“Going green shouldn’t mean growth-damaging, consumer-hitting, supply-threatening targets,” I wrote earlier this year – saying that it doesn’t follow that because human activity is having an impact on the climate, the United Kingdom should impose the most restrictive climate reduction targets in the world on a country that emits some two per cent of the world’s emissions.
And so said Owen Paterson yesterday evening, speaking to the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Now that he is no longer a Cabinet member, Paterson has come upon us unmuzzled, rather in the spirit of Gladstone addressing the voters of South Lancashire. The core of his case is that the Government’s energy policy “neither reduces emissions sufficiently nor provides the energy we need as a country”, and that this will remain so as long as it is built on the Climate Change Act, which established those targets in the first place.
The former Environment Secretary’s preferred policy means of ensuring security of supply, keeping the lights on and achieving a reduction of emissions is the “promotion of indigenous shale gas, large scale localised Combined Heat and Power, small modular nuclear reactors, and rational demand management”. He asked: “What is stopping this programme? He answered: “Simply, the 2050 legally binding targets enshrined in the Climate Change Act”.
This is because they require “very specific technology, such as supposedly “zero carbon” windfarms, and electric vehicles…in guzzling up available subsidies and capital investment, “zero carbon” technology blocks the development of more modest but feasible and affordable low carbon options”. Hence his call to suspend the targets. Paterson’s favoured energy mix can be disputed. What should not be is his call for suspension. “We have to remember too that the people who suffer most from a lack of decent energy are the poor,” he told his audience.
A word on the politics. Onshire wind is an article of faith for the red-green movement, and an opportunity for opportunism for UKIP. Suspension would thus open the door to some voters who lean to the latter and close it to others who tilt to the Liberal Democrats. This is a reminder that if the politics of a course is complex the best way forward is simply to make the right argument – which is what the former Environment Secretary is doing.