Two events last week confirmed that, in appointing his new Government, David Cameron made a catastrophic misjudgment by putting our energy policy in the charge of a minister who believes that only by “decarbonising” our economy can we avert the awful disaster of global warming. Our new Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd, is wholly committed to both these beliefs, saying that her highest priority will be the signing of that proposed global “climate treaty” in Paris next December.
One of these events was the announcement that yet another of our large coal-fired power stations, Ferrybridge in Yorkshire, is shortly to close, thanks to the way George Osborne’s “carbon tax” – five times higher than any other in Europe – is making coal, otherwise by far the cheapest source of electricity, wholly uncompetitive.
This follows the other recently announced, equally premature closure of the giant 2.4-gigawatts (GW) coal-fired power station at Longannet, the only one left in Scotland.
Last winter we could still rely on coal for a third of all the electricity we needed to keep our lights on: averaging 12.7 gigawatts, far more than any other power source. But we are now losing our coal-fired power stations so fast – seven will soon have closed since 2013, with only eight remaining – that in just three years our total capacity will have fallen from 24GW to just 15GW, with more closures to come.This may be in line with Mr Cameron’s “tweet” in New York last September that he wants all Britain’s coal-fired plants to have closed “within 10 or 15 years”. So here at least is one policy, doubtless fully supported by Ms Rudd, on which he is not only “delivering” but well ahead of schedule. And all this in the name of “decarbonising” our economy, as we head for that binding global treaty Ms Rudd wants to see in December.But what was also made clearer than ever last week is that this treaty simply isn’t going to happen. China and India, already the first and third largest CO2 emitters in the world, haven’t the faintest intention of agreeing to it. In a recent joint statement, their prime ministers said they would be happy to build lots more “renewable” energy sources, so long as developed nations such as Britain keep their promise by 2020 to pay $100 billion a year to help them to do it.
But at the same time, to help raise their people out of poverty, they plan within five years to build 300 more coal-fired power plants, adding far more CO2 to the atmosphere every year than the total annually emitted by the UK. India alone plans to add 124GW of coal-fired capacity by 2020, more than eight times the entire capacity left in Britain.