Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Liberal Democrat Environmental Policy

"The Lib Dems this morning defended their environment policy. They said that the policy of making the UK carbon neutral is practical and achievable. Menzies Campbell, an expert in the historical climate, told the conference: "With these policies the Liberal Democrats have become the first major British party to map out the route to a carbon neutral Britain." Critics have suggested that replacing fossil fuel technologies on the scale required with current technologies is an idea "that sounds more like the demented ravings of Swampy than a policy from a serious political party" but Campbell insisted "I remember, I think we all remember, that while incomes might have been a lot lower, and the chances of living beyond 50 not so great, there was a real sense of community in the 17th century."

For all the idiotic "hammer the rich" gaffes there isn't much new coming out of the Lib Dems on the fiscal policy front. The policy they've voted on at their conference is the same as the report the TPA covered a little while back.

I think the new environmental policy (PDF) was formed in a blind panic at the prospect of Gummer-Goldsmith claiming the title of craziest views expressed by a mainstream political party on the environment. The Lib Dems were looking for a way to trump the Quality of Life group and, after the "kill all the motorists" strategy tested poorly with focus groups, hit on making the UK carbon neutral. It's utterly insane.

Their mechanism is heavy on incredibly ultra-draconian regulation. They set up a legal requirement for major sources of emissions to fall to zero (all renewables or biofuel). With the difference in price between fossil fuel and renewable power that kind of change could utterly destroy our standard of living.

They then want to have countries that do sign up to a new Kyoto form a trading block and exclude the nations that won't play along. Combine the cost of making a colossal mess of the global trading system with ending fossil fuel use and the costs could be staggering, catastrophic. Despite this the cost is ignored entirely. Just like Gummer-Goldsmith this report doesn't do cost/benefit analysis. Everything is 'essential'.

Other green material on their website is hilarious out of touch. In this video Menzies Campbell tells us that they want to cut tax on "going to work" and replace the revenue with tax on "pollution" and then literally the next second it cuts to what they do want to tax, filling up the car. That's how people go to work!

Even if they wanted people to switch and no longer use their cars to commute it would take decades to upgrade public transport enough that it could accomodate millions of extra passengers on busy commuter routes during the rush hour. A partial switch from taxing "being at work" to taxing "going to work". Doesn't sound quite as profound now does it?

Were the Liberal Democrats anything more than an empty protest vote the impractical nonsense that is this report would have been torn to pieces by now. That it hasn't been shows how irrelevant they have become.


Vino S said...

Although not a Lib-Dem myself, I think you are being a bit harsh on them - as they are at least trying to find a solution to the problem rather than relying on a polyannish view that we will somehow automatically adapt to a different climate. I have a full response up on my blog -

Matthew Sinclair said...


We've kind of had this debate before. The problem at the moment is clearly that despite plenty of green tax, more than enough to reflect the social cost, it just isn't economical to cut emissions more. If people aren't changing their behaviour it is more sensible to just take the social cost of global warming. Cost vs. benefit.

Or... you can think about technological conclusions which might change what is affordable.