Climate change summits like Poznan and Brussels will cost us the earth
Short of a breakthrough in non-carbon energy, the only affordable response to fears of global warming is to adapt to the consequences, argues a former chancellor.
By Nigel Lawson
Early snow struck London at the end of October. The Met Office says 2008 has been, globally, the coldest year of all
And so the great climate change circus moves on. Over the past few days we have had the European Union climate summit in Brussels and the United Nations climate summit in Poznan.
The EU summit was intended to confirm Europe's much-proclaimed "world leadership" on the issue by reaffirming its earlier "20-20-20" commitment: that by 2020 it would have reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent and raised to 20 per cent the proportion of its energy generated by non-nuclear renewable sources.
This commitment, which had been made in 2007, had latterly been called into question as the seven accession states and Italy declined to accept their share in it.
The outcome was a compromise, hailed as "quite historic" by President Sarkozy, under which the targets would be nominally retained but the means of achieving them – sharp rises in the cost of carbon-based energy – abandoned.
This was a great relief in particular to Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who had made clear her unwillingness to allow her country's important energy-intensive industries to be harmed in this way in the current harsh economic climate. In addition, it was agreed that the EU commitment would be provisional at this point, and reviewed in 2010.
So onto Poznan, where, despite this example of "quite historic" EU leadership, all that emerged on the global warming front was a great deal of hot air, and an agreement that a serious global accord on drastic, mandatory, enforceable and enforced cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions, to succeed the Kyoto Agreement which expires in 2012, would be concluded in Copenhagen next year.
If you believe that, you will believe anything. It is abundantly clear that the whole Kyoto approach is a nonsense.
The first harsh reality is the very different perspectives of the developed and the developing world. China, already the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, and India, coming up fast, have both made clear, for very good reasons, their unwillingness to accept mandatory emissions restrictions for the foreseeable future. Even before the current world recession they were not prepared to accept the economic cost and brake on their economic development that this would require. Now, with the recession, they are even less willing to assume this additional burden – not least, in China's case, because of worries about internal political stability.
The developing countries' case is that it is the responsibility of the developed world to cut back. But anything short of a global cutback is self-evidently futile.
In any case, even if there were an agreement, it would not be enforceable. Professor Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics, a distinguished political scientist who, as it happens, accepts the majority view of the climate science, has pointed out why, for this and other reasons, the Kyoto approach is doomed.
But the vested interest of the great climate change circus, and the gratifying opportunities it presents for global grandstanding, have ensured that his analysis is ignored.
At the heart of this is the very heavy cost of decarbonisation, an unfortunate truth which most of its advocates feel obliged to deny. Thus the International Monetary Fund, which once was a serious economic organisation, has called for a 96 per cent cut in global carbon dioxide emissions (compared with business-as-usual projections) by 2100.
To achieve this, it concluded, "Increases in world carbon prices need not be large – say a $0.01 initial increase in the price of a gallon of gasoline that rises by $0.02 every three years". At that rate, it would take the US more than 350 years to reach the level of petrol tax we already have in the UK.
The first report of the UK's Committee on Climate Change, headed by Lord (Adair) Turner, and published a few days ago, is little better. The 480 pages certainly make up in quantity for what they conspicuously lack in intellectual quality.
Following the passage of the absurd Climate Change Act, under which this country has unilaterally bound itself, by law, to near-total decarbonisation of the economy by 2050, in an effort to demonstrate (once again) "global leadership", the report claims that this "can be achieved at a cost of 1-2 per cent of GDP in 2050. This order of magnitude is consistent with cost estimates from the Stern Review".
[The Stern Review is the supposed but inaccurate summary of the IPPC’s report, drawn up wiltout the approval of those who did the original work! -cs]
Since the committee uses the same methodology and indeed the same model as the Stern Review (which was not peer-reviewed), it is hardly surprising that it comes to the same conclusion. It reminds me of the man who, concerned about the authenticity of a report in his newspaper, bought a second copy of the paper to confirm it.
But as Britain's most eminent energy economist, Professor Dieter Helm, writes in the current issue of the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, "the Stern Report's 1 per cent on which politicians are relying is an assumed number… the cost numbers… [are] all but useless for the purposes of public policy design and implementation".
Professor Helm, incidentally, accepts a view of the climate science at the alarmist end of the spectrum. But that does not attract him to shoddy economics.
It is quite clear that, short of a breakthrough in the technology of non-carbon energy – which may happen, but may not – the only cost-effective response to any feared global warming is to adapt to the consequences.
The dirty little secret is that, so far this century, there has been no recorded global warming; as the Met Office the other day pointed out, sotto voce, 2008 has been, globally, the coldest year of all. That has not stopped the flood of claims of increasing evidence of "climate change" all around us.
Of course, there may well be, as most climate scientists predict, global warming in the future. Meanwhile, welcome to the new science paradigm, in which effects precede cause. I have to confess my own limitations. Unlike Mr Al Gore, Lord Stern, and Lord Turner, I do not know what is going to happen to the planet in the next 100-200 years. But I do know nonsense when I see it.
• Lord Lawson of Blaby was chancellor of the exchequer, 1983-89. He is the author of 'An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming' (Duckworth, £9.99)