The rise of Ukip risks fuelling climate change scepticism as Conservative politicians embrace the populist “saloon bar” politics of Nigel Farage’s party, the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, has warned.
Mr Davey blamed a recent upturn in climate change scepticism on a sustained campaign by “vested interests” supported by some sections of the media, and warned it could damage Britain’s credibility in the global debate on global warming.
“There is a danger, with Ukip peddling an anti-climate-change message, that the right of the Conservative Party might also be dragged that way,” the Liberal Democrat minister told The Independent.
“Public support is chipped away if the populist politicians refuse to engage with the evidence of the science and just ignore it. Theirs [Ukip] is a saloon bar opposition to anything that challenges the status quo. Saloon bar politicians want to give you easy answers – they don’t want to say that things here have to change,” Mr Davey said.
Mr Davey made his comments less than a week after David Cameron appointed George Eustice, a prominent opponent of onshore wind farms and a former Ukip party member, as his new adviser on energy and climate change issues.
And his warning comes at a time of escalating tension within the Tories between the Prime Minister’s modernising allies and more right-wing activists, following comments attributed to party co-chairman Lord Feldman, describing party members as “swivel-eyed loons”. Lord Feldman has denied making such comments.
Asked if he thought Chancellor George Osborne – with whom Mr Davey has had some well-documented disagreements – was among the climate sceptics, Mr Davey told The Independent: “I’ve never seen evidence to that effect.”
Mr Davey would not comment on who he thought was leading the charge at Ukip. But he said: “Nigel Farage does encapsulate a lot of what Ukip stands for... Ukip have not got some detailed analysis or thought-through position on this [climate change], like so many other things.”
Ukip is sceptical about the existence of man-made climate change and would scrap all subsidies for renewable energy. It would also cancel all wind farm developments, preferring fracking and nuclear power.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Any Questions last October, Mr Farage attacked Mr Cameron for “this loopy idea that we can cover Britain in ugly, disgusting, ghastly windmills and that somehow our energy needs will come from that”.
Mr Davey said climate change scepticism was “nonsense”, adding: “Given that the evidence is pretty overwhelming and given the risk, why wouldn’t you act? That’s what I find so odd about the climate change sceptics.
“I’m concerned about the general public who are getting conflicting messages and understandably they’re not sure who is telling the truth. You get less prestigious scientists claiming they have evidence, but when the evidence is analysed, you see it doesn’t quite say what they were suggesting,” he said. Mr Davey added that tackling climate change is a global issue, rather than a UK or European one.
“I want Britain to play a lead role as a persuader for change globally. The damage that the anti-science people place to that is that the UK’s voice globally will be weakened,” he said.
Growing climate scepticism in the UK will also make it harder for Mr Davey to increase the amount of energy that Britain generates from low-carbon sources such as wind and solar, which are often more expensive than using fossil fuel-powered gas and coal plants. Mr Davey defended the Coalition’s often-derided record on green energy, saying the Energy Bill that is currently passing through Parliament represented a ground-breaking achievement, providing a strong legal and financial framework upon which to build a secure, low-carbon electricity supply.
In contrast to some of the comments made by the Tories and Ukip, Mr Davey said that he would happily live next to a wind farm. “It depends where they are. Some windfarms look good and some are inappropriately sited,” he said.
Mr Davey also warned that shale gas would not provide the answer to all of the UK’s energy needs. Shale gas is produced by the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has been linked to earthquakes and water pollution.
The UK potentially has vast quantities of shale gas, although it is not yet known how much of this can be extracted on a commercially viable basis.
However, Mr Davey said that even if there was to be a shale gas revolution, it would still be necessary to substantially increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources.
Ukip energy spokesman Roger Helmer, said; “Both in the UK and across Europe climate scepticism is setting in. There is a lot of pressure from European business to relax pointless and vastly expensive energy policies”.