2 December 2010 Nottingham Crown Court
Mr Edward Rees QC for the defence, calls the first witness of the day. He is Alan Simpson, former MP for Nottingham South between 1992 to this last election 2010. During this time, he campaigned for a more serious response to climate change issues, by the UK government. He didn’t contest the last election in May 2010 wanting to devote his time on climate change and renewable energy policies. He remains pessimistic in bringing about required changes through his previous post. He is now the renewable energy policy advisor, to the Friends of the Earth. He does however, continue to have parliamentary contact, advising the coalition government on the consequences of runaway climate change, and the required shift to renewable sources.
At a total of 39% of all carbon emissions produced by the UK, coal is by far the biggest single contributor. This must not remain so and measures need to be taken.
Mr Rees asks him “is there a democratic deficit?” Mr Simpson insists yes there is, absolutely!!
During the Labour government, what was their attitude to the projected tipping points? Ed Miliband, the then Energy Secretary, pioneered the Climate Change Act 2008. This was world leading legislation. Together with the current coalition government, there is a virtual cross party agreement on the need to reduce global CO2 emissions. This act and a number of other important steps have been taken by government. But none however match the scale of the problems that we face. The future threats to life and our wellbeing are posed to future generations.
There is again agreement in the need to at least remain under a 2degC increase in temperatures. He refers to Dr Hansen of NASA research on these issues and the possible climate tipping points that can be predicted to occur between 2013 – 2015 if nothing is done. At this threshold, there could be the start of massive changes, for example once the Arctic tundra ice gives up methane on its melting, beyond that point it is clear we will not be able to do anything about it. Many climate protestors legitimately question whether there is anything in current government action plans that would see UK annual carbon emissions declining by this point in time.
Mr Rees takes Alan Simpson back to the Climate Change Act. He says the object was to change the relationship of individuals and communities to attempt to contribute to solutions. Thus, since the Act came into force in April this year, people and communities who are able to generate electric power by wind turbine, or solar panels etc can contribute to the grid. It should no longer be a one-way system. However the energy companies opposed and campaigned against such moves. E-on lobbied against such similar changes in Germany. They object claiming ‘intrusion into trade’. The European Union eventually found against the company on enquiry.
Simpson says there are six big energy companies and they do have a disproportionate influence in opposing any measures they disapprove of. The ideas behind the passing of the act had cross-party support. But, at the administration bit of the process were the legislation gets poured over by committees and civil servants, the levels of the caps proposed were obstructed at a variety of stages. The energy companies were able to lobby decision makers at various levels. It’s an unequal process. Their money means they can open offices near to government, they can employ research and lobbying companies to put a shine in their case. They can find ‘experts’ to argue to keep operations as they are for maximum profits and dividends for shareholders. Further to frighten politicians with job losses.
They are wrong. In Germany for example, they have created more that 300,000 jobs in renewable industries, more than those lost in older industries. The UK efforts are lamentable. Mr Rees asks him about Vestas a company that used to operate on the Isle of Wight and left the UK because the market wasn’t sufficient for their turbine blade products. Mr Simpson sites another example of ineffectual policy. There are large wind farm of the Scottish coast, that cannot have their outputs connected to the grid for another 10 years!! This is because of energy companies negotiating with government to give traditional generation priority for connection to the grid, over these renewable sources. Because they operate exclusively on their profit motive.
Energy companies are not even required to record and report power station emissions themselves. They are not doing this, because they are aware of possible public concerns. Mr Simpson says that governments aren’t insisting on such recording, even though there is an existing legal frameworks requiring them to do so. The Secretary of State for Energy now says he is intending to insist on reporting emission levels on new power stations. But … this is no good since nearly 40% of carbon emissions are produced from the existing old coal-burning stations
On another issue, he says there were four carbon capture projects being considered in the UK. Now that’s down to one and that has a question mark over it. E-on had pulled out as it being uneconomic to operate.
Mr Simpson says he was trying to get parliament to understand that it is government that should set standards and expect industry to follow them. Currently, things are the other way round. Further we must move to a statutory duty for companied to comply with regulations and for the public to have a right to know.
Mr Rees in finishing his examination asks, is there a shortfall on what is needed and what is done? Yes, it’s why I stepped down from parliament. Government are not taking the measures required to protect us, our children or our grandchildren.
Miss Garry cross-examines. Referring to the Climate Change Act and Energy Acts 2008 & 2009, they set targets. Thus the various science committees and parliament ‘got it right’ in that session? Yes, it was trailblazing legislation and these and other measures were looked at by other governments, as examples of good practice. But, the starting point of the UK was from the bottom, not much better than our position in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Can you say in terms of what individuals can do? I have built an eco-house and produce more energy than I consume. Of course, this is beyond the capacity of many of us. Mr Simpson then goes onto site the example of the Meadows estate in Nottingham. Saying that as a community, we helped to organise collectively to fit solar panels on roofs of houses and then selling power back to the grid.
Miss Gerry again seeks to point out that Mr Simpson took the community ‘with him’ through public consultation and engagement through organising many meetings. Her effort seems to be to seek to draw a distinction between these democratic methods and the direct action engaged in by the defendants. The Meadows community had to organise to overcome opposition and obstacles to achieve progress by engaging people in the locality, within their abilities.
Mr Simpson says that we have lots of information available to us, however, if we were on the Titanic, the main info we need is how to get off the boat. What people could do individually, just doesn’t match the 40% of emissions that power companies are creating.
