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Viscount Ridley And Lord Lawson On The 5th Carbon Budget

House of Lords

House of Lords debate on the 5th Carbon Budget on 19 July 2016

Viscount Ridley (Con)

I beg my noble friend to pause and reconsider on the Motion. The fact that the Liberal Democrats are enthusiastically in support encourages me to beg even harder. This order is a piece of economic self-harm. It is against government policy, it will do precisely no good for the climate of the planet, it will hurt the poorest people in the country and cost jobs, and it will cripple our ability to grow the economy.

Let me take those four points in turn. First, it is against government policy to take unilateral action on carbon dioxide emissions that goes further and faster than any other country. This was explicitly stated by George Osborne in 2011, when he told the Conservative party conference:

“Let’s at the very least resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe”.

Amber Rudd repeated that promise and went even further last year when she said:

“We have to travel in step with what is happening in the rest of the world”.

The EU in Paris last year promised cuts of 40% by 2030. Here we are promising 57%. That is a unilateral offer to go almost one and half times as fast. Furthermore, why is there no mention of Brexit in the impact assessment, which runs to 97 pages? This is a serious omission and should be put right.

The policy is against government policy in another way. The National Audit Office study last week confirmed the finding of the Office for Budget Responsibility that there is likely to be a large overspend on the levy control framework—about £1 billion over the £7.6 billion permitted in 2020—and the Government’s own planning data show that there are sufficient planning permissions for renewable generators to overshoot the electricity component of the target by approximately 35%, for which there is no budget.

Secondly, how much would this extra 17% cut in the fifth carbon budget reduce global temperatures, if it could be achieved? The UK produces 1.1% of world CO2 emissions. Reducing those by an extra 17% would reduce global emissions by 0.15%. The total warming expected by 2090 is between 0.8 and 2 degrees centigrade, depending on whether you choose the RCP 4.5 or the RCP 6 emission scenario and whether you choose the Lewis or the CMIP model sensitivity. So our unilateral action would reduce global warming by 2090 by between 0.001 and 0.003 degree centigrade.

Thirdly, for that infinitesimal achievement we are being asked to pay with the jobs of British workers, the lives of British pensioners, and the standard of living of every person in this country. In the Government’s low fossil fuel price scenario for 2030, domestic households would see prices 60% higher than they would otherwise be in 2030, while medium-sized businesses would see increases of 114%. Those latter increases will necessarily be passed through to domestic households in the costs of goods and services, giving a much greater total cost of living effect than that found in household energy bills alone. To these must be added electricity system costs for grid expansion and management. My noble friend says that we are meeting the targets in the carbon budget, but we are doing so at the cost of jobs in energy-intensive industries.

Meanwhile, fuel poverty currently kills several thousand people a year. Renewables subsidies will hit those with electric heating particularly hard, and they are already among the most vulnerable households in the country. The impact assessment claims that there is net benefit from these measures, but that claim depends entirely on energy prices, as it freely admits, and the unlamented Department of Energy and Climate Change has been systematically and catastrophically wrong about energy prices again and again. So I am afraid that the claim of net benefit is not worth the paper on which it is written.

Fourthly, the effect of this fifth carbon budget will be to slow the British economy. Even if we stop awarding new subsidy contracts in 2020, the total cost of this programme between 2002 and 2035 or so, when the last contracts expire, will be in the region of £150 billion to £200 billion. That is not counting the cost of subsidies to the French Government to build the Hinkley white elephant. A very large proportion of those subsidies is being paid to buy very expensive renewable energy equipment from German, Danish and Spanish manufacturers and to reward overseas owners, some of them state owned. It is a significant transfer of wealth overseas.

All this adds up to a terrible cost and—worse still—a terrible opportunity cost to the British economy. It comes at a time when the UK needs to become dynamic as never before to make our way in the world post Brexit. Affordable energy is the very cause of prosperity. It amplifies the work of individuals, dramatically raising productivity. The attempt to force an energy transition way ahead of the learning curve and against a far steeper cost gradient than was ever envisaged when fossil fuel prices were high is genuinely hazardous. A coerced return to the thin, costly and variable flows of renewable energy that characterised the medieval economy risks causing deep and lasting economic harm, as well as jeopardising the broader environment, for only prosperous countries can afford to care for the natural world.

Lord Lawson of Blaby (Con)

My Lords, as a former Secretary of State for Energy, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on her appointment as Minister for Energy. I realise that she is so early in her job that she is not a great authority on the issue, but bearing in mind how well she has performed in her previous role, I am sure that it will not be long before she is very well-versed. She will come to realise that the speech she made introducing this debate, which was obviously written for her by her officials, contained numerous blatant, glaring errors of fact. I shall refer to only one.

She mentioned, in particular, flooding. I draw her attention and the attention of the House to the latest issue of Science in Parliament. It includes an article from Professor Paul Bates of the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol, entitled “Flooding: What is Normal?”. He finishes:

“In conclusion, in terms of national scale annual losses we can see that, contrary to the standard media narrative, flooding during winter 2015/6 was, by recent experience, entirely normal”.

All the myths that are trotted out have been demonstrated to be false by experts such as Professor Roger Pielke of the United States, who is not a climate sceptic but has shown clearly that there has been no increase in extreme weather events.

I am not going to take too much of the House’s time because, as my noble friend Lord Ridley pointed out, the Climate Change Act, of which these orders are a derivative, is an Act of manifest, acute self-harm, very particularly for the poorest among us and for much of British industry. It does no good to anybody. I do not want to repeat his points, but I hope that when she winds up my noble friend will refer to all the points that he made because they are very important. There is no case for this. It is bizarre that we are doing this.

At this point, I warmly welcome my right honourable friend Theresa May, the new Prime Minister. At the start of her time as Prime Minister, she has made an excellent beginning with the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. That will not transform everything overnight, but it is clearly an important step in the right direction and signals her recognition that what matters is getting affordable and reliable energy, which is what the people of this country want—the people she said she cares about most in her opening statement of her position. That is what they are calling for: affordable and reliable energy.

The Minister also said something about the reduction we have achieved in carbon emissions in this country. What I think she may not yet be aware of is that the main reason we have achieved it is that energy-intensive industry has gone abroad. This has become particularly topical in the case of the steel industry. There has been no reduction in global emissions; it is just that the emissions are coming from China, India or wherever, and not from the United Kingdom. This boasting about the United Kingdom’s reduction in global emissions is completely meaningless.

I encourage my noble friend, for whom I have a very high regard, not to be caught up in any of this nonsense and to look at the thing afresh in a rational way, as she is well able to do, looking at the effect of this legislation on the poor and on British business and industry; and I encourage her department to do a lot of things in a lot of policy areas which need to be reviewed in the light of Brexit. My noble friend Lord Ridley drew attention to energy policy, and I hope the Minister will instruct her department to have a complete review of the United Kingdom’s energy policy in the light of Brexit. It is perfectly true that European Union legislation, although harmful, is not nearly as harmful as our indigenous Climate Change Act; nevertheless, an overall review is clearly called for, and I hope she will undertake one as soon as possible and realise that the signal she should be responding to is the abolition of DECC. That should be the end of a miserable chapter.

Full debate in the House of Lords