First there was Barningham, then Bolam. Now there is Hamsterley and Ponder Gill, near Barnard Castle. Wind farm proposals have dominated the local news in recent years, but one question remains unanwered – are they any good? For the first in two-part series, we speak to Prof David Campbell, an expert in the field who also happens to live near the proposed Hamsterley site.
IN light of the lively debate in this newspaper about the proposed construction of a wind farm in the Upper Gaunless Valley, I should like to say something about the national and international climate change policy that lies behind this proposal.
I live in the Gaunless Valley and, though the wind farm will not directly affect us, my wife and I object to the proposal on general environmental grounds. My objection is strengthened by work I have done in my professional capacity.
I am a legal academic specialising in the study of forms of regulation and, since 2006, I have studied climate change policy.
I have concluded that the attempt to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming has not merely failed and must continue to fail, but was bound to fail from the outset.
If this is right, then, of course, the UK’s incurring huge economic and environmental costs in pursuit of emissions reduction, including subsidy of wind power and permitting the environmental harm wind farms cause, is fruitless and irrational.
The general public mistakenly believes that international climate change negotiations have failed to establish ‘legally binding commitments’ about global greenhouse gas emissions.
This is not so. These negotiations have indeed failed to reach a commitment to reduce those emissions. But they have reached a perfectly clear commitment to allow emissions to increase.
Climate change law is based on the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This Convention distinguishes between developed and developing countries and asks them to recognise a “common but differentiated” responsibility to reduce emissions.
The Convention imposed no concrete reductions commitments on either set of countries, though it was anticipated that the developed countries would later enter into such commitments. But, crucially, the Convention provided that “The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement … the Convention … will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties”.
As, given foreseeable technology, sizeable emissions reductions must involve immense economic costs, this provision effectively means that there can be no significant limits placed on the emissions of developing countries. All subsequent climate change agreements, including those reached at the major conferences held in Kyoto, Copenhagen and Cancun, have affirmed this position.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol imposed some reductions targets on the developed countries. It set none on the developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol mechanism that was to involve the developing countries in emissions reduction, the Clean Development Mechanism, was designed in such a way as to make it incapable of delivering any global emissions reductions whatsoever.
Its operation so far has largely been an enormously costly exercise in scandalous waste and fraud and there is no chance of its being substantially improved. The 2009 conference in Copenhagen ended in acrimony and disappointment because the major developing countries would not agree to make emissions reductions and the 2010 Cancun conference fudged the issue.
As a legal matter, it is quite wrong to criticise the diplomacy of the major developing countries at these conferences. They were merely insisting upon what had been agreed in 1992, which is that they have no concrete responsibility to reduce emissions whatsoever. Their responsibility is so differentiated that it doesn’t actually exist.
If the provision prioritising their economic growth had not been included in the Framework Convention, the major developing countries would never have agreed to the Convention at all. For, over the last 30 years, those countries, most importantly China and India, have begun to lift themselves from the desperate poverty in which most of their people still live. Over a billion people in China and India still exist on less than US$2 per day. These countries have no intention of making emissions reductions which would cause them to sacrifice the tremendous achievements they are making in economic growth and poverty eradication.
But these achievements are disastrous for climate change policy because, with their huge populations (40 per cent of world total), major contributions to global emissions (30 per cent), and rapid rates of economic growth (ten per cent per year), these countries are producing and will produce volumes of emissions that will breach any of the targets set to avoid global warming many times over.
Without major reductions by these countries, it is irrelevant what the developed countries, including the USA, do.
The UK is responsible for two per cent of global emissions and typically has a two per cent growth rate. What it alone does can have no effect whatsoever.
Either in denial or ignorance of this, the UK Government has set extraordinarily ambitious emissions reductions targets under the Climate Change Act 2008, and it is the national government which is most doggedly pursuing climate change policy. It is doing all it can to ensure environmental objections to wind farms and other energy systems of which it approves, including nuclear power, will be unavailing. Subsidy of wind power is but a part of the economic costs the Climate Change Act will impose. Incredibly, the cost of electricity in the UK is forecast to rise by almost 60 per cent by 2020 and, of the 2020 price, almost 40 per cent will be attributable to emissions reduction policies. The effect of this on the price of everything else, and so on UK living standards and international competitiveness, can easily be imagined.
The UK citizen should understand that sustaining these enormous environmental and economic costs will do nothing whatsoever to meet global emissions reductions targets.
There are many reasons to object to wind farm proposals I have not mentioned. But surely the fact that any such proposal cannot yield any of the claimed environmental benefits is enough. The real issue is not whether proposals like the Upper Gaunless wind farm should go ahead. It is how so completely defective a national and international policy could have been followed over the last 20 years, and how our Government can persist with it when doing so is outright irrational.
l The academic paper on which this article is based may be obtained by writing to i.d.camp
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