The children’s author Lemony Snicket named his highly successful series of books A Series of Unfortunate Events. This title drips with irony, since the awful and apparently endless troubles of the orphaned Baudelaire twins have nothing to do with chance, but instead are very much the result of an intentional campaign waged by the wicked Count Olaf in order to get his hands on their family fortune.
In this post I argue that a mirror image of this construction can be found in some of the recent boosterism about the UK’s record on climate policy, and especially the ease with which the first two carbon budgets have been met. Rather than a simple story about the success of policies adopted under the Climate Change Act (CCA), promoted as a model for the rest of the world, I would argue that what has actually happened is a more complex and nuanced tale, in which a degree of good luck has played a major part.
Starting about 15 years ago, Britain saw a wave of heightened concern about climate change. It emerged in the spring of 2004, peaked in late 2006 and by the early 2010s had largely dissipated. But concern about climate change has made a dramatic comeback in 2019. This year has seen a ‘climate spring’ – the school strikes for climate, the net zero report by the Committee on Climate Change and above all the demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion have all pushed the issue way back the agenda. A climate emergency has been declared by multiple bodies and authorities, including Parliament. How far are things different this time round?
This post first appeared on the IGov blog.
The announcement today from six House of Commons Select Committees that they are to hold a Citizens Assembly (CA) on how we might achieve a pathway to net zero emissions is a major step. The move is clearly inspired by (and made under pressure from) the upsurge of activism on climate change – school strikes, Extinction Rebellion protests, the resurgence of the Green New Deal and the declaration by numerous institutions, including Parliament, of a ‘climate emergency’ (as well as a bit of encouragement from IGov’s Dr Becky Willis).
I would argue that the Select Committees holding a CA is particularly important in the UK context. Continue reading
This morning former Shadow Chancellor and Strictly star Ed Balls waded into the current controversy about the role of an independent Bank of England. Along with Gordon Brown, Balls was the man who pulled the rabbit of central bank independence out of the hat the day after the 1997 election that brought Labour to power. Today Balls argued that:
‘If in the end when things start to go wrong, everything is concentrated in the Bank of England only, that is politically dangerous for the Bank. So in order to protect independence, the Bank needs more political support and accountability’
Balls’ intervention comes after Theresa May’s criticism of quantitative easing in the Tory party conference speech in October, and then a series of more direct attacks by senior Tory politicians on Mark Carney, the Bank’s Governor, most recently by Jacob Rees-Mogg. There have also been attacks on the US’s Federal Bank by Donald Trump. Continue reading
Much of the discussion of today’s Budget
will be about wins for pensioners and bingo players, but another winner was energy-intensive industry. Setting the background, the Budget text involved some fairly selective data and glided over a few inconvenient facts. Continue reading
Guy Newey, head of environment and energy at the centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange has written a critique of my post on the politics of carbon pricing. Just a few further thoughts in response: Continue reading
The anti-renewables bandwagon is rolling ever faster. This started some time ago, but has now started to bite on policy, as seen in the EU’s 2030 proposals which contain no binding renewables target. There is an emerging view, to be found especially amongst economists (including The Economist) and on the centre-right (as opposed to the hard right anti-all climate policy view) that the focus should shift away from renewables support and back towards carbon pricing. Carbon pricing, the argument goes, will deliver emissions reduction at least cost. The implication is that, because it will be much cheaper than renewables, it will be politically a lot more popular, or at least easier.
I see two reasons for thinking that it’s not as simple as it seems, and that putting all hope in carbon pricing and backing off from renewables policy may run into trouble. Continue reading