By Tim Montgomerie
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I know how to enjoy myself and so am spending today and tomorrow reading through all of the big speeches given at the Tory Conference. I was very encouraged by this section from the Chancellor's speech:
"We know that a decade of environmental laws and regulations are piling costs on the energy bills of households and companies. Yes, climate change is a man made disaster. Yes, we need international agreement to stop it. Yes, we must have investment in greener energy. And that’s why I gave the go ahead to the world’s first Green Investment Bank. But Britain makes up less than 2% of the world’s carbon emissions to China and America’s 40%. We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business. So 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. That’s what I’ve insisted on in the recent carbon budget."
It's far from perfect but it's another sign that George Osborne understands that green policies are (1) expensive for business, especially "the makers" he wishes to encourage and (2) unilateral green policies are futile in the absence of global agreements.
The Coalition's climate change policies haven't changed but Osborne's new posture does suggest that he's realised the party and country has been going in the wrong direction. As The Guardian noted this morning, Cameron largely ignored global warming in his speech yesterday. He's put the huskies into cold storage. At a ConHome fringe meeting on Tuesday, the modernising MP Nick Boles didn't quarrel with Janet Daley's assertion that climate change policies should go to the back of the priorities queue.
At this point many in the climate change industry accuse people like me of being blind to the science. I make no comment on the science of global warming but I would argue that they are the blind ones; blind to the politics and blind to the economics and they're sticking with a policy course that represents a triumph of hope over experience. They cannot ignore the fact that Barack Obama couldn't deliver action on climate change when his party controlled every branch of the USA's federal government. That the other big and fast-growing emitters – China and India – will not deny their citizens cheap power. That EU nations have struggled to meet the fairly modest Kyoto targets and have only partly done so by exporting industrial capacity to the developing world. That climate change conventions of the Copenhagan kind failed. That political parties that campaign in favour of action on climate change (eg the Canadian Liberals and Australian Labor party) get smashed at the polls.
There will be no meaningful international agreement to combat climate change and the UK should only enact green measures if they have other measurable benefits. Better home insulation, for example, cuts energy bills. In the meantime let our politicians focus on meaningful and deliverable projects – like lifting trade barriers and vaccinating the children of Africa – that will help the world to become richer and healthier. If climate change does happen countries will then be able to afford to adapt.
11am update, 7th October: Fraser Nelson has reached the same conclusions about what he calls the Osborne doctrine: "Osborne is trying to navigate Britain away from what looks increasing like a second world recession. But as he so rightly said last week, we do not save the planet by running British business into the ground. The LibDems will wish to ignore his conference speech, but its implications are clear. A new era of climate realism is long overdue, and the Osborne doctrine calling an end to unilateral carbon policies is urgently needed. We look forward to its implementation."