris Johnson's use of the £350m a week figure was accurate. The UK's gross, as opposed to net EU contribution, is precisely this large, they say. Yet this ignores that Britain's annual rebate (which reduced its overall 2016 contribution to £252m a week) is not "returned" by Brussels but, rather, never leaves Britain to begin with. 

Then there is the £4.1bn that the government received from the EU in public funding, and the £1.5bn allocated directly to British organisations. Fine, the Leavers say, the latter could be better managed by the UK after Brexit (with more for the NHS and less for agriculture).

But this entire discussion ignores that EU withdrawal is set to leave the UK with less, rather than more, to spend. As Carl Emmerson, the deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, notes in a letter in today's Times: "The bigger picture is that the forecast health of the public finances was downgraded by £15bn per year – or almost £300m per week – as a direct result of the Brexit vote. Not only will we not regain control of £350m weekly as a result of Brexit, we are likely to make a net fiscal loss from it. Those are the numbers and forecasts which the government has adopted. It is perhaps surprising that members of the government are suggesting rather different figures."

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, to which Emmerson refers, are shown below (the £15bn figure appearing in the 2020/21 column).

Some on the right contend that a blitz of tax cuts and deregulation following Brexit would unleash higher growth. But aside from the deleterious economic and social consequences that could result, there is, as I noted yesterday, no majority in parliament or in the country for this course. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.