Michael Howard: UK’s success at growing the economy while cutting emissions shows climate sceptics were wrong

'Sir John Major and I were firmly of the view that reducing Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions would not harm our economy. This analysis shows that we were right and the doom-mongers wrong'

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The Independent Online

Former Conservative leader Michael Howard has said the UK’s success at growing the economy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions shows climate sceptic “doom-mongers” were wrong to claim that dealing with global warming would damage the economy.

A report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) cited official figures showing the UK’s emissions fell by 33 per cent between 1992 and 2014, while the gross domestic product (GDP) per head of population grew by a startling 130 per cent.

This means Britain has been the most successful of the G7 nations in achieving growth while reducing carbon footprint.

The former Tory party leader, now Lord Howard of Lympne, said the report should encourage political leaders to cut emissions based on scientists’ recommendations.

“Before we signed the United Nations Climate Convention 25 years ago, Sir John Major and I were firmly of the view that reducing Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions would not harm our economy. This analysis shows that we were right and the doom-mongers wrong,” he said.

“The consequences of unconstrained climate change are now becoming ever clearer, and on a global basis, emissions are not falling quickly enough to avert the risks ahead.”

The ECIU report was released to mark the launch of the Mission 2020 project, which is designed to make that year the historic turning point when global emissions – static over the past three years – finally begin to fall.

“Bending the curve of emissions by 2020 is the only way to limit global warming … and will pave the way to delivering a just transition to net zero emissions by 2050,” the Mission 2020 project’s website says.

Lord Howard, who was Environment Secretary in 1992, added that he wished Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change who is running the 2020 project, and others involved well “as they aim, essentially, to finish the job that we began in Rio de Janeiro 25 years ago”.

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said the argument that dealing with global warming was too expensive had been disproved by the UK’s success.

“It’s really time to slay once and for all the old canard that cutting carbon emissions means economic harm,” he said.

“As this report shows, if you have consistent policymaking and cross-party consensus, it’s perfectly possible to get richer and cleaner at the same time.

“Britain isn’t the only country that’s done it – it’s true for most of the G7 – but we’ve clearly been the best of the bunch.

“There are signs that these successes are now transferring to the rest of the world. Globally, emissions have been flat for three years while world GDP has grown by eight per cent.

“But science indicates this isn’t enough to fulfil the objective of the UN Convention and prevent ‘dangerous’ climate change – for that, emissions need to start falling soon. This study should give confidence that with good policies, it’s achievable.”

The switch from coal to gas as a fuel to generate electricity, energy efficiency schemes and a shift to a more service-based economy were some of the main factors behind the decline in UK emissions, the ECIU report found.

There have been claims that British emissions have simply been ‘exported’ to other countries like China, which manufacture goods for the UK market.

But the report found, on a per-capita basis, ‘imported’ emissions were now about the same as in 1997, the first year for which the government produces data. Since then, per-capita GDP has more than doubled.

Professor John Barrett of Leeds University, an expert on this issue, said: “While the UK’s imported emissions rose steadily during the 2000s, they are no longer doing so.

“On a per-capita basis, the carbon footprint of goods and services imported into the UK has reduced since the financial crisis.

“This is primarily due to two factors; firstly, suppressed demand for products due to the slow economic recovery, and secondly, domestic action on reducing emissions, particularly related to the significant reduction in coal for electricity generation.

“However, the UK’s imported emissions remain very high in comparison to other developed countries and there is further action that could be taken including low carbon technology transfer and the more sustainable use of imported materials and products.

“This will help to ensure that the UK’s imported emissions do not rise in the future with economic growth.”

Sam Hall, senior researcher at Conservative think tank Bright Blue, said: “Today’s report is a further demonstration that climate change mitigation is compatible with strong economic growth.

“Through cost-effective measures such as improving the energy efficiency of the buildings and reducing coal consumption, the UK has successfully cut carbon while increasing its prosperity.

“Indeed, far from harming the UK’s competitiveness, ambitious decarbonisation has in fact given us a new competitive advantage in new low-carbon industries, such as electric vehicles and offshore wind.”