Lynne Featherstone writes… Tories’ huge backward step on climate change

A few wind turbines
Today the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, will give a speech to update us all on the Government’s energy policy. What she will say has been widely trailed and it contains some seriously bad news.

The last six months have seen a relentless and systematic unravelling of the excellent work done by Ed Davey to develop the green economy. The Government is now going one step further to deprioritise decarbonisation as a main goal, in favour of making energy security its number one priority. It does not seem to realise it is possible to deliver on both.

Amber Rudd will say she plans to curb the growth of renewable industries even further, with the logical conclusion that there must be an increase in nuclear and gas to meet energy needs. This means expensive subsidies paid to other countries, rather than investment in renewables in the UK, and also fracking.

The most baffling aspect of the Government’s abandonment of the renewable sector is the fact there is such a strong business case for investing in green industries. We might understand their actions if it was just about environmental concern, which Conservatives have never been strong on, and we know of the power wielded by backbench climate-change deniers and fossil fuel lobbyists. But to ignore the long-term economic case in favour of short-term cash gains is extraordinary. The UK has been a world leader in this sector and continuing to invest and develop these job-creating industries while we have a competitive advantage and while the costs of producing renewable energy are plummeting is simply good economic sense.

The timing of this speech is extremely worrying, being just a fortnight before the most significant global conference on climate change that there has ever been. The UN Climate Conference in Paris is a precious opportunity to build a worldwide consensus on tackling climate change. Undermining the UK’s clout in those discussions could potentially have devastating consequences.

It is clear now, if it wasn’t before, that the good work of the Coalition on green issues was entirely down to work of Liberal Democrats. Left on their own the Conservatives have shown that there is no genuine commitment to tackling climate change at all. Amber Rudd’s accusations that DECC over-spent over recent years are inaccurate and quite simply a smoke-screen for politically motivated cuts. The ending of electricity from coal announced today is of course good news, but what most people don’t know is that the Conservatives repeatedly opposed Lib Dem plans to do this during the Coalition. Cost pressures have finally changed their mind.

But while it angers us all to see what the Government is now doing, we should be careful to remember that their actions can only go so far in unpicking what Lib Dems achieved. The solar panels we put on roofs will remain. The wind farms we opened will continue to contribute towards our energy needs. There may be no new ones thanks to the Tories, but we can still be proud of the positive difference we have made. We must continue to fight for a greener economy because we have shown that our actions match our words, and it is clear that for the Tories they do not. Unfortunately Amber Rudd’s speech today makes that crystal clear.

* Lynne Featherstone was the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green from 2005 to 2015, and served as a minister in both the Home Office and Department for International Development. She is now a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and blogs at

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  • One of best known and most popular LibDem women and she’s a spokesperson for energy and climate change – you guys have really forgotten how to win elections. Surely you could find one of your biggest vote winners a more high profile job.

  • I often pointed out on this site that the futility of relying on renewables would lead to power outages. This was the situation last week when NG was forced to introduce emergency measures – and this was before the high winter demand kicks in.

    The grid cannot and will not run on a high level of renewable power for excellent technical reasons. This is why we need power from gas, coal or nuclear. Renewables are useless for powering the grid and would never have been introduced without the ludicrously high subsidies that rigged the market.

  • Climate change alarmism is based on flawed model predictions. Standard practice in normal science is to ditch any model that fails to correctly predict the reality observed for the system it is trying to simulate.

    Climate models continue to predict soaring temperatures while the reality is that there has been no global warming since 1998.

  • David – What did you mean by cheap? Renewables are the most expensive sources of energy by a long way. The subsidies go to the developers and operators, paid for by the consumers. Those who cannot afford a roof over their heads pay carbon tax so that those with lots of roof area can erect solar panels and get rich on the subsidies.

    It is a system that literally takes money from the poor and gives it to the rich. Worse than that, it drives the most vulnerable in our society into fuel poverty. Thousands die each year because they cannot afford to heat themselves.

