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Matthew Sinclair: The Guardian/Greenpeace investigation isn't convincing. Conservative MEPs have made up their own mind to oppose even more radical EU emissions targets

By Matthew Sinclair

The Guardian released an investigation they have carried out with Greenpeace yesterday evening, which claims to show that the fossil fuel interests have been furiously lobbying Conservative MEPs against a higher EU target for emissions cuts.  Chris Huhne has apparently launched an investigation into who "got to" those MEPs and made them vote the new target down.

The idea that armies of corporate lobbyists are the reason why radical plans to curb emissions don't make progress is a longstanding environmentalist myth.  I devote some time in my new book Let them eat carbon to setting out how that isn't the case, quite the opposite.  But it is worth taking a quick look at the facts behind these latest claims, to set the record straight and give MEPs the credit they deserve.

To give the Guardian journalists the credit they deserve, they do link straight to their original sources.  But looking at those documents it is clear that many of the "meetings with fossil fuel companies, car-makers and others against stronger action on global warming" were probably nothing to do with the decision on the overall target.  Looking at the more recent dataset, here is a rough account of the first meetings on the list. From skimming the rest of the document they seem fairly representative.

The first eighteen are all with motor manufacturers and appear to be about emission performance standards for new light commercial vehicles.  I doubt there was much talk about the overall emissions target and each firm will simply have been trying to ensure the mix of vehicles they make weren't hit too hard.  The next five are with energy companies who were at a European Energy Forum (EEF) dinner debate on the role of nuclear power.  Given that nuclear power is a low carbon source of energy, the debate was almost certainly about which sources should be used to meet an emissions target, not what the target should be.  After that, eleven were at an EEF dinner debate on energy policy.  Again I doubt that was focussed on the merits of the overall target. The energy companies were probably promoting their company's preferred means by which a target can be reached.

Look at the EEF website.  It looks like a typically bland Brussels talking shop. Associate members, which include renewable and conventional energy firms get an open platform to talk to MEPs at dinner debates and similar events.

The next meeting is with the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Association at Conservative Party Conference.  Their technology only makes sense with a tough emissions target.  They won't have been arguing against a tougher one, but for more support for CCS within that framework.

I've been to plenty of events where corporate lobbyists have put their case in this area.  They never focus on the overall target and whether it is a good idea. Instead they argue for the set of policies to meet the target that will make them the most money.  Fair enough, they're supposed to look out for their shareholders, but to weigh that against the resources of the big green campaigns, supported by the EU and public sector bodies in the UK with millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, is incredibly misleading.

Anyone who has met Roger Helmer knows that he doesn't need the encouragement of any lobbyist to oppose expensive climate regulations.  He can make up his own mind.  And Martin Callanan has a pretty simple explanation of his position:

"Europe already has the world's most ambitious targets and, in the absence of a worldwide agreement, forcing business and industry to pay more for their CO2 emissions in Europe will merely result in them relocating outside of the EU."

With families struggling to pay mounting energy bills and factories closing, that is eminently reasonable.  If Chris Huhne wants to understand why the higher target didn't pass, he should look to people's real concerns over the cost of ineffective climate policies instead of trying to find oilmen under the bed.


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