Nick Timothy: When Will Green Zealots Figure Out That Britain Cannot Fight Climate Change Alone?

  • Date: 09/05/19
  • Nick Timothy, The Daily Telegraph

Britain is wrecking its economic competitiveness. Industrial electricity prices have gone up by more than 160 per cent since 2004. And they are getting increasingly uncompetitive.

UK electricity price component estimates (£/MWh) prepared by The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in 2014. 

Britain is about to take a dangerous leap into the unknown. It will cause a massive economic hit, damaging industry and jeopardising jobs. The Government has no policies to implement its plan. Parliament has barely considered it. MPs are under pressure from zealous activists, who don’t realise that Britain doesn’t lead the world anymore.

Yes, the Climate Change Committee is back, and more crazily unilateralist than ever before. Their latest brainwave: to make Britain the first country to cut its carbon emissions to zero.

Industry must be decarbonised, conventional cars banned, and a fifth of farmland given up for biomass production and peatland restoration. “Emissions from international aviation,” it warns, “cannot be ignored.” Enjoy your family holiday while you can.

All this can be achieved, the committee says, at no greater economic cost than the original target, set by the Climate Change Act, to reduce carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 80 per cent by 2050.

Ignore the fact that the committee produced no credible impact assessment to justify its assertion. The Climate Change Act has already proved more expensive than was ever predicted, or admitted by ministers even today. And all for little reason.

The truth is, alone, Britain cannot do much to slow or stop climate change. Last year, we emitted 352.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. In the past eight years, developing countries increased their emissions by 4,362 million tonnes.

Yet Britain is wrecking its economic competitiveness. Industrial electricity prices have gone up by more than 160 per cent since 2004. And they are getting increasingly uncompetitive: in 2010 they were about average for a western economy; now they are 28 per cent more expensive.

We are also pushing up domestic bills. More than 2.5 million households in England – 11.1 per cent of the total – live in fuel poverty. A quarter of households on low and middle incomes struggle to pay their energy bills. So much for helping families who are “just about managing”.

And what are we achieving? Yes, Britain has reduced its emissions by 43.5 per cent compared to 1990 levels. But emissions relating to imports are 28 per cent higher than in 1997, when statistics were first collected. Emissions associated with imports from China are 276 per cent higher.

However, it is not only to China and the rest of Asia that we have outsourced our industry and emissions. We’re outsourcing them – along with jobs and prosperity – to other European countries too.

This is because the Climate Change Act ignores the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Under the ETS, total carbon emissions are capped and companies are given emissions allowances. Companies can then trade their allowances, selling their spares to companies that need them.

For every tonne of carbon not emitted in Britain as a result of the Climate Change Act, therefore, an extra tonne can be emitted elsewhere in Europe. Britain is going through the hardship and sacrifice of reducing its emissions, only to hand over its allowances, in effect, to European competitors.

Meanwhile, 39 per cent of Germany’s electricity production comes from coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Seven of Europe’s top 10 carbon emitters are German power stations. And while even America has reduced its carbon emissions by 16 per cent since 2000, Germany’s have fallen by only 10 per cent in that period.

Critics of the Climate Change Act warned ministers against reckless unilateralism. And the Act’s own impact assessment warned, “the economic case for the UK continuing to act alone where global action cannot be achieved would be weak”. Ministers said it was “a contribution to a worldwide effort”, but naively conceded that, “as yet we do not know what the worldwide effort is”.

Eleven years on, we know that the worldwide effort has been less intense than Britain’s. As Prof Dieter Helm, who ministers asked to review the cost of energy, says: “The cost … is significantly higher than it needs to be.” He adds that the Committee on Climate Change has been too gung-ho in setting carbon budgets, arguing, “as technology moves on … it will be cheaper to reduce carbon tomorrow than today”.

Sadly, ministers are keen to listen to a 16 year-old schoolgirl, but not to the esteemed economist and energy expert they themselves commissioned. And now, instead of learning from the mistakes of the Climate Change Act they look set to repeat them.

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