    This insane obsession with useless renewable energy is driven by climate models that exaggerate a non-problem. Greenhouse warming by carbon dioxide is real, but the impact is virtually negligible. The physics is correct but the application of the science by the models is flawed.

  • Dave Orbison 18th Nov '15 - 4:42pm

    Peter – I not sure you are our right about “climate change alarmism. The NASA site – see link plots trends in CO2, temperature, ice land/water mass and rising sea levels. All seem to be heading on one direction allowing for some mini year-to-year fluctuations.
    I do think we need to distinguish between those labelled as Climate Change deniers between those who are not convinced there is any global warming; those who accept there is but dispute if this is caused or accelerated by man and those who feel nothing can be done to reverse the trend.
    For my part I am persuaded that there is global warming. I think that would happen in any event but that the rate of warming has increased due to the effect of burning fossil fuels and various compounds such as CFC’s. I do not think we will succeed in making much difference to the rate of change. I think the political obstacles to get the likes of China, India, Brazil to make huge cuts in CO2 emissions just will not happen or if they do it will be too late. If there are natural cycles then we may be wasting our resources playing King Canute.
    Perhaps we would do better spending our limited resources on better preparation to deal with the effects of climate change – flood and coast protection and water distribution?
    I am increasingly of the view that our party political system does not serve us well. Perhaps on strategic and controversial issues such as this and such as the issue of whether to have a nuclear deterrent we would be better to deal with these by way of a referendum (perhaps with a minimum turnout threshold). This may even encourage more people to get involved with politics and reverse the trend in recent years of people becoming disillusioned and switched off. The key of course would be to have a lively informed and balanced debate across the UK as we did on the 1970’s when considering “The Common Market”.

  • Dave Orbison – I very much agree with you.

    Beware of Nasa GISS claims. GISS is the small group previously headed by James Hanson of “death coal trains” fame who was a climate activist who kept breaking the law and getting arrested. GISS is also famous for re-writing their entire temperature database every single month including temperatures going back to the 19th Century. They claim this is a quality control procedure but it revises historical temperatures downwards. This practice is currently being investigated by the US Government since some senators have pointed out that it creates a warming trend in the data.

    The former astronaughts with NASA space agency have written several open letters to NASA management complaining that GISS is tarnishing the good name of NASA.

    As an aside, we have had a temperature hiatus for about 17 years so if one of these was the hottest year in a given period then it is not surprising that the rest are too. GISS often makes statements like the “ten hottest years” for effect when in fact it is a consequence of zero warming or cooling. Many consider this to be bad scientific practice for a US Government agency

  • Dave Orbison 18th Nov '15 - 6:02pm

    Peter – interesting comments on NASA. I share your comments on Renewables though I grew up by the River Dee, Flintshire in the 1970’s which has a bore twice a day. I still have my boyhood wonderment as to the power of nature and remain in awe at the power and predictability of tides. I remain bemused as to why, when we are surrounded by tidal waters, we have dragged our feet and pursued renewables such as wind and sunshine which have limited and unpredictable variability. (By tidal I am not restricting ourselves just to river estuaries). Also, though I guess not popular here, I lament our timid approach to nuclear power. It’s as if the sun in nuclear free.

  • Dave Orbison 18th Nov '15 - 6:03pm

    Typo: I meant to say “It’s not as if the sun is exactly a nuclear free zone”.

  • At least tidal power is reliable and predictable, even though it is intermittent.

    Renewable energy has a place in energy supply but it is limited and expensive. The green pretence that renewables can substantially replace coal or gas or nuclear is just a dangerous lie. That is why I fight the assertion every time I see it. The public deserves better. Poor people are dying, energy intensive industry is closing down, jobs are being lost and the economy is suffering because of false claims.

    Solar barely works in the winter and does not work after the sun goes down. Wind only works when the wind is blowing. Both are hugely expensive compared to coal or gas generation. Both are completely unsuitable as the main components for the grid because a continuous, completely steady and controllable source of energy is required for control purposes. Supply must always exactly match demand at all points on the grid and that cannot be achieved with unpredictable energy sources.

