letter from Dame Lucy Doolittle to all departments
I am writing to urge all departments to stress in all their output the importance of tackling climate change vigorously. I have been disappointed to see the lacklustre response of some in the media and amongst the commentariat to the bold and comprehensive proposals of the Climate Change Secretary and feel we should do more to help Ministers.
The background to this is most important. The Thatcher government energy privatisations were sold on economic grounds. It is true they did deliver a 20% reduction in electricity prices along with profits on shares acquired by public subscription, but this was not sustainable. We need to stress that this was at the expense of the externalities, as you should not let the free market loose in such a sensitive area. It has been well said that climate change highlights a most glaring market imperfection, as the market does not seek to limit carbon emissions when producing power. You need government intervention to achieve that. It means we need to regulate comprehensively, and ensure more of the money is directed to good purposes which we can specify.
Fortunately we can say this in public, as this is not in party political dispute. All three main political parties agree on the science, and agree that tackling carbon dioxide emissions is a priority. The Greens wish them to go further, faster. We do however need to deal comprehensively and strongly with three canards in the public debate.
The first is to reply to those who point out that the Uk has now had three cool and wet summers and two cold winters in a row, seeking to undermine the idea that the climate is warming. Climate is different from weather, as we keep saying. Howver, if the weather is persistently colder, we need to stress the argument that the UK is a small part of the planet and what is true here is not necessarily true elsewhere. We should also always use the phrase “climate change” rather than “global warming”, so it covers shifts in weather patterns to the colder as well as to the warmer. It would be helpful if those of you who have visited warmer countries and cities like Cancun could furnish us with the relevant reports on weather there to underline the point about variability.
The second is to deal with those who say UK human output of carbon dioxide is such a small element in the total world supply of the gas that we cannot make any difference to the overall rise. It is mainly for Ministers to deal with this, but we should brief them to say that the Uk is a leader in the field, that it isa moral imperative, and that the poorer countries will suffer most from unabated climate change.
The third is to combat those who argue that the UK’s policies will put up industrial costs in a way which will harm British manufacturers and lose us jobs. There is scope for disagreement about how much the carbon levy and the guaranteed electricity price will involve higher bills. I would advise that we decline to give complete forecasts, on the grounds that much still remains to be settled before we can work out what it might all cost. We should continue to stress to Ministers the opportunities from low and no carbon technologies and turn attention to the green jobs revolution away from detailed arguments about the prices and costs of power and the impact on the costs of production of other items.
This is an important issue. Our critics do not like to admit that government has an important role in areas like energy. Without government power would be so much cheaper, which would mean so much more carbon would be expelled into the atmosphere. I know you will want to help us deal with this problem, and ensure we meet our EU targets for renewables and emission controls. The revenues from the carbon tax are also an important part of our deficit reduction strategy.