Parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill was negligible. The only MP who actually read the economic impact statement was the former Tory minister Peter Lilley. He pointed out that the government’s basic impact forecasts showed a net effect on the economy ranging anywhere between a positive £52 billion and a negative £95 billion. These estimates did not include transition costs — that is, the costs of infrastructure and other capital adjustments implied by the shift to low-carbon technology — which by 2015 have already run into tens of billions of pounds. Nor did they address trade and competitiveness impacts, which should have been of concern when the UK was taking unilateral action to raise its industrial costs in a global marketplace. Three Tories — Lilley, Andrew Tyrie and Anne Widdecombe — were the only MPs who voted no. The entire Tory shadow cabinet supported the Bill, and Commons debates were notable for mutual congratulation between MPs of all parties. Climate change was — and to an extent still is — a topic which politicians of all stripes feel confident will make them sound disinterested, high-minded and caring: they certainly do not want to sound like greedy despoilers of the earth.
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If Parliament repealed the Climate Change Act, followed, one hopes, by the Energy Act, the British economy would be freed from a straitjacket that dooms it to paying ever-higher prices. Cured — cold turkey — from their addiction to subsidy, power generators would be free to make rational commercial decisions — which in a competitive market would mean a tendency to drive prices down. Renewable power technologies would be forced to compete properly. The hyper-expensive ones would have to go back to the drawing board, but the cheaper technologies would have an incentive to get their costs down to realistic levels. This is already happening with solar, due mainly to the huge Chinese investment in producing photovoltaic panels. It could happen with wind, though not for a few years. The point is that the progression to a lower-carbon future would not be at the cost of our economy, and it would happen organically and not on the artificial timetable dictated by the CCA and its high priests at the CCC.
This, of course, is unlikely to happen quickly, or even at all. It would take a political reaction as powerful as the terrific green concert party that led us to the CCA 2008 and the world into the interminable global climate negotiations. At present the British public is split, though it is fair to say that the majority accept the reality of man-made global warming and the need to do something about it. However, the minority is a substantial one, and numbers are growing. Their position is similar to that of the Eurosceptics a few years ago: numerous, disgruntled and ignored by the political establishment.
In Britain, the worm may just turn with the launch of shale fracking later this year. Applications by the specialist exploration company Cuadrilla to drill in Lancashire are expected to be approved soon, and the first results should be in by December. The Bowland shale is twice the thickness of the largest American shale reserves. Success would change the terms of the game. A new and abundant source of cheap natural gas — not to mention oil — would force the nation to reassess its priorities.