BBC Radio 4 World At One on Donald Trump and climate change – 13 minutes in
BBC Radio 4 World At One on Donald Trump and climate change – 13 minutes in
On Thursday morning in Brussels, I attended a breakfast briefing on the Commission’s plans for “A bio-economy for Europe”. It was billed as follows: “In 2012, the European Commission adopted the strategy ‘Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bioeconomy for Europe’ — including agriculture, forestry, fisheries food and chemicals — stressed the importance of the bioeconomy sector as it provides an annual turnover in Europe of € 2 trillion employing around 22 million people. Forest-based bioeconomy is an important player in the picture as the forest-based industries have a production value of € 365 billion providing more than 3 million jobs”.
We heard a lot about the circular economy, the green economy, the blue economy (don’t ask), and so on. Forests and other bio-products can be used not just for energy and biomass, but for chemicals, cosmetics, textiles (I happen to own a sports jacket made from bamboo), construction materials and other uses. Mushrooms, blueberries and other food crops can be grown in forests. The opportunities are endless.
Apparently the 21st century economy will be powered by wind, and we will have wooden houses (each ton of concrete saved represents two tons of CO2 emissions, they said). It would be unkind to point out that these two technologies (wind power and wood construction), far from being ultra-modern, are millennia old.
After interminable speeches from forest-related interests, I managed to get a word in edgeways:
“I think everyone in this room this morning will be gratified to reflect that today’s elevated level of atmospheric CO2 means more plant growth, higher crop yields and faster bio-mass formation. But I fear that there are some conflicting trends in the use of forestry products. I was recently approached by the European chip-board industry. You will recognise that wood-chip-board is a key construction material, with high insulation properties, and will become even more important if we build more wooden houses.
“Yet the industry is facing problems. Previously it was the main user of forest waste from saw-mills – the branches too small to be used as timber. But now, with its basic raw material in demand from the bio-fuels sector, the price of this forest waste has increased and is undermining the chipboard industry.
“I have been following these issues for all my eighteen years in the parliament. Ten years ago, we thought that bio-fuels were the silver bullet to slay the dragon of CO2 emissions and global warming. Then we started to realise that the husbandry of bio-fuel crops, plus their transportation and processing, required considerable energy inputs, undermining their emissions savings. Later yet, we started to worry about ILUC, the indirect land use change consequent upon the allocation of agricultural land for bio-fuel crops. Factoring this in, we found that the savings achieved by biofuels ranged from derisory to negative.
“An example from my own country, the UK. We used to have a large coal-fired power station, called Drax. You may have heard of it. In a grand green gesture, it was converted to bio-mass and wood chip. So now we cut down mature forests in the USA, and we chip the wood (a very energy-intensive process). We truck the wood-chip to the port, we transport it across the Atlantic in diesel-powered ships, and we truck it or rail it from the UK port to the power station. Several studies reportedly suggest that the net savings in CO2 are derisory – and the power station produces less power than before, at significantly higher cost. This is gesture politics run mad.
I think we need to take great care that our bio-fuel initiatives do actually achieve the objectives we set for them.
There was no point (on this day when President Trump has pulled out of the Paris Climate Deal) in raising the point that cutting CO2emissions is pointless anyway. They already knew my views on that.
Earlier this week I attended a dinner-debate in Brussels on the EU’s proposals for energy efficiency targets. The plans are marked (like most EU plans) by overwhelming complexity, and several speakers made a good case that the proposals would have far greater impact on poorer member-states with relatively lower capita energy consumption, than on wealthier member-states.
I raised my concerns about another aspect. Of course no one would argue against energy efficiency in a broad sense. But the objective of all EU energy policy is to reduce emissions of CO2. I question whether that in itself should be a high-priority objective, but let’s take it as read for the moment.
The EU has created a huge range of initiatives which aim to support this objective. We have renewables targets, emissions targets, the Emissions Trading Scheme, plus other “instruments” (as they like to call them) like subsidies, feed-in tariffs, renewables obligations, capacity payments and (in the UK at least) a carbon floor price. These overlapping measures frequently create both conflicts and market distortions. They are not technologically neutral. For example, nuclear power contributes powerfully to achieving emissions targets, but fails to help with the the renewables targets.
One might be justified in describing this morass of legislation a cat’s cradle, if not a dog’s dinner.
In my contribution, I pointed out that green measures had already driven up energy prices in the EU to a level where they are undermining competitiveness, and driving jobs, businesses and investment off-shore. I mentioned that before politics, I had had a real job running real businesses, and I remembered very well that the issue of energy costs frequently featured at board meetings. Even then, commercial organisations already had an urgent imperative to achieve energy efficiency. Today, with the cost of energy so much higher, that imperative is even stronger.
So I presented my killer dichotomy. Either:
1 If an energy efficiency measure is commercially viable – that is, it if provides a commercial pay-back – then an incentive already exists to implement it, and the proposed EU measure is redundant. Or
2 If such a measure is not commercially viable, then enforcing it through EU policy or targets will damage the business concerned and further undermine EU competitiveness.
So the efficiency target is either redundant, or it is damaging. Which is it? What was the view of the panel? I am still waiting for the answer.
Click here to see me taking part in the the Election 2017 debate for the East Midlands on BBC TV
Discussing the black grass problem with Lincolnshire farmers
“Friends of the Earth” are at it again. This time they’re warning farmers of the dreadful loss of income after Brexit, when they get no more CAP funding. “Lincolnshire farmers could be at risk of losing more than £128 million after Brexit”.
They helpfully break down the figures with spurious exactitude, by constituency, with Louth & Horncastle facing the biggest hit at £33 million.
