Distinguished signatories take on British political consensus

by William Yeatman on October 7, 2004

in Politics

In a letter to the Times of London dated September 22, former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson (now Lord Lawson of Blaby) and other notables attacked the political consensus in the United Kingdom that action is needed now on global warming (see previous issue).


The letter said, Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition made major speeches last week on climate change and the policies that are supposedly required to deal with it (reports, September 14 and 15).  It appears that, in this area, Tony Blair and Michael Howard are of one mind. They hold the same alarmist view of the world, and call for much the same radical and costly programme of action.

Both leaders assert that prospective climate change, arising from human activity, clearly poses a grave and imminent threat to the world.  Such statements give too much credence to some current sombre assessments and dark scenarios, and pay no heed to the great uncertainties, which still prevail in relation to the causes and consequences of climate change.  There are no solid grounds for assuming, as Messrs Blair and Howard do, that global warming demands immediate and far-reaching action.


The actions that they call for chiefly comprise a range of higher targeted subsidies, and of stricter controls and regulations, to limit CO2 emissions.  These measures would raise costs for enterprises and households, both directly as consumers and as taxpayers. They would make all of us significantly and increasingly worse off.  There are no worthwhile gains to set against these costs.  It is absurd to argue, as the Prime Minister did in his speech (and Howard took a similar line), that such policies can unleash a new and benign commercial force.  The new opportunities created for high-cost ventures come as the direct result of suppressing opportunities for their lower-cost rivals: this is already happening in power generation.

It is not only the Prime Minister and Mr. Howard who are advancing questionable economic arguments.  We consider that the treatment of economic issues by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not up to the mark. It is time for finance and economics ministries everywhere, including HM Treasury, to wake up to this situation and take action.


The letter was also signed by Wilfred Beckerman (Emeritus Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford), Ian Byatt (Director-General of Water Services, 1989-2000), David Henderson (Visiting Professor, Westminster Business School), Julian Morris (Executive Director, International Policy Network), Alan Peacock (David Hume Institute, Edinburgh), and Professor Colin Robinson (Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Surrey).

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