Owen Paterson: Current energy policy ‘a slave to flawed climate action’

Former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has delivered another controversial speech, this time arguing that the UK's current energy policy is not reducing emissions and providing the power the country needs.

Addressing the climate sceptic think-tank Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) last night (16 October), sacked environment secretary Paterson criticised the Climate Change Act – which enforces an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – claiming it will cost consumers in the short and medium-term, and eventually force the lights to go out in Britain.

This is because the renewable energy solution to emissions is too expensive, said Paterson, and it would need £3.2trn of investment to generate enough electricity to power the country. Specifically it would require around 500,000 additional wind turbines, compared to 42,000 today.

Paterson continued: “But if wind doesn’t make up the bulk of zero-carbon electricity supply, then that would mean building new nuclear at the rate of 1.2GW a year for the next 36 years. Put simply, that’s a new Hinkley Point every three years.”

He concluded that: “There is simply no plausible scenario by which the British Government can conceivably meet its 80% emission cut by 2050. And yet, despite this doomed policy, we provide subsidies for renewables of around £3bn a year – and rising fast. This is a significant cost burden on our citizens.”

Paterson’s protest

The former Tory Cabinet member went on to propose four policy changes that he believes could help Britain out of the ‘straight jacket’ of current policy:


  • Shale gas: “Gas has on average half the emissions of coal. It has cut US gas prices to one-third of European prices, which means that we risk losing many jobs in chemical and manufacturing industries to our transatlantic competitors. We are sitting on one of the richest shale deposits in the world.”
  • Combined Heat and Power(CHP): “There is another advantage of bringing abundant gas on stream. We could build small, local power stations, close to where people live and work. This would allow us to use not just the electricity generated by the power station, but its heat also. Combined heat and power cuts emissions, cuts costs and creates jobs.”
  • Small modular nuclear: “The third idea pair small nuclear reactors with CHP. Current policy has consistently favoured huge nuclear and coal plants, remote from their customers, but these waste 40% of energy through heat.
  • Demand management: “Fit certain domestic appliances, such as refrigerators, with low-cost sensors coupled to automated controls. This has no impact on the appliance fucntion, but can save as much as 1.2GW, the equivalent of a large nuclear plant.

Despite Paterson’s solutions for energy and environmental policy, he stated early in his speech that the atmosphere has not warmed up at all in the past 18 years according to some evidence.

“I also note that the forecast effects of climate change have been consistently and widely exaggerated thus far,” he added.

Industry response

Perhaps predictably that stance generated a vociferous response from activists and industry experts.

Responding to the speech, Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, former Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “Owen Paterson is mistaken in asserting that the Climate Change Act mandates the building of wind farms and other renewables.

“The Act, which was agreed by an overwhelming cross-party consensus, does not mention specific technologies. Companies are perfectly free to develop the other options that Mr Paterson advocates, and the Government is in fact supporting some of them.”

Dr Emily Shuckburgh, head of Open Oceans at the British Antarctic Survey, added: “I fully support Owen Paterson’s call to include the latest evidence when formulating policy.

“But the latest evidence tells us that even though surface temperature rise has temporarily slowed, the oceans continue to warm, sea level continues to rise, and many frozen parts of our planet continue to melt. There is no slowdown in climate change.

“If we delay cutting emissions until surface temperatures have started to accelerate again, it may be too late, because the climate system cannot simply be turned on and off like a switch.”

Old world order

Likewise, Greenpeace UK climate and energy campaigner Lawrence Carter said: “When Owen Paterson talks about energy and climate, you can almost hear the nation’s sigh of relief that he’s no longer sitting anywhere near the control room.

“Blinded by ideology, he would happily ignore 97 per cent of climate scientists and scrap the UK’s Climate Change Act, putting billions of pounds of clean energy investments and thousands of jobs at risk.”

Friends of the Earths’s Craig Bennett also chimed in on Twitter:

Paterson was sacked as Environment Secretary in July, following a Friends of the Earth campaign to ‘give Owen Paterson the boot’.

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