I recently wrote to the Rt. Hon. Chris Huhne MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, drawing his attention to a recent article by Bjorn Lomborg, pointing out that the costs of climate change mitigation would greatly exceed any conceivable benefits (even if, like Lomborg, you still cling to the view that CO2 emissions play a significant part in climate change). His reply to my earlier letter, (which was sent by an aide called Ashley), and my subsequent reply to him, appear below.
I am most grateful for the Secretary of State’s reply. He quotes the Stern Report. I wonder if he is aware that the Stern Report is an outlier amongst economic studies by reputable economists, most of which conclude that the costs of mitigation exceed any probable benefits (even assuming the validity of AGW). Does he recall that the previous government’s own cost/benefit analysis of the UK’s Climate Change Bill showed that costs exceed benefits? And that this embarrassing reality was only resolved by the government arbitrarily increasing its benefit estimate?
Whilst I am writing, I recall that the Secretary of State has boasted that “The lights won’t go out on my watch”. But many informed commentators in the industry take a very different view. I wonder if Mr. Huhne has read the new book by Derek Birkett, a former grid control engineer, published by Stacey International, and entitled “When Will the Lights Go Out?”, arguing that this is exactly what will happen? This point has been made by a number of industry and academic experts.
Many in the industry believe that:
(A) The proposed number of wind turbines cannot be built in anything like the proposed timescale;
(B) If they were built, and if 25 to 30% of UK generating capacity relied on wind, it would become impossible to balance the grid and to guarantee security of supply;
(C) The costs of adapting the grid to an extensive distributed supply would be prohibitive:
(D) That in any case, because the wind is intermittent it would be necessary to provide back-up “spinning reserve” of at least 90% of the anticipated wind capacity: there seem to be no credible plans to provide this reserve.
I’m afraid that I find Mr. Huhne’s plans entirely implausible, and I am seriously worried about energy security. A major energy crisis around 2016/2017 could cost the UK economy more than the recent banking crisis.
ROGER HELMER MEP
From: PS Chris Huhne
Sent: 05 August 2010 12:53
Subject: RE: Bjorn Lomborg
Thank you for bringing Bjørn Lomborg’s article to my attention.
There is a broader range of evidence that questions the conclusions made in the article: that the costs of tackling climate change outweigh the benefits.
The article argues that the EU has underestimated the cost of tackling climate change. A variety of different organisations have made estimates of the costs to the EU of meeting its 2020 emissions reduction targets (e.g. OECD , IIASA , Ecofys ). While there is uncertainty associated with these estimates, all of them draw a similar conclusion: that the costs of tackling climate change are relatively small and manageable. Indeed the figures produced by the EU Commission are at the higher end of the cost estimates.
The article also argues that the benefits to the EU of reducing emissions are small in terms of the avoided damage costs of climate change. Lomborg quotes an estimated benefit per emission saved of £4.50/tCO2. This figure is the lowest estimate in a range presented by Professor Richard Tol who, in turn, has produced estimates which sit at the bottom end of the range made by academics in the field. The conclusions of the article are very different to those of the Stern Review , which concluded that the global costs of tackling climate change are likely to be around 1% of GDP, while the cost of inaction (and therefore the benefits of reducing emissions) are likely to exceed 5% of GDP.
Finally, Lomborg argues that the EU should look to tackle climate change by investing in R&D for green technologies rather than reducing emissions today. I agree that R&D investment is an important element of tackling climate change but the evidence shows that we also need to reduce emissions now; the longer we delay taking action to mitigate climate change, the less likely we are to limit temperature rises to less than 2°c and the more likely we are to increase the costs of action .
I hope you find this critique of the analysis useful and look forward to engaging with you on climate change issues in the future.