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Coffee House

How Oliver Letwin lost his Kyoto bet with Nigel Lawson

6 January 2013

1:09 PM

6 January 2013

1:09 PM

Not that anyone has noticed, but the Kyoto Protocol expired on 31 December, with  carbon emissions up by 58pc over 1990 levels – instead the 5pc cut the signatories envisaged. All that fuss for worse-than-nothing. Kyoto has not been replaced, because a new era of climate change rationalism is slowly taking root. As Nigel Lawson predicted, the hysteria of the last few years is cooling. There’s no point legislating for change that’s not going to happen. No point taxing the poor out of the sky (or off the roads) if it won’t make the blindest bit of difference to the trajectory of global warming. To be sure, countries responsible for 15pc of emissions have signed an extension of Kyoto. But the main players have drawn a veil over this rather hysterical chapter in the great energy debate.

Even David Cameron has gone cold on warming. In 2006, the Prime Minister captured the mood with his husky dog trip to Svalbard and advised people to “vote blue and go green”. Nigel Lawson, ex-editor of The Spectator, told Cameron’s policy chief Oliver Letwin that this mania would pass – and, crucially, that Kyoto would expire without any successor. In his column in this week’s magazine, Martin Vander Weyer reveals a conversation he had with Lord Lawson over Christmas where the ex-Chancellor revealed that he:-

…bet Oliver Letwin — now David Cameron’s policy co-ordinator — that the Kyoto Protocol on carbon reduction would reach its expiry date on 31 December 2012 without a substantial successor treaty being signed to enforce binding cutbacks in emissions. ‘There has been no new agreement, let alone a “substantial” one,’ declares Lawson, brandishing an email from Letwin that concludes: ‘Shall I send a cheque to the House of Lords?’

The irony is that the rich countries are anyway modifying their behaviour, as greener shale gas becomes more widely available. As we said in the leading article of the Christmas double issue:

 While the rich world’s economies grew by 6 per cent over the last seven years, fossil fuel consumption in those countries fell by 4 per cent. This remarkable (and, again, unreported) achievement has nothing to do with green taxes or wind farms. It is down to consumer demand for more efficient cars and factories.

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So there is no more talk from the government about “leading a new green revolution in Britain.” Instead we have the much more sensible Osborne doctrine, revealed in the 2011 Tory conference. The central tenet is very clear:-

“Let’s at the very least resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe.”

Under the Climate Change Act, as it is currently structured, the government is legally bound to cut Britain’s carbon emissions by 34 per cent by the end of this decade. The rest of the EU, on the other hand, has only committed to 20 per cent. So the Climate Change Act needs revision.

Kyoto shows that all this pious summitry succeeds in nothing more than raising new taxes (which usually hit the poorest hardest). America shows that new technology and greater efficiency is the best way of dealing with the energy problem. It may pain the environmentalists to admit it, but fracking may yet do more to stem carbon emissions than Kyoto ever did.

 

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