Robert McIlveen is a Research Fellow in Policy Exchange’s Energy and Environment Unit.
ConservativeHome’s survey of PPCs’ views on a range of policies has brought up some surprising results. Bearing in mind the questions asked, which focused on the next 4 years only, it is little surprise that “reducing Britain’s carbon footprint” came bottom of the pile. Even as an environment policy wonk, I would put plenty of things on the list higher for the next four years. In some sense, it is more striking that new schools, the West Lothian Question and Victory in Afghanistan came towards the bottom than climate change came last.
Climate change is a complicated, long-term issue with more uncertainty than many of those arguing for radical decarbonisation would admit. The fact that the UK will experience few effects which require serious adjustment in the coming years does make doing nothing tempting. Indirect medium term effects, however, are likely to be sufficiently severe to raise it up the agenda. For example, immigration to the UK will become more attractive, both from Europe but especially form other parts of the world, if a fraction of the predictions made come to pass.
Of course, these predictions are at the heart of the debate. Climate modelling has taken a battering recently, especially in the wake of the CRU emails which have undermined confidence in the science entirely. While we should not lose track of the basic science – CO2 is a greenhouse gas and we have pumped a lot of it into the atmosphere – what that means for our climate and society is less clear. How much to avoid emissions and prepare for adaptation entirely depends on what you expect to happen.
To that end the sensible strategy is related to cost. There are some things, for example energy efficiency, which provide savings immediately and are worth doing in any case. However, the rationale behind putting most of the UK’s climate eggs in the wind basket is not clear – it is one of the more expensive technologies and has some significant downsides. This is an issue we are looking at in our Rational Environmentalism project.
Climate change is one of the worst debates in contemporary politics. That the terms “denialist” and “eco-fascist” are regularly used reflects the unhinged tone of the debate. A sensible approach to a long-term problem riven with uncertainty would be very welcome.