Skip to content

Ben Pile: Climate Change Policy Is As Dangerous As Climate Change

Expect more government intervention and more policies. Expect more fuel poverty. Expect more deaths.

According to Channel 4 News,

An interim independent report predicts that 2,700 people will die this winter as a consequence of fuel poverty, a figure greater than the number killed in traffic accidents each year.

As argued here in recent posts, fuel poverty is a direct consequence of the UK’s energy policies. The government and others have argued otherwise, and blamed ‘the market’ for rising prices. But this isn’t good enough. The market does not exist in a vacuum; it exists in a world dominated by politicians who aren’t making energy a priority, and who were aware of the effect of their policies on energy prices long ago. Rather than allowing R&D and investment in energy where it is needed, politicians have given incentives to more expensive forms of production, and allowed price to coerce people into reducing their energy consumption. This is not about how much of any fuel or electricity bill is ’caused’ by a given policy, as is possible with a tax. The point is about what happens when you see energy itself as a problem, rather than make the provision of of cheap, abundant energy a political priority, if not merely possible. This is about what happens when policy-makers roll over at the merest whiff of an environmental NGO’s campaign, if governments past and present weren’t already begging them for policy ideas.

Of the 27,000 ‘excess deaths’ that occur each winter when compared to deaths which occur in the summer, 10% of them can be attributed to fuel poverty, says the Hill Report published yesterday by DECC itself.

If I’m right, and these deaths are caused by the UK’s climate and energy policies, then that effect should be compared to what the policies that caused it were intended to achieve.

As discussed in the previous post, the WHO’s World Health Report 2002 attributed 150,000 deaths a year to climate change in ‘high mortality developing countries’ (HMDCs). (Actually the figure is 148,000, but they rounded it up in the press releases).

The HDMCs are listed as the countries belonging to groups AFR-D, AFR-E, AMR-D, EMR-D, SEAR-D. Or, for those who are interested: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Togo, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Maldives, Myanmar, and Nepal.

According to this Wikipedia page (apologies for using Wikipedia, but, dammit, it is useful sometimes) those countries have a combined population of 2,792,190,752. So that means, taking the WHO’s word for it, the 148,000 deaths caused by climate change amounted to one death in every 18,866 people living in HMDCs.

Now, the UK’s population is 62,435,709, and 2,700 people died in the UK last year as a result of fuel poverty. In other words, on in every 23,124 people in the UK died last year, because of fuel poverty, caused by the UK’s climate change and energy policies.

What else can we conclude, but that climate change policy is as dangerous as climate change? In fact it is more dangerous, because those deaths occurred in the developed world. Imagine, then, what effect climate change policies are having in the developing world — the HMDCs.

Curiously enough for a report commissioned by the DECC, the Hill Fuel Poverty Review of doesn’t meaningfully discuss the possibility that the 2,700 deaths it attributes to energy poverty can thus be attributed to the shortcomings of policy-makers and their policies. It doesn’t consider that existing policies may have been the cause of fuel poverty. It concludes…

This Chapter has looked at the underlying causes of fuel poverty and who they most affect, as well as energy use. The main findings, summarised in more detail after each section, are:
• Poorer households live in smaller dwellings, reducing potential energy bills. Social housing is also more energy efficient than private housing. Being off the gas grid is a major factor increasing energy costs. Within tenures, energy efficiency (SAP rating) is not strongly linked to income.
• Those on low incomes are least likely to be on the cheapest, direct debit, tariffs. Where customers with prepayment meters have switched supplier following a doorstep sale, almost as many
switched to a worse as to a better deal.
• The net effect of government policies on different income groups will depend on how the interventions financed by some of those policies are distributed. On assumptions made by DECC in 2010, the net effect would be a loss on average for low-income households, tending to increase fuel poverty. Whether this actually occurs depends on decisions yet to be taken.
• We do not know what temperatures households are now living at. Data on actual energy use suggest that even better-off households do not live at the temperatures assumed in modelling fuel
poverty. However, the poorest tenth of households appear to be living at lower temperatures than contemporary norms.

The report concludes… (My emphasis)…

The issue of fuel poverty also ties in strongly with the urgent need to tackle climate change, as part of which a priority is to improve energy efficiency standards in UK homes in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But climate change policy delivery is made more difficult by the existence of fuel poverty. If the price mechanism is used to encourage carbon reduction, some low-income householders face disproportionate costs, but the capital investment needed to bring about efficiency improvements and carbon savings is beyond them. If carbon emissions from these households are to be reduced, assistance will be needed. Once made, interventions should have a sustained impact on the costs they face and then in a combination of warmer homes and their own carbon reductions.

How can the UK government only now be commissioning reports which state the obvious? How did it fail to anticipate that rising energy costs would cause harm to people? Why did it not consider the human cost of its policies before rushing them through parliament? Why did it not think to consider mitigating the effects of fuel poverty before creating the problem of increasing fuel poverty? Why should we think that the government’s attempts to intervene to mitigate the effects of fuel poverty will be any less damaging than their attempt to mitigate climate change?

Expect more intervention and more policies. Expect more fuel poverty. Expect more deaths.

Meanwhile, as was established in the previous post, there are 10% fewer cases of malaria — one of the main diseases that the WHO believed to be exacerbated by climate change — now than when the data for the WHO 2002 report was compiled. It seemed unlikely that the 150,000 deaths were attributed to climate change safely before we discovered that malaria rates were in decline. Now it seems even less likely. Climate change policies really are worse than climate change.

Climate Resistance, 20 October 2011