Former UK chancellor warns Europe, US against setting up trade barriers to developing nations. Nigel Lawson believes it is wrong for the West to use environmental concerns as a weapon to beat China.
“It is wrong in two ways. It is wrong morally because it is asking them to slow their development down,” says the former British chancellor of the exchequer who is now well known as a leading climate change skeptic.
“It is also wrong in practical terms because it is quite clear they are not going to do it (reduce carbon emissions sufficiently). China is not abandoning coal. It is going ahead with its coal-fired power stations.”
Lawson, a remarkably youthful 80, was speaking over morning coffee at the House of Lords, whose debates he regularly attends.
He is best known as one of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s key ministers in the 1980s but since the publication of his book An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming four years ago, he has also found notoriety as a bete noire of the Green Movement.
Some in the environmental movement refuse to engage with him, saying that he is recycling the arguments of the American oil industry and other vested interests.
He insists, however, that by going against what now seems a majority view he is not part of some new “Flat Earth” movement.
“You have to analyze what you mean by majority opinion. I think it is the majority opinion of the political classes in the West. It is not, however, the majority opinion of the public as whole. All the opinion polls show a high degree of skepticism among ordinary people, who often have more common sense than the political classes,” he says.
Lawson says he has been recently talking with the 88-year-old renowned British-born American physicist Freeman Dyson, who is on the advisory board of his think tank, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, which he founded in 2009.
Dyson was over from the United States to mark his 60 years as a member of The Royal Society, the 350-year-old British scientific body.
“He says the only thing that is certain about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is that it is very good for plant growth and that the warming effect is extremely uncertain,” he says.
Lawson does believe that China is unfairly lectured to on climate change and thinks the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009 was something of a debacle when no international agreement could be reached. China, India and other developing countries felt the terms too onerous.
“It certainly was an accident. It was a great macho thing for the European Union, which was then not in as shaky a state as it is now, to show world leadership,” he says.
“They set these hugely ambitious objectives and it was a great humiliation for them that they brought on themselves.”
He is dismissive of a lot of the claims made be environmentalists such as those set out by former US vice-president Al Gore in his film An Inconvenient Truth. He says the argument that 11 of the last 12 years have been the warmest on record is very misleading.
“It is generally accepted there has been no serious warming trend over the past 10 to 15 years. Even if the rate of growth flattens out, each year is [not] going to be warmer than the previous year. The important thing is that it has completely flattened out,” he says.
Lawson now lives most of the time in Maurede in southwest of France and commutes weekly with EasyJet from Toulouse to attend debates in the House of Lords. Despite being a Europhile, he despairs about the current plight of the euro.
“I didn’t think the euro will survive. It might do so for some time but it is not in Europe’s interest that it should survive,” he says.
“I think the experiment of having a single currency has proved to be unbelievably damaging to the European economy. The only way you can make a single currency work is if you have a single government, single tax system and single finance ministry.”
Lawson, a former leading financial journalist and editor of The Spectator magazine in the 1960s, is regarded as being one of the UK’s most influential chancellors of the post-war period.
He was one of the principal architects of the Thatcherite free market liberalization of the British economy.
But he also presided over a bust of the economy in the late-1980s when interest rates soared to stem inflation and the housing market crashed.
He believes the current economic downturn is of a different scale to then and there may be a lot worse to come.
“I don’t think it is fully played out yet. The reason why it is much worse this time is the banking element. The banks weren’t all that fine last time but they didn’t go bust.”
Lawson says it is the rise of countries like China that is one of the few reasons for optimism.
“I think it is the most important development on the economic front since my time in office and I absolutely welcome it. I think it is great,” he says.
“It means the world is a much more competitive place but on the whole it is an excellent thing. It has taken millions of people out of poverty and provides a huge market for exports.”
He is dismissive of those that say China is marching ahead at the risk of polluting the planet.
“I think in so far as there is any connection between pollution and global warming, pollution actually reduces warming slightly because all the filth in the sky impedes the sun’s rays. In a minor way, it actually helps.
“China quite rightly, however, is wanting to do something about the pollution in its cities.”
He says the dramatic economic impact China has had on the rest of the world is the export of inexpensive manufactured goods that have led to a reduction in inflation across the world.
He argues if Europe or the United States respond to the current economic crisis by putting up protectionist barriers against China and other developing nations it could lead to a 1930s-scale depression.
“I think it is important to maintain globalization and an open world trading system. We don’t want to see a wave of restrictions. I am hopeful there won’t be because everyone is aware of how disastrous the 1930s were,” he says.