This is typical scaremongering from “Friends of the Earth”. The government has formally committed to maintain agricultural funding for at least two years after Brexit, and there is a broad political consensus that agriculture is vitally important for food security, for our balance of payments, and for the maintenance of the British countryside and landscape which we all love.
There is a widespread belief that EU agricultural support is very generous. In fact broad comparisons with other countries around the world show that the EU is about in the middle of the pack of advanced economies in terms of percentage of GDP devoted to agriculture.
While in an ideal world we might prefer a free-market model, the fact is that something like half of farm incomes come from farm support. We cannot expect our farmers to compete successfully in world markets unless they have support broadly comparable to that in other advanced economies.
We should recall that Britain had a perfectly good farm support system before we joined the EU, and we will have a perfectly good farm support system after we leave. We will also hopefully have a much simpler regulatory system designed for the UK, rather than the EU’s massively bureaucratic approach. We want farmers to be out raising crops and cattle – not sitting indoors filling in compliance forms.
It is simplistic scaremongering for “Friends of the Earth” to look at current levels of subsidy and claim they are at risk. They’re not so much Friends of the Earth – more Enemies of the Farmer.
The vigil in Manchester last night was undeniably moving. The assurances that we will stand together, we will not let terrorism win, love is stronger than hate, and so on, were resonant. And yet … and yet … that is what we always do. Politicians jostle to repeat the same platitudes. Maybe the threat level is heightened for a week or two. We debate the percentage of the anti-radicalisation budget that goes to the government’s disputed “Prevent” strategy. Then the dogs bark, and the caravan moves on. Until the next time.
Allison Pearson summed up the point beautifully: “Even before their bodies were cold, the great and the good were crowding on to the airwaves to murmur their self-soothing mantras about hope being stronger than fear, strong, vibrant communities, keep calm and carry on, businesses as usual. How dare they? They insult the dead, who deserve the country to be outraged and anguished on their behalf. How can we be calm when our children are considered a legitimate target for mass murder?”
One theme to emerge is that the bomber was a loner, representing no one. Responding to a Tweet saying that integration has not worked, Tim Montgomerie wrote “It largely has. 99.9% of Muslims are good neighbours”. I responded by re-Tweeting some Pew research indicating that in the UK, 24% of Muslims and 35% of young Muslims express some sympathy for suicide bombing. Rather more than the 0.1% implied by Tim. My Bête Noire Professor Michael Merrifield responded with an alternative study showing that only 4% of British Muslims sympathise with extremists. But as I pointed out, even if Merrifield’s figures are right, at 4% it’s still forty times Tim’s estimate.
Peter Whittle on Twitter quoted Mayor Andy Burnham “The bomber represents no one but himself”. I responded “The bomber (so far as we can judge) represents a large and determined terrorist death cult which is a threat to all of us”. Of course not all Muslims (nor even a majority of Muslims) are terrorists. But we face a large and well-resourced terrorist organisation which claims to represent Islam, and is steeped in a highly conservative and paranoid interpretation of the faith. To pretend that we can deal with the terrorism without responding to the distortion of the religion is fanciful and naïve.
The idea that the bomber was a maverick loner is further undermined by a Telegraph headline “South side of city (Manchester) is a breeding ground for Jihad”. It sounds more like Molenbeek, the notorious jihadist suburb of Brussels which harboured the Paris bombers than a suburb of the City of Manchester, standing together to face down the terror threat. It is clear that UK security services are anticipating further attacks.
I noted an interesting comment from Brendan Cox, husband of the murdered MP Jo Cox. He suggests that the only alternatives are (A) to turn the other cheek; or (B) “To build internment camps and hold the billion Muslims on the planet responsible for the actions of a few”. Admittedly he does suggest some other measures, but they are all rather vague generalities like “building stronger communities”. Haven’t we been trying to do that through all the years of multiculturalism?
I suggest that there are things we can do. For a start, we should set aside the ECHR and deport foreign nationals whom we realistically suspect of jihadism. Second, we should deny entry and withdraw passports from British citizens who seek to return from jihad (yes, there are legal problems, but we face an emergency). We should identify imams who preach jihad, and deport them (or if British, detain them – incitement to violence is a crime). We should close mosques that give a platform to hate preachers.
Then schools. It is evident that some Muslim schools are hotbeds of Wahhabism and anti-Western values. They should be closed. I’ve struggled for a long time with the apparent discrimination of closing Muslim schools but not other faith schools. But it seems that only in Muslim schools (or some Muslim schools) are anti-Western values systematically promoted, and when we are faced with Islamic terrorism, there is every justification for closing them.
We should ban the burka. You cannot be integrated into Western society with your face covered. And if you aren’t prepared to be part of Western society, you shouldn’t be here.
Finally, perhaps the most radical point. As a broadly libertarian politician, I am hugely reluctant even to type the word “internment”, but I am coming around to the view that the threat we face – the children slaughtered in Manchester – is on such a scale that we have to think the unthinkable. No, Mr. Brendan Cox, we do not want to build internment camps for the world’s billion Muslims. But we need at least to consider internment for the 3000 or so jihadist suspects on our streets. We are horrified that the Manchester bomber was “known to the police” yet still allowed to go to Libya, to return, and to carry out his atrocity. Yet we have to recognise that it is impossible for the security forces to monitor 3000 people.
I was relieved to find I was not alone in what some may consider an extreme view. I re-Tweeted Arron Banks this morning: “We should intern people on the terrorist watch and properly investigate them”. I will not say at this time that we should necessarily do so. But I believe it is time to have the debate.
Speaking on energy policy and the vital importance of UKIP post-Brexit referendum in George Street, Westminster. The first part of the speech is above and continues below: