The former Environment Secretary seems to be endorsing Ukip energy policy. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Sadiq Khan's decision to scrap the Garden Bridge is a victory for ordinary Londoners

Perhaps the rich really do want to give something back to London. If they do, I'm sure it'll be lovely. But if they don't, I'm bloody glad I don't have to pay for it.

The obvious question about the Garden Bridge is: where did it all go wrong?

The bridge, after all, should have been a lovely addition to the fabric of the city. An oasis of greenery in an area devoid of it, a new way of crossing the river and a new tourist attraction, akin to New York's High Line, all rolled into one. The Garden Bridge was not like the hilariously pointless “Emirates Air Line”, the cable car to nowhere which is even now ferrying empty pods between two windswept ex-industrial estates in a deserted bit of east London, like one of the follies listed by Marge Simpson at the end of Marge vs the Monorail. The Garden Bridge should have been great.

Yet in the years since it was first proposed, it's sunk further and further into controversy. The Garden Bridge Trust, the charity responsible for getting it built, has failed to raise enough money or acquire the land required to start construction before planning permission runs out this December. Official reports have repeatedly raised questions about the Trust's financial plans.

And today's news that London's mayor Sadiq Khan has written to the Garden Bridge Trust to tell it that the taxpayer would not provide the financial guarantees required for work to continue – effectively killing the scheme – is more likely to be celebrated than mourned. So how did something so lovely end up so loathed?

The obvious explanation is the growing sense that the whole thing has been a bit of a con. When first the bridge was proposed, the intention was that it would be largely privately funded, with just a smidgen of Transport for London money required to get things moving.

The longer things went on, though, the more the ratio between those two sources of funding seemed to change. The predicted cost of the bridge continued to climb; yet the amount of money promised by private donors first flatlined, then began to slide.

So the amount of cash the taxpayer was going to have to put into this thing soared, with no end in sight: without a clear plan for funding the upkeep and maintenance of the bridge, it seemed likely to become a permanent line in the capital's own budget. As a result what had once been pitched as a gift to London began looking more and more like a pointless indulgence we would have to pay for ourselves. It felt like we’d been had.

But I think there's another, more philosophical reason why a lovely idea like a Garden Bridge should have become so unpopular: it fitted with a lingering sense that something has gone terribly wrong with this city.

We are, after all, in the middle of a housing crisis, which is seeing even relatively well-off people forced out of the city, and which has forced untold numbers to live in tiny under-regulated patches of squalor. The official definition of “Affordable Housing” has become a bad joke, yet new housing developments bend over backwards to avoid making even this limited provision. And in the midst of all this, the most visible property developments aren't much-needed homes for the masses, but commercial skyscrapers and luxury apartments.

Contemporary London prides itself on its tolerance and diversity and the way different social classes are all jumbled up together, without any of the ghettoisation seen in, say, Paris. Yet huge chunks of what look like public space are now private estates, often patrolled by private security. In our flattering, metropolitan liberal self-image, this isn't what London is meant to be.

It was, however, exactly what the Garden Bridge was going to be: a private garden masquerading as public space, yet funded by the taxpayer. The people most determined to see it built were a flotilla of rich, posh people: Boris Johnson, George Osborne, Thomas Heatherwick, Joanna Lumley. They were not us, but them – yet still they expected us to pay for it.

And then, once in a while, the bridge would close so that an investment bank or a private equity firm could throw a garden party, drinking champagne and eating canapes in full view of London as a whole, on a bridge we paid for but which we were not allowed to cross.

Perhaps the project isn't dead. Perhaps the Garden Bridge Trust will somehow find enough donors to get it finished without taxpayer support, and even find a way of funding its upkeep. Perhaps the rich really do want to give something back to London. If they do, I'm sure it'll be lovely.

But if they don't, I'm bloody glad we will no longer have to pay for it. This city has quite enough symbols of economic division as it is.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric, where this blog post was originall published. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

0800 7318496