'Green washing' at the Committee on Climate Change

It is vital when the government is receiving ‘independent’ advice to have bodies that contain a broad spectrum of opinion. Unfortunately, in the case of the CCC, a whole new meaning to the term 'green washing' comes to mind

Green energy is 'plugged in' at the CCC
Guy Bentley
On 3 December 2012 14:44

Ahead of the autumn statement, and in the midst of the UK's continuing economic woes, one of the most pressing areas of policy is energy. Affordable energy is a fundamental cornerstone of any vibrant economy, reducing costs for businesses as well as living costs for consumers. This is why the advice our government receives in this crucial area is a subject of immense importance.

It is highly disturbing therefore that the supposedly independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) appears to be stacked with those who are wholly convinced that the UK needs a programme of massive decarbonisation, pursued almost entirely through expensive and inefficient renewables, instead of a more gradual approach exploring the potential of shale gas.

The head of the CCC, the controversial Lord Deben, in his first interview since taking the job, has declared that government plans for 20 gas-fired power stations – that will run without carbon capture and storage technology until 2045 – would be ''incompatible'' with meeting the UK's carbon budgets.

He clarified: "I'm a very strong believer in the Climate Change Act – I was part of the team that did it. What we wanted to do was to help governments of all political parties to get over the fundamental democratic difficulty of long term policies. I think this is an absolutely essential mechanism, as we have to have long term policies", before lending us his thoughts on fracking: "There is a feeling in some quarters that gas is going to be very cheap. This is not true, in so far as we know."

The CCC's responsibilities include providing independent advice to Government on setting and meeting carbon budgets and targets; conducting independent research and analysis into climate change; engaging with representatives interested in climate change from across the UK in order to share research and information on climate change and gain input into analysis.

Vital then, I’m sure you’ll agree, to our economic performance. But when one examines the backgrounds and interests of the members of the CCC, one can only conclude that this is a committee that is unlikely to be supportive of any new and cheap sources of energy that are not currently on the green lobby’s priority list.

Let’s start with Lord Deben, chair of the committee. He is chairman of Sancroft International, an environmental consultancy, as well as Forewind, an offshore wind company. He also has shareholdings in Valpak environmental solutions. Factor in his further holdings in ZeroC – which builds low carbon homes and commercial buildings – and it is perhaps not surprising that Lord Deben's appointment to the CCC was heartily endorsed by Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins: "We're delighted by this appointment - Lord Debden has been a passionate champion of a thriving green economy for many years."

And what about David Kennedy, the CCC’s chief executive? Kennedy has previously worked with an organisation called the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, an organisation set up with a £12 million donation from the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment. The foundation’s founder, investor Jeremy Grantham, is a man who argues “that the late-18th-century doomsayer Thomas Malthus pretty much got it right but just had the bad timing to make his predictions about unsustainable population growth”. He also urges us to “outgrow our touching faith in the efficiency of markets and boundless human ingenuity.”

If that doesn’t tell you enough, Grantham is also a fan of Paul Ehrlich, the environmentalist who wrote 'Population Bomb' in the 1960s, predicting disasters for humanity due to overpopulation in the 70s and 80s and advocated immediate action to limit population growth.

The Grantham Institute is convinced that drastic measures must be taken within the next few years to prevent what might “potentially lead to momentous changes in natural, economic and social systems”.

Unfortunately, there is little in the way of challenge to the chair and chief executive’s interests. Jim Skea, for example, another member of the CCC, is vice-chair of Working Group III (Mitigation) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He acted as Launch Director for the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, and is also a non-executive director of Blackrock New Energy Investment Trust plc which, among other things, specialises in investing in the renewable energy sector.

Then there’s Lord May – Trustee of World Wildlife Fund-UK, and President of the British Ecological Society. He has spoken about how religion could be used as a tool to combat climate change and that religious leaders should be doing more to persuade people to combat climate change. He is also on the International Advisory Board of the Sustainable Consumption Institute, Manchester University.

And Lord Krebs who, whilst having no clear environmental agenda, does seem to have a fondness for big government: "Insights can help us, to some degree but no, they're not the alternative to other approaches. They're not a kind of get out of jail card if the government wants to avoid tougher approaches like taxation and regulation. It's got be to a mixture of things, including regulation and financial incentives." He is also a trustee of the left leaning Nuffield foundation.

Finally, we come face to face with the Grantham Institute for Climate Change once again with Sir Brian Hoskins (director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change) and Samuel Frankhauser (co-director of the Grantham Institute For Climate Change and author of: The UK government should stick to a plan of aggressive de-carbonisation and avoid the temptation of a new dash for gas) making up the numbers at the CCC.

It is vital when the government is receiving ‘independent’ advice to have bodies that contain a broad spectrum of expertise and opinion. The committee on climate change does not contain one person from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, for example, yet has three who have or are currently also working with the Grantham Institute for Climate Change.

Would it not be reasonable for the public and media to be highly sceptical if a body which had a duty to report impartially on the future of the oil industry, and what the UK government’s policy options were to be in this area, was made up of former employees and shareholders in Shell, BP, and ExxonMobil?

The same scepticism should apply to those who seek massive changes to our economic way of life including subsidies for wind power and the stifling of fracking. The Chancellor should always listen to advice from experts in the field but he should not be blind to the fact that public bodies have agendas of their own and that economic growth is not everyone’s top priority. 

Guy Bentley is a Libertarian blogger. Follow him on Twitter @gbentley1

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