Mr Huhne has brought out a publication entitled “Carbon Plan”. In it he says:
“Climate change is one of the greatest threats to both UK and global security and prosperity…..without action to curb emissions there is a very high risk of global warming well beyond 2 degress relative to pre-industrial times.” This he thinks will lead to melting of ice sheets (presumably land based),and a major sea level rise.
His paper contains a global average temperature table for the last 160 years. This shows that it was getting colder from the 1870s to the 1910s, and in the 1940s to the 1950s. The rest of those decades it was getting warmer. There is no explanation of why for almost half the time during the long period of industrialisation chosen, it should have been getting colder.
Selling global warming antidotes is made more difficult by the succession of two cool wet summers and two cold snowy winters. I appreciate the theorists will write in and tell me this is just weather, but we have had a lot of weather recently.
Mr Huhne not only believes that global warming is caused by excess CO2, and that this comes from human activity, but he also believes that the one response we should make is to cut a portion of the 2% of man made CO2 emissions that come from the UK. He proposes a £110 billion investment in new low carbon electricity generation, substantial increases in energy efficiency investment in homes and commercial premises, and the development of electric vehicles.
He forecasts that over the six years 2009-2015 the Uk could create an extra 100,000 jobs in green activities. This was a lower figure than I was expecting him to claim. He anticipates the electricity generation investment flowing from a high floor price for carbon, feed in tariffs, back up capacity for windmills and other intermittent ways of generation, and an overall limit on how much carbon dioxide any generating plant can give off.
As Mr Huhne acknowledges, this is a global problem, and the UK’s contribution to the output of CO2 is modest. One way for the UK to get her output down to the tough target levels Mr Huhne wishes would be to cut back on energy intensive activities like cement manufacture, steel making, glass making, aluminium smelting and process industry in general. Unfortunately, if our demand for these goods was merely satisfied by imports rather than home production there would no reduction overall in CO2, and we would be the poorer for it.
That is why Mr Huhne needs to consider very carefully what price he is going to set for his floor price or carbon tax level. If the UK sets it much higher than elsewhere, we will merely lose our industry without cutting overall world output of CO2. The government’s general policy is to build up manufacturing, to welcome more industry. Industry is energy intensive. If we are successful in building up industry it will make hitting the CO2 and energy targets that much more difficult. If the UK sets too high aprice for carbon and therefore for power, it will make it very difficult to attract new industry, and difficult even to keep all the energy intensive activities we still have. Energy intensive industry spends more on energy than on wages. It is a very important cost. The UK is in danger of becoming uncompetitive on its energy prices.
I am all in favour of better deals to make it worthwhile for people to save energy. I am also strongly in favour of getting on with putting in the extra and replacement electricity capacity we need, and with making the Uk more energy self sufficient in a politically unstable world.