The two supreme political fantasies of our time predictably crumble into dust. The only thing that remains unpredictable is the cost of the devastation they will leave behind.
When the EU’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner, Olli Rehn, last week said that there were “only 10 days” left to save the euro, and even the EU itself, from disintegration, a distinct historical echo came to mind. In October 2009, just before the UN’s climate conference in Copenhagen, Gordon Brown was reported as saying that there were “fewer than 50 days” left to save the planet from global warming.
As we know, the planet was not saved at Copenhagen. The largest conference the world has ever seen ended in acrimony, without establishing a successor to the Kyoto Protocol – a new treaty that would have landed humanity with the biggest bill in history, by far. Last year, an attempt to revive it, in Cancun, ended in further dismal failure. Now a third UN conference, taking place in Durban, looks even more forlorn, and any hope of a successor to Kyoto is slipping towards oblivion.
Hopes of saving the euro seem similarly slim. The rest of the EU countries look to Germany, as the only member rich enough to pour money into a bottomless pit of debt. But Angela Merkel knows that, even if she agreed to their demands, it would require a change not only to the EU treaty but also to the German constitution. That could not come about until 2013, and only after a referendum that might well result in a “no” vote.
What these two stories have in common is that ultimately they were so predictable. The reasons why a European single currency could not work without a massive transfer of resources from richer countries to poorer ones were clearly laid out more than 30 years ago, when the MacDougall report was presented to the Commission in 1978. And the reasons why the Copenhagen treaty was never going to happen were obvious even before Kyoto in 1997 – when China, India and other developing countries made it clear that there could be no treaty on global warming unless its economic burden was carried by the developed nations of the West.
The only difference now is that the then-poorer countries are a lot richer, while the then-richer countries are a lot poorer, and likely to become much more so when the euro disintegrates, carrying a good deal of the world economy with it.
At least one lesson we can learn from all this is that when those who rule over us talk desperately of there being only so many days or weeks left to save civilisation, they do so only because the game is already up. Thus the two supreme political fantasies of our time predictably crumble into dust. The only thing that remains unpredictable is the cost of the devastation they will leave behind.
‘Zero carbon’ will amount to zero homes
‘No government has attempted anything as ambitious as this,” said George Osborne last week, announcing a £400 million scheme to revive the building of new homes, which is at its lowest level since the 1920s. But perhaps because he is only a “part-time Chancellor” (as Peter Oborne revealed in The Daily Telegraph: he apparently spends half his time out of the Treasury, on other government business), he overlooked one substantial obstacle to his dream.
By 2016, as I reported last week, the Government plans to have phased in a requirement that all new homes are “zero carbon”, under its Code for Sustainable Homes. The policy was introduced in 2006 to implement a European directive, 2002/91, on “the energy performance of buildings”, to meet the EU’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.
Under the code, every aspect of a new home is awarded points to show how far it meets the “zero carbon” standard – based on anything from the extent to which its energy is derived from “renewable” sources to its provision of internal storage space for eco-friendly bicycles. It was initially estimated that all this would add as much as £40,000, or 66 per cent, to the average cost of a new house (the figures are still on the website of the Department for Communities and Local Government). But the scheme turned out to be so complex and impractical that it has undergone three revisions, relaxing the standards. Now – unless local authorities decide otherwise – those original costs may be halved.
Even though the result will no longer be a “zero carbon” home, the additional cost could still be £15,000 or more. As was stated in a recent report from the Federation of Master Builders, a mere 31 certificates have so far been issued for houses that meet the full standard. Yet by 2016 it will apply universally.
No other country in Europe has implemented the directive in the same tortuous and costly fashion. If Mr Osborne really wants more new homes, he should take time off from his extramural work to examine what the building industry views as a bizarre disaster – all to comply with the Kyoto treaty, which lapses next year anyway.