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Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm: The Climate Change Act subsidises offshore wind power at three times the market price of electricity (photo: Statkraft, via Flickr)

The new British government should not just rethink the Human Rights Act: it should also repeal the Climate Change Act (CCA) 2008, the brainchild of Ed Miliband and possibly his most baleful legacy. The CCA commits the UK to legally-binding carbon dioxide reduction targets which are expensive and increasingly detached from global economic reality. Its implementation is predicated on extravagant assumptions about energy (especially oil) prices and is vested in unaccountable institutions designed to give preordained advice and analysis. Above all, the CCA sets in political concrete an anti-free-market philosophy that places a particular view of the environment ahead of the needs of people.

The Act established a wonderfully British quango called the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Its statutory task is to advise the government on matters related to the CO2 reduction target, and, in particular, whether the targets should be amended, and why. In fact it does much more than this, policing the energy policy discussion in government and academia.

None of the CCC’s seven members comes from the energy industry or has worked in business of any sort. They are either academics — distinguished ones, admittedly — or superior policy wonks. The chairman Lord Deben, the former Tory minister John Selwyn Gummer, told me last year he wished that the energy industry had spoken up when the CCA and subsequently the Energy Act (2013) were being formulated: “We didn’t always understand the effect of the measures we proposed.”

The CCA was the product of intensive lobbying of a receptive Labour government by environmental groups like Friends of the Earth, with the support of the renewables industry. The public had been primed by relentless global warming propaganda, exemplified by Al Gore’s meretricious film, An Inconvenient Truth. The Conservatives were in on it too. In 2005, Bryony Worthington, the environmental activist who basically wrote the CCA, had spoken to the new Tory leader, David Cameron, who wanted to rebrand his party blue-green. When David Miliband, then at Defra, heard this, he moved swiftly to steal the Tories’ clothes. The bandwagon began to roll. The younger Miliband, Ed, grabbed the reins.

Parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill was negligible. The only MP who actually read the economic impact statement was the former Tory minister Peter Lilley. He pointed out that the government’s basic impact forecasts showed a net effect on the economy ranging anywhere between a positive £52 billion and a negative £95 billion. These estimates did not include transition costs — that is, the costs of infrastructure and other capital adjustments implied by the shift to low-carbon technology — which by 2015 have already run into tens of billions of pounds. Nor did they address trade and competitiveness impacts, which should have been of concern when the UK was taking unilateral action to raise its industrial costs in a global marketplace. Three Tories — Lilley, Andrew Tyrie and Anne Widdecombe — were the only MPs who voted no. The entire Tory shadow cabinet supported the Bill, and Commons debates were notable for mutual congratulation between MPs of all parties. Climate change was — and to an extent still is — a topic which politicians of all stripes feel confident will make them sound disinterested, high-minded and caring: they certainly do not want to sound like greedy despoilers of the earth.

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August 21st, 2015
9:08 AM
David Cameron and the Conservatives were huge supporters of the CCA, and it would not have happened without them. It is a much respected and copied act around the world. It would be criminally short sighted to abolish it. Offshore wind is already cheaper than nuclear and solar and onshore wind much more so. They are closing in on gas too.. a few years of high subsidies does not undermine the case for renewables.

No Good Boyo
July 23rd, 2015
5:07 PM
So Millie's CCA requirements are legally binding. What if a government failed to meet them? Would the prime minister go to jail?

June 29th, 2015
10:06 AM
The creation of expensive electricity has several downsides. It increases inequality with some having to turn their electricity/gas off as bills are too high to meet. It will increase existing trends for businesses to relocate to parts of the world where energy is cheaper. I so nor believe there has been any government research at EU or UK level into effects on the economy because they want this policy regardless. Electricity is only 10-20% of energy use in most countries so cutting fossil fuel based electricity by 20% is only 2-4% reduction of total fossil fuel consumption. Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs

John Dub
June 29th, 2015
8:06 AM
The CCA is very similar to most of current Labour policy - it makes the Islington set feel more self righteous, and it makes the working classes significantly poorer. And you wonder why you just took a beating at the election?

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