She gets Simpson to agree that most of these efforts were achieved by knocking on lots of peoples’ doors. A team to canvas to communicate any message and to hold constituency meeting, surgeries etc… He insists however, that people are so limited in what they can do individually, without parliament and government creating a framework that they can be effective within. It is so unequal. Energy companies are so much bigger and more able in lobbying than any individual or community group could handle. It is clear that to successfully lobby on an issue, people need to organise travel to London [sometime Europe], obtain science facts from experts, much time on research and parliamentary meetings. It is beyond the capacity of the ordinary individual. He sites the Suffragette movement and their campaign to get parliament to take measures on the wrong that needed to be put right.
Not responding to this point, Miss Gerry tries a few more examples to get Mr Simpson to agree that public engagement is best. He replies yes, it is best. But since politics sometimes ignores them and their concerns, people need to protest as well !!!
Mr Rees re-examines: What CO2 emission reduction have power companies actually made? None, to very little. There was some reduction because of the loss of manufacturing, the older industries. More recently, the recession means a reduction in the manufacturing output and this can expect to lead to a reduction also. But not, due to any intervention by the energy companies. Because of European Union directives, some of the older power stations may be forcibly closed, but this may result in a ‘dash for gas’.
Mr Rees asks Alan Simpson: Nothing personal … but in your experience do politicians do what they say they’ll do? Do they sometimes lie? Grins all round Its obvious that so many times, targets and policy remain politically aspirational, not what they’ll actually do.
Concluding with this witness, Mr Rees asks: will knocking on doors, really change any opinions of the power companies. No, of course not.
He made a statement in finishing:
“There is, in my opinion, an indisputable democratic deficit in [government] having power, but refusing to use it, even to require power stations to audit their annual carbon emissions and the energy efficiency of each power station. It is simply not coherent to argue that any of the governments commitments amount to a coherent plan for carbon emission reductions. This is particularly true within the timescale in which emissions reductions have to be made. Climate change protestors are in my view, absolutely right to argue that we cannot continue with a ‘business as usual’ approach to UK carbon emissions, without threatening the very prospects of existence for future generations”.
Alan Simpson [former MP, Nottingham South] http://www.alansimpson.org
Friends of the Earth http://www.foe.co.uk
After lunch, a live video link is established from the Crown Court to the House of Commons. Mr Rees for the defence then introduces Caroline Lucas MP for Brighton and Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.
She is a member of the all party Environmental Audit Committee, responsible for evaluating governments operations in meeting its objectives.
Prior to the UK elections in May 2010, between 1999 – 2010 was a Member of the European Parliament, Green MEP for The South East Region. She is also the Green Coordinator on the Climate Change Committee to reduce the impact of the aviation industry on the environment
Mr Rees get her to confirm that there is no serious challenge by elected members in either the UK or European Community that climate change is happening and that it is human driven. But, there is a huge difference between what politicians say and what actually happens. He asks are the targets that are set, commensurate with the perceived threat by emissions and the need for reductions. She says no. We know of the need to keep well within the 2 degC rise beyond which a tipping point will be reached. However, with businesses desire to maintain their activities, there is now no prospect of this if ‘business as usual’ continues.
Rees asks Ms Lucas, in Europe through its political structures, is it easy or difficult to get policy changes? Very difficult she says, it is a very unequal battle. Large companies lobby successfully and have such privileged access to committees and the European Parliament, than individuals or groups, and even the UK parliament gets.
Renewables and cleaner alternatives are currently more expensive and money is sometimes even found coming from a countries aid budgets. Further, sometimes doesn’t even arrive after being pledged.
Moving on to the emission trading schemes. These operate by making allocations to different industrial sectors. In practice these are open to much abuse since a rich company can buy their way out of their agreed obligations. Credits bought from poorer countries. When the European Union require a reduction in emission by X%, much of that will be bought from developing countries, all resulting as ‘business as usual’.
Ms Lucas is asked: Are there penalties for exceeding agreed targets? No, such plans have never had a sufficient majority in the European Parliament and such ideas have always been defeated.
She moves onto describing the situation about Vestas, a company making wind turbine blades, that was based on the Isle of Wight and closed. The company couldn’t make a viable return on selling their product. There was simply a lack of a market for turbine blade in the UK. This of course is symbolic of government efforts in encouraging alternatives. A comparison in the use of renewables in other countries demonstrate out inadequate response. Further, the National Grid is centralised and makes it so difficult for renewable alternatives to adequately contribute.
Kyoto agreements are about to expire and there is no architecture in place to replace it. Without the United States on-board, any proposals will be ineffective. Copenhagen was very disappointing, there was a complete absence of any binding agreement and will not deal with emission reductions within the required timescale. With regard to Cancún, Mexico happening now, expectations are rock-bottom. Agreements to reduce emissions are not even on the agenda, simply not on the table.
Mr Rees asks about current political interest. Lucas says that at a recent UK parliamentary debate, 12 MP’s attended. She is disparaging about this. No politics seems to be taking notice of these immediate tipping points and demonstrates a national complacency on such issues.
Miss Gerry cross-examines [well I think that’s what it was, she seemed to me to reinforce this last point]. She opens in pointing out that the Prime Minister David Cameron, David Beckham and Princes William are all in Zurich, Switzerland, presenting the British bid for a football match, instead of being in Cancún, Mexico. Newspapers and television are full of Zurich and not Cancún. She says that more of the public interest appears to be on football, rather than on climate change. Lucas explains that people feel a remoteness, in that individuals ability to influence European policy processes
Caroline Lucas MP, Leader of the Green Party http://www.carolinelucas.com
Green Party http://www.greenparty.org.uk
UK Parliament Environmental Audit Committee
Snowing much outside, court rises a little early. [14:45]
Ratcliffe on Trial Blog http://ratcliffeontrial.org/blog