The great persuader and climate change policies

Someone who consults for JP Morgan Chase and Co and also for the Zurich Insurance Group is trying to persuade countries like China to drastically cut their carbon emissions. You may ask what JP Morgan Chase & Co and the Zurich Insurance Group have done themselves to cut carbon emissions; the answer is not very much.

When you understand that the consultant in question is none other than Tony Blair you might be even more puzzled.Mr Blair was Prime Minister for ten years and during that time he had plenty of opportunities to legislate for the UK to cut carbon emissions. He did nothing of the sort. Although during his period of leadership the UK’s carbon emissions did fall marginally, the fall was really due to Mrs Thatcher’s fight with the coal mining unions which as a result closed down high polluting coal mines and cause the electricity generating companies to “dash for gas” as an alternative fuel.

This is a classic case of the law of unintended consequences, because Mrs Thatcher had no environmental agenda.Natural gas, when burnt to create electrical or heat energy emits about a third of the carbon dioxide than coal does, when coal is burnt, so it is hard to credit Mr Blair for any fall in the rate of carbon dioxide emissions.

Further, his Government had a series of energy policy reviews which hardly produced any actions or measures. One of them in particular contained much nonsense, which when read just five years later would make a funny satire. The subjcet of course is only funny in satire. Spending on renewables as a share of the Gross National Product was and is so small that it is insignificant.

Mr Blair’s Government did both encouraged and provided state subsidies for insulation, to save energy, but apart from some very modest funds in microgeneration, mainly for photovoltaics, his administration had no record of support or encouragement for the renewable energy industry and dealing with the Government I found them uncommitted to renewable energy and unaware of what it can do. 

His Government left a worthless legacy in relation to renewables, which are a key part of carbon emission control. Overall the legacy was to leave the environment much as it was – in a state of decline.

Mr Blair is a great persuader. He frequently used his powers of persuasion – one can think of his persuading an unwilling party to go to war in Iraq or his persuading many nations to support London’s bid for the Olympic Games; these were impressive feats of persuasion which many thought would be beyond even his powers of charm. 

He is now in Japan meeting climate change experts from China, Japan, Europe and the United States. I do not understand why he needed to meet Climate Change experts at all. Before Mr Blair was Prime Minister he was Leader of the Opposition he was advised by Jeremy Leggett on environmental matters. Mr Leggett knows his stuff and went on to form Solar Century, a company that sells and markets photovoltaics and was a member of the Renewables Advisory Board when the various grant programs were being formulated.

(I must add as an aside that you might recall that during Mr Blair’s premiership photovoltaics secured the largest grant pot of any renewable energy source as well as the highest individual grant payments that householders and businesses could obtain.)

So with all the advice that Mr Blair has received and with the publication of the Stern Report while he was Prime Minister which comprehensively reviewed the science of climate change I wonder why Mr Blair needs to meet climate change experts at all whether in Japan or anywhere.

He is reported as saying that while in office he discovered that each country had its own climate change policy but there was no centre for “bringing them together”. Mr Blair is right in that every country has its own environmental policy and there are good reasons. For example, the countries of the European Union have their fundamental environmental aims and objectives settled in Brussels and within the framework of Directives develop policies (or not as the case may be) to reach the objectives.

The environmental policies that are needed in Sweden are very different from those needed in Greece, and although Sweden and Greece will share some specific techniques to reach their policy objectives there is no point in “bringing them together” in policy terms. There will inevitably be policy differences between one part of a country and another, all due to local conditions.

In other words I cannot see the point of a centre where the individual policies about the environment of different states with different local conditions, different lifestyles different economies and different problems are brought together. Of course we can and should learn from the best practices in different countries but that does not entail adopting common policies.

The centre that Mr Blair envisages would be a waste of time and of resources which could be put to better use spent on actual measures; we have enough talking shops, enough debates, enough reviews, reports and consultations and it is about time to move away from discussion and into action.

The analogy I can draw is when a nation is at war and has to defend itself. With the enemy in sight you do not stop to debate – you have to take decisive action with the weapons at your disposal.

Mr Blair has described Climate Change as the greatest long term threat that we face. He should understand that frameworks, treaties and syntheses of policies are no substitute for real action; it is about time we defended ourselves against the danger of climate change. I know that Climate change may possibly be unattributed to human activity – it is possible that human activity plays no part in it but that is a small risk and nations have made pre emptive strikes against an enemy where the risk of danger was significantly lower.

Mr Blair has a track record as a great persuader. If he can use his efforts to persuade nations to risk losing economic growth in declining economic conditions by emitting less carbon he will not only use his talents best, but he will do the world a great service.

2 Responses

  1. I must agree; the UK government did nothing while Blair was in and are still doing little to reduce the carbon foot print. The UK needs a better lead energy policy and the strength to lean on gas and electricity providers to get them to change quicker.

  2. Nick

    I would like the UK to create a comprehensive energy policy which is based on principles, not sound bites. It is hard to see what we can do to improve the providers’ efforts, without turning them into service companies.


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