Dominic Lawson: Roll up, roll up for the great Copenhagen emissions-fest

Do world leaders truly believe what they say about the imminence of planetary disaster?
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The Independent Online

According to the climate change catastrophists, there is now only a fortnight left to "save the planet" – two weeks being the scheduled length of the Copenhagen conference held to find a solution to "man-made global warming".

If there really is just a fortnight left before we are all doomed, it is good to see that the 20,000 or so delegates are going out in style. More than 1,200 limousines have flooded into the Danish capital (forget about public transport). According to this newspaper's Copenhagen diarist, "most of these stretched vehicles have been driven hundreds of miles from Germany and Sweden. Last week France ordered an extra 42 of them. Only five of the limos are hybrid; the rest are petrol and diesel."

This great emission-fest will be mightily augmented at the conference's conclusion, when the really big cheeses – presidents, prime ministers, and (naturally) the Prince of Wales – arrive in upwards of 140 private jets.

It's this sort of carry-on which makes some of us question whether the world leaders lecturing us on our own carbon emissions truly believe what they say about the imminence of planetary disaster. For example, Gordon Brown fulminated at the weekend that those who questioned some of the assertions about the extent of man's influence on the climate were "flat earthers".

Yet it is Mr Brown who insists that we should construct a third runway at Heathrow Airport in order to accommodate a vast number of extra flights. It is the central departments of this government, which, according to the latest Sustainable Development Commission report, have increased their CO2 emissions by 8 per cent over the past decade. It is this administration which regarded the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi as useful in persuading Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to approve a vast oilfield exploration contract for BP.

That's right, the bad news is that a man convicted of the biggest mass-murder on British soil has been released after only eight years in prison; the good news is that this might help to boost our biggest oil company's output of hydrocarbons – apparently the proximate cause of humanity's destruction.

Mr Brown would argue this is beside the point: the European Union's wonderful carbon emissions trading scheme will ensure that Britain keeps to any agreement we sign in Copenhagen. This fabricated market in carbon is supported by the United Nations, as it props up the so called UN Clean Development Mechanism.

It is also the conjuring trick by which the EU, with an obligation under the Kyoto Treaty to reduce its emissions by 8 per cent by 2012, has managed to claim success, while actually increasing emissions by 13 per cent. This has been achieved by purchasing "offsets" from countries such as China. And how was this in turn carried out? We did it by paying the Chinese billions of dollars to destroy atmospheric pollutants, such as CFC-23, which they had manufactured purely in order to be destroyed: brilliant.

A further example of the perverse consequences of the EU's method of "stopping climate change" was provided in this weekend's Sunday Times, which revealed that Britain's richest resident, the Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, is to benefit from a £1bn windfall in so-called "carbon credits".

Mr Mittal had warned Brussels that if his "emissions cap" under the scheme was set too low for his liking he would move some of his steel plants out of Europe. So his company, ArcelorMittal, was given the right to emit 90 million tonnes of CO2 in the EU each year between now and 2012. Yet this year ArcelorMittal's European CO2 emissions are predicted to be less than half that figure of 90 million tonnes. If this level of output continues Mr Mittal will thus have £1bn worth of "carbon permits" to sell to other high energy users within the EU.

As the company's spokesman told the paper, with a certain jauntiness: "ArcelorMittal's surplus carbon credits are an asset which will only grow in importance." Thus the biggest beneficiary of what is allegedly the world's most enlightened climate change policy turns out to be the wealthiest industrialist in Europe.

It is incidents such as this which provoked James Hansen, America's most strident advocate of the need to reduce carbon emissions, to say last week that he wanted the Copenhagen conference to fail. Mr Hansen is a scientist, rather than an economist, but he knows enough to see how corruptible the world's carbon trading schemes are – and how much more so they could become. Any reader who thinks that if they were regulated by the UN rather than the EU they would be less corruptible – well, you clearly weren't awake during the whole UN Iraq oil-for-food debacle.

You might well ask why the politicians of the developed world – believing, as they allegedly do, in anthropogenic CO2's dire threat to the planet – don't follow Mr Hansen's suggestion of imposing blanket taxation on carbon emissions, so that people decide it's too expensive to carry on driving, or flying, as they have in the past.

The answer is obvious. Tax increases are unpopular; no, make that extremely unpopular. Not only that, but it is the people imposing fuel taxes who become hated – which is to say, politicians – rather than those who process the hydrocarbons. Thus, when the fuel-tax protests broke out in 2000, it was not firms such as BP or Shell who were the target of popular anger, but the Government.

This showed reason on the part of the protesters. We had got to the stage at which over 80 per cent of the retail cost of gallon of petrol was government impost. Now, the percentage taken in the form of taxation has fallen back to around 70 per cent. Even that figure is higher than many people feel is acceptable, and this underscores an important point: is it politically feasible in a democracy to increase the level of retail tax on carbon emissions to the level required to choke off demand?

It is doubtless such an analysis which impelled the Conservative MP David Davis – who resigned as Shadow Home Secretary to fight a by-election in defence of civil liberties – to write an article in this newspaper last week attacking "hair-shirt" energy policies. This represented the first act of open rebellion against David Cameron's whole-hearted support for each and every "climate change initiative" mounted by New Labour.

In truth, it had been a long time coming. When the Government pushed through its Climate Change Bill last year, in an attempt to entrench future emissions cuts in law, only five Tory MPs dared to snub Mr Cameron by walking through the No Lobby.

You might think that the almost complete lack of opposition in the House of Commons was a mark of universal acceptance of the "need for action". That would be naïve. What it represented was the unwillingness of MPs to irritate their party Whips over a measure which had gained almost no public attention.

Whatever you might think of the much more significant opposition to similar proposals in the legislatures of the US and Australia, it shows the politicians in those countries are more representative of the people who elect them: remember, despite all the attempts via government propaganda cartoon films showing such improbable events as polