By Owen Paterson MP, December 2015 Daily Telegraph
As the Paris summit ends, it’s more important than ever to separate energy and climate change policy. As it reaches its conclusion - without having come to any conclusions - it's probably worth asking: what was the point of the Paris Climate Change summit? Ostensibly the politicians and officials met to discuss the effects of global warming and how to mitigate them. Climate change is certainly a useful political tool. International heads of state burnished their credentials as they spoke in Paris of their intent to protect the world from rising temperatures.
Locally too, the words "climate change" can be politically expedient. Indeed, as Cumbria is left considering the aftermath of the floods - which broke records in terms of river height and wrought havoc emotionally and financially - politicians and officials have been quick to blame climate change. It is, frankly a cheap way to abdicate any responsibility for the devastating effect of flooding.
I say this because last year, 17 senior climatologists published a paper in which they said that blaming climate change for flood losses turns the losses into a global issue – thereby putting them beyond the control of national institutions. The evidence also suggests that rainfall in Cumbria last weekend only marginally overtook much older records, if at all. Indeed, the frequency of such floods in the past three decades, according to scientists from Lancaster University, is not unusual and has fallen markedly from the mid-20th century.
My point is that this dreadful flooding could easily have happened even if the climate were not changing, since it is largely caused by landscape changes. And the measures the world has taken against climate change have not and will not significantly change the risk of flooding in Cumbria.
So what, then, have these 21 years of exchanging hot air on the subject actually achieved? Very little in terms of restricting global emissions – just look at India and China – but as far as Britain is concerned, they have had a devastating effect on our energy policy.
Back in 2011, the world pledged to produce binding legal targets on emissions for all countries at this Paris meeting. But that ambition has been abandoned in favour of vague “intended” national promises. Each country must now set its own energy policy. So China and India – in fact any country – can continue to burn fossil fuels at will. Apart from Britain.
We are left uniquely isolated and vulnerable as the only country in the world with a legal target for reducing emissions, thanks to our Climate Change Act of 2008. No other country will be breaking its own law if it misses its target. But we have a binding target to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. We have repeatedly boasted that we are setting the world an example – but the world seems disinclined to take notice.
Lucky for us, then, that Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, is beginning to dismantle the disgraceful legacy of her three predecessors, Ed Miliband, Chris Huhne and Ed Davey, which has delivered no significant cuts in emissions while risking black-outs, killing jobs in the aluminium and steel industries, hugely inflating cost and worsening fuel poverty. Her recommendations make a good start, but there is much further to go if she is to rescue the British economy from an impending energy crisis.
The 2050 target commits us to decarbonising our electricity, abolishing gas as a fuel for cooking and heating our homes, and converting two thirds of our cars to electric. These aims come at an astronomical cost. Since wind does not significantly reduce emissions (because of the need for back-up when it is not blowing) and because solar power is useless at night and in winter, it would mean a vast investment in nuclear power, equivalent to building a new Hinkley Point every three years for 35 years.
That’s neither feasible nor affordable. So while it is great news that the Government is killing wind subsidies onshore and abandoning the costly pipe dream of carbon capture and storage, we must go further and get rid of offshore wind subsidies (the most costly of all) and “biomass” subsidies. Our dash for wind power so distorted the electricity market that it has actually prevented the construction of efficient and cheap combined-cycle gas turbines.
By calling for an acceleration of the development of shale gas and by embracing the idea of small modular nuclear reactors, the Government is insuring that gas will for many decades be the most affordable and cleanest of the fuels available to the world. But our dash for wind power so distorted the electricity market that it has actually prevented the construction of efficient and cheap combined-cycle gas turbines.
So, in the wake of the non-committal Paris climate talks, we need to make sure we decouple energy policy from climate change policy, and take measures to restore resilience to the system. Specifically, it is vital that the 2008 Climate Change Act, Ed Miliband’s most pernicious legacy, be suspended and eventually repealed. Clause 2 of the act enables the Secretary of State to amend the 2050 target, which could have the immediate effect of suspending it. To avoid failure in 10-20 years time, that decision must be taken now.