By Paul Goodman
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Man-made global warming is a menace to the planet. For this reason, we must not only cut our carbon emissions, but do so faster than our competitors. To the aggregates levy, the landfill tax, and the EU's emissions trading scheme must thus be added the carbon price floor – and the legislative framework of the Climate Change Act. Fossil fuels that produce emissions, such as oil and coal, must give way to solar and wind power – even if these are expensive for consumers, especially poorer ones, and unsightly for the environment itself; and even if, too, they can't provide the necessary power – risking a return to 1970s-style power cuts. If you don't believe this claim and have an hour or so to spare, test it out on the Climate Change Department's own 2050 Pathways Calculator.
This is the logic that lies behind Ed Davey's praise for the Green Deal in this morning's Daily Telegraph. The Climate Change Secretary is right to offer incentives for reducing emissions – through better insulation, for example (though whether Davey's claims really stack up is questionable, to say the least). And it makes sense from the point of view of energy security to import less oil and gas from unstable and potentially unfriendly places: George Osborne's dash for shale gas, confirmed in the budget, is a very good thing. But, as my description of the policy suggested, all that it is likely to achieve is give our competitors a commercial advantage – since the speed and scale of the decarbonisation will render parts of British industry uncompetitive… while simultaneously exporting the production of emissions elsewhere.
So the planet won't be saved, either. (That's assuming you accept that global warming has been driven by human activity.) The mistakes that David Cameron made in opposition that have haunted him most in government were environment-related: the ruling-out of expansion at Heathrow, the pledge to make nuclear "a last resort", the support for the Climate Change Act. (Like Douglas Carswell, I fess up.) The Prime Minister seems to agree: hence the absence of a major speech on the Environment since he entered Number 10. The inextricability of the EU from the policy provides one more reason to vote No if that referendum ever comes. But within the constrains under which they operate Ministers can at least strive not to make matters any worse than they have to be. That was the point of sending John Hayes to DECC, after all.