    There are many vested interest groups becoming very rich at the consumers’ expense. All in the name of climate change. The damage to the infrastructure is enormous. In Germany they made it mandatory for conventional energy companies to purchase sources of green energy whist taxing conventional energy out of existence. E.ON, for example, made 7.8 billion Euros of loss last quarter and it is no longer profitable to be associated with fossil fuels. The German grid is now so unstable it may collapse at any time.

    The Greens love it. But when the wind stops blowing and it is dark, where will they find the energy to replace the renewables? Amber Rudd is now going to subsidise gas powered generation. This should be completely unnecessary, but the green influence is such that investors see gas as a high risk investment. The insanity goes on, but in this fantasy energy market anything goes. The consumer always picks up the tab.

  • nigel hunter 18th Nov '15 - 10:45pm

    Re wind and sun power, technical breakthroughs are developing all the time in more efficient battery storage, wind and sun have a future. Wave power should be developed . Going for the cheapest ,gas etc in the short run is fine, longer term we need all sorts of fuel technologies. We constantly need more power, therefore more gas therefore more subsidies to the suppliers. Who’s to say that the suppliers will not raise the stakes in the future. Equally nuclear power, the new station, is not going to be on stream for many years, built by the French ,financed by the Chinese , are we to be dependent on others with their own priorities We need to develop our own energy industries not just go for the cheapest fix.

  • Dave Orbison 18th Nov '15 - 11:05pm

    Nigel – Maybe wind will play a part but it is not the same as tidal which is an entirely predictable energy source. Successive Governments have ducked planning for future generation capacity which is why we have the current crisis. Whilst some progress is made in terms of renewable and energy conservation, it is not nearly enough. You are right to say it takes a long time to build new stations which makes past Govt failings all the more lamentable. But my main point is one I think you did not understand or perhaps agree with. We are currently, and for the foreseeable future, at the complete mercy of Russia for gas. Nuclear and tidal are the energy sources were we could be self sufficient hence my concern irrespective of CO2 emissions.

  • Peter “No global “warming” since 1998. Perhaps you have not heard of the El Nino event already under way – the fact that this is already the hottest year at the earth’s surface? Deniers such as you have used the plateau in the rise in surface temperature to bolster your case. All the research so far indicates strongly that warming effects in recent years have been concentrated in the deep oceans. El Nino’s reappearance now may confirm that, and I think we are now heading for very severe storms similar to Haiyan which hit the Philippines a year or so back.

    Mitigation, flood control etc. Yes, of course, but without large scale and urgent action on fossil fuels we will still end up in a wrecked world, accompanied by devastation to all life on the planet.

  • SIMON BANKS 19th Nov '15 - 3:54pm

    I’m amazed at Malc’s comment. He obviously thinks these issues are profoundly unimportant; or alternatively, that the biggest issue facing the world should be low on our priorities until everybody else thinks it’s important.

    Yes, the Tory line is both frightening and surprising. It’s either stupidity, or just some people whispering in their ears.

  • A full transcript of Amber Rudd’s speech may be found here:

    It would be interesting to see Lynne’s comments upon the actual speech, which seems reasonable and logical and doesn’t really warrant the scaremongering; but then I suspect what was trailed was deliberately abridged to be more contentious, just to see the response…

  • Denis Mollison 21st Nov '15 - 7:13pm

    Roland – Amber Rudd’s speech does largely seem “reasonable and logical” when one reads it. Its problems are largely in what it doesn’t say – for example killing off the photovoltaic solar industry when it was on track to get subsidy-free in 5 years or so. Nor does it admit that the new nuclear power staion is far from being left to the market as it should be with the approach she advocates: it is only going ahead because of its government guaranteed price.

    And if we’re serious about preventing catastrophic climate change, we shouldn’t be sloganising that green energy has to be cheap energy; the slogan should be that “carbon energy has to be expensive energy”.

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