Friday, 9 June 2017

THE REAL COST OF OUR LOW-CARBON OBSESSION

NIGEL LAWSON  Daily Tel. 3rd June 2017

Our low-carbon obsession is costing us dear

The next government must prioritise energy that is cheap and reliable
if it is to mend public trust

Donald Trump‘s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris
Agreement has dealt a hammer blow to an elite consensus which has
built up around the issue of climate change. That consensus has placed
cutting carbon dioxide emissions above people‘s jobs and protecting
the environment. With US industry already enjoying a substantial
competitive advantage over European firms, this decision will make
European climate policies all the more unsustainable. If Britain is to
keep up with the rest of the world, it is essential that the next
government rethinks energy policy to prioritise competitiveness and
affordability.

The 2017 Conservative manifesto has promised to do just that, and sets
a target for Britain to have the lowest energy prices in Europe. This
is a striking change of tone compared with previous manifestos, but
this objective will only be achieved through extensive reforms to
existing policies, alongside the political will to fight powerful
vested interests.

The next government will first need to acknowledge what has gone
wrong. Britain‘s obsession with unilateral decarbonisation has taken
precedence over relieving fuel poverty and keeping prices competitive.
It is inconceivable how political parties can reconcile being on the
side of working people while at the same time driving up their cost of
living. The Climate Change Act is set to cost the UK economy
approximately £320 billion by 2030 - equivalent to funding the NHS in
England for three years.

Existing energy policies that claim to be ”environmental• are nothing
of the sort. Bjorn Lomborg, the head of the Copenhagen Consensus
Centre, has estimated that even if every nation meets its pledges
under the Paris climate change agreement, the total reduction in the
planet‘s temperature will only be 0.17C by 2100. With America‘s exit,
even this paltry figure may not be achieved.

By contrast, the bad environmental consequences of energy policies
have been tangible and significant. Commitments to bioenergy are
damaging biodiversity and have distorted international food markets.
The rare earth metals used in wind turbines come from poorly regulated
mines in China which leak toxic and radioactive waste into nearby
lakes on an industrial scale, perfectly illustrating the vacuity of
the ”out of sight, out of mind• attitude of virtue-signalling ”clean•
energy advocates.

But the harmful consequences of low-carbon policies are harder to
ignore when they are right on your doorstep, or even inside your home.
Britain‘s air pollution crisis is the result of misguided low-carbon
policies that incentivised diesel cars. People have died because
politicians couldn‘t resist the desire to ”save the planet•. Recent
research also suggests that biomass power stations may not have lower
CO2 emissions than coal and gas. What will it take for politicians to
question the wisdom of spending hundreds of billions on failing
policies instead of putting the needs of ordinary families first?

Flexibility will be crucial to a more competitive approach. The
current programme of five-yearly decarbonisation targets guarantees
prohibitive costs for consumers today, and prevents the UK from taking
full advantage of the falling costs of various technologies. Renewable
energy lobbyists often claim that costs have come down to competitive
levels; this should be put to the test by the removal of subsidies
after 2020.

The manifesto also described ”the discovery and extraction of shale
gas in the US• as ”a revolution•. As a result, US manufacturers have
done even better and investors are flocking back to North America;
perhaps $160 billion has been earmarked for petrochemical plants alone
since 2012. Proposals to change the planning law for shale
applications could not come soon enough.

Energy policy in recent years has been marked out by an unhealthy
relationship between government and lobbyists from large renewable
energy firms. After leaving office, former energy secretary Ed Davey
walked into three advisory roles with firms with links to renewable
energy companies: unmistakable evidence of a ”revolving door• between
big business and government, even if no rules were broken. The power
of lobbying interests can be seen clearly in the fiasco surrounding
the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. This project, promoted by another former
energy minister, is expected to be formally rubber-stamped by
government in the next few weeks despite being a completely uneconomic
technology. If expensive projects like this continue to get the green
light, the full benefits of the shale gas revolution are unlikely to
be realised. Stronger safeguards against corporate lobbying will lead
to better value for the taxpayer and a more competitive energy sector.

Britain‘s decision to leave the EU has illustrated a deep disconnect
between the political elite and many people in the rest of the country
who feel ignored and left behind. By leaving the Paris Agreement,
Trump has delivered on his pledge to the left-behind in America. We
too must now look beyond a narrow obsession with renewables to a
fairer alternative that prioritises cheap and reliable energy. This
will help mend broken public trust, boost the economy and put Britain
on a secure footing as we look outward to trade with the rest of the
world.

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