British Actions Lag Behind Kyoto Rhetoric

Published April 1, 2005

A United Kingdom (UK) government watchdog group has reported the government’s plan to mandate the use of renewal energy sources will increase consumer energy prices by 5 percent.

According to the February 11 London Times, “The generation of 10 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources, a central part of the Prime Minister’s plan to put Britain at the forefront of international efforts to tackle climate change, are set to cost the consumer more than £1 billion a year by 2010.

“The National Audit Office’s report on renewable energy said that the Government was on course to achieve a significant increase in renewable power but that challenges remained if the 10 percent target was to be reached by 2010. Progress had been slow, with only 2.4 percent of energy coming from renewable sources in the past financial year, against a hoped 4.3 percent.

“Development of renewable energy is being encouraged by the Renewables Obligation, which buys renewable power for £70 per megawatt hour, compared with a market price closer to £25 per megawatt hour. Public support for the renewables industry is expected to average £700 million a year between 2003 and 2006.

“Two-thirds of this will come from the Renewables Obligation, with costs passed on to consumers through higher bills. As consumers face higher bills, the Treasury will gain between £500 million and £1 billion from the complicated subsidy system established to encourage windfarms and other sources of renewable energy.”

Actions Clashing with Rhetoric

The actions of the British government on global warming continue to be at odds with its rhetoric, particularly that of Chief Scientific Advisor David King. Prime Minister Tony Blair told a panel of MPs on February 7 that he would not countenance a climate-related tax on aircraft fuel, asking them, “How many politicians will vote to end cheap air travel with an election coming up?”

Moreover, The Journal reported on February 8 the Blair government blocked an attempted by an MP to introduce legislation aimed at encouraging “public facilities like hospitals and schools and private developments to utilize renewable energy heating systems fueled by renewable sources including biomass, solar power, and ground heat. It would have allowed energy suppliers to either invest in their own supplies of renewable heat energy or buy in ‘credits’ from companies that specialize in the technology.”

The Blair government also reacted angrily when the European Commission said it would forbid an increase in the allocations the UK Government had proposed to give to industry for the start of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. The row caused the delay of UK trading, which had been expected to begin with the allocation announcement on February 7. Blair told the panel of MPs, “The reason our figure has changed from the estimate is because the facts have changed.”

India, China Not Participating

King has suggested China and India should no longer be exempt from emissions reduction targets. Speaking to a gathering of Indian scientists in Bangalore, he noted, “In the next phase, we need to discuss with China, discuss with India how to (make them) come aboard the process. … It would be fair to say the Chinese government is very much aware of this problem and the Indian government is keen to listen to what we have to say.”

This characterization is somewhat at odds with the actions of Chinese and Indian representatives at the December 2004 COP-10 Convention on Climate Change in Buenos Aires, where they strongly resisted calls for mandatory emissions targets for their nations. King’s apparently tenuous grasp of geopolitics is illustrated further by his statement expressing optimism that the United States would become a full party to the Kyoto Protocol: “If you talk to people in the United States, you will find they are keen to get involved.”

Iain Murray ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in the debate over climate change and the use and abuse of science in the political process. Myron Ebell ([email protected]) oversees global warming and international environmental work at CEI and chairs the Cooler Heads Coalition, a subgroup of the National Consumers Coalition that focuses on climate change issues.