Simon Clarke is MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
A recent study has shown that increased investment in renewables, strong global action on emissions, and slightly slower than expected warming means that we are more likely to meet our climate targets than expected – thereby avoiding the latter’s worst effects. According to a new paper we now have a two in three chance of meeting the Paris climate change agreement target of keeping global warming to less than 1.5C, provided the world continues to take ambitious action to cut emissions.
This welcome news follows the recent announcement of a huge fall in the cost of offshore wind in Britain. The price we pay for new offshore wind has almost halved since the last Contract for Difference auction and at just £57.50/Mwh, even accounting for additional networks and storage costs of around £10/Mwh, it will be cheaper than new nuclear, and around the same price as gas.
We can now firmly reject the hair-shirted fatalism of those left-wingers who claim that to live sustainably we must abandon the trappings of modern life, adopt goats, and become full time yurt-dwellers. Trustafarian Sam Kriss and fellow miserabilist Ellie Mae O’Hagan recently wrote (and wrote) about their depression at our collective failure on climate. Unsurprisingly, as ever, their solution is socialism.
Well, it turns out that you don’t need get your Little Red Book just yet. As Michael Howard wrote just before the summer, the UK has over the last 25 years been the most successful G7 nation at both growing its economy and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Economic growth and emissions reduction go hand in hand, and investment in new technologies is doing exactly what we had hoped – helping to prevent a climate disaster while delivering cheap energy (and good jobs).
However, we should also reject the siren voices of complacency that claim this new study proves that there was never anything to worry about, and we can now withdraw our support for renewables, reopen the pits, and return to the economy of the nineteenth century. As Myles Allen, one of the authors of the study said, the recent findings are akin to discovering you have an extra half an hour on a deadline for a tricky assignment. It’s good news, but you can’t go to the pub yet. There’s still a lot of work to do.
For starters, out and out sceptics who doubt the very existence of global warming will find nothing for them here. The Met Office have confirmed that the last three years have each broken the annual record for global temperature. While we may have fractionally more time than we thought, the trend is clear.
Then there are those who, somewhat perversely, claim this as proof that there was no need to invest in the technology that has helped get us to this point. Quite the opposite: this shows that our ambitious emissions reduction targets are feasible, that they are cost-effective, but that we need further investment to meet these targets.
As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote in the Daily Telegraph recently, we have the opportunity to become the Saudi Arabia of wind power. Failing to capitalise on this capacity, and thereby losing the jobs and investment (not to mention the cheap energy) that goes with it, would be a terrible mistake. Part of the reason for this good news is that we have consistently underestimated just how quickly other countries would step up their action on climate, and how ready they are for renewables. China now has more than 100 gigawatts of solar cells. India’s 100 per cent electric vehicle target will come into force ten years before ours.
So what more can we do to position ourselves at the front of the pack of the clean tech revolution? Let’s take one example – Evans-Pritchard’s point about wind power. I fully understand local concerns around onshore wind farms. I would never impose one in the face of community opposition. But as things stand we have, in effect, a national ban that takes the power to out of the hands of local people and leaves it with Sir Humphrey.
Onshore wind is inherently cheaper than offshore wind – with onshore the costs of transporting turbines out to sea, attaching them to the seabed, and then bringing the power back to land are eliminated from the equation. Given how cheap offshore wind now is, any future onshore wind projects will almost certainly result in fixed prices agreed below the expected market rate. And with the contract mechanism – it is not a subsidy, but a fixed price contract – this means companies will be paying money back to the exchequer more often than they receive it. Not just subsidy free, but making money for the taxpayer.
Surely local people should be able to decide if they want to take part in this revolution? The polling suggests they want to – with a recent YouGov poll finding that fewer than one in fourdislike the prospect of living near a wind farm. With the money made funnelled back into the community, local people could reap the onshore wind dividend for local projects. As things stand Whitehall prevents local people from approving developments that could provide cheap, clean energy and much needed investment in less well-off areas. Similarly, investment in Carbon Capture and Storage offers us an opportunity to get ahead in a technology that will be wanted around the world. Invest now and the export opportunities – as we are seeing with offshore wind – will be huge.
This has been a great few weeks for supporters of action on climate and renewable energy – and if we continue to steer a sensible course between the fatalists and sceptics, we can meet our Paris targets and become a hub for cheap, clean energy.