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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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