The former Environment Secretary seems to be endorsing Ukip energy policy. Photo: Getty
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The Tory right is becoming desperate on climate change and energy

The former environment secretary will tell climate change sceptics this week that his party should adopt Ukip policies.

The former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, will this week demonstrate how desperate the right wing of the Conservative party has become in its attempts to force energy and climate change policies into an ideological straitjacket.

In a speech on Wednesday to Lord Lawson’s lobby group for so-called climate change sceptics, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Paterson will argue that the UK should turn its back on renewable energy in favour of fracking and nuclear power.

Paterson’s speech was leaked over the weekend to the Sunday Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, the two newspapers that most aggressively oppose efforts to tackle climate change.

According to the front page splash in the Sunday Telegraph, Paterson will call for the UK to weaken its target of cutting its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, as set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act, unless other countries enact similar legislation.

He will warn that the Act will require the building of many new onshore windfarms, and will ultimately result in power cuts for homes and businesses.

Instead, he will argue, the UK should aim to slow down the rate of decarbonisation of its power sector, and instead generate more electricity from shale gas and, bizarrely, by developing across the country a new fleet of small nuclear reactors like those that power some submarines.

Paterson, who was sacked from the cabinet in July, told the Mail on Sunday that the repeal of the Climate Change Act and a ban on new wind farms would make the Conservative party more popular among supporters who are being attracted to Ukip.

The title of Paterson’s speech, "Keeping the Lights On", is the same as Ukip’s energy policy document, and Ukip's communications director, Patrick O’Flynn, responded to the newspaper reports by tweeting: “Nice to see Owen Paterson commending Ukip energy policy to his party”.

Paterson’s intervention is clearly designed to rally the right wing of the Conservative party, but his proposals lack the coherence and credibility required to appeal to a broader audience.

His dogmatic rejection of the scientific evidence about the scale of the risks of climate change – he will point to the temporary slowdown in the rate of global warming to justify his complacency – as well as his opposition to onshore wind farms, forces him into an extreme position based on myths and misinformation.

Paterson will claim that onshore wind is both unpopular with the public and expensive for consumers. Neither is true.

While there is some local opposition in communities to the nearby construction of wind turbines, nationally 67 per cent of the public support them as a source of energy.

Similarly, the latest figures from Ofgem show that, of an average annual household bill for gas and electricity of £1330, just £41, or about 3 per cent, is due to the cost of the Renewables Obligation through which wind energy and other sources are currently subsidised.

The government has indicated that climate policies as a whole, including carbon pricing, are likely to add about a further £100 to bills by 2020, but this could be more than offset by energy efficiency measures to cut waste.

The main driver of the rise in household energy bills over the last 10 years has been the increase in the cost of natural gas, the majority of which the UK has to import.

It makes sense to explore the potential of domestic supplies of shale gas, if the environmental risks can be managed, but it is not yet clear how much is economically recoverable, and even optimistic forecasts suggest that it will not stop our reliance on imports or lead to a significant reduction in household bills.

Natural gas could help to quickly reduce emissions if it used in power stations instead of coal, which generates twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of electricity and is responsible for about a quarter of the UK’s annual production of the gas.

But, as the independent experts on the Committee of Climate Change have pointed out, the UK’s power system needs to be decarbonised by 2030, so gas-fired power stations beyond that date will either be used only sparingly to provide back-up to renewables, or else will need to be fitted with carbon capture and storage technology to prevent greenhouse gases from being pumped into the atmosphere.

Unlike Paterson, the Committee has carried out thorough economic and technical analyses of the UK’s electricity system and has concluded a broad mix is likely to be most cost-effective.

So without renewables, the UK will find it more difficult and expensive to reduce its emissions in line with the 2050 target of the Climate Change Act, which was set to allow the UK to contribute to the international goal of avoiding dangerous global warming of more than two centigrade degrees.

Businesses have praised the Act for providing the clarity about the future of government policy that is essential for unlocking billions of pounds in investment in a clean energy economy.

However, Paterson’s call to scrap the Act creates uncertainty, undermining the confidence of investors and increasing the cost of capital.

It shows that Paterson and others on the right wing of Conservative party have yet to identify a set of sensible energy and climate change policies that they will support.

Bob Ward is a fellow of the Geological Society and policy and communications director at the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science

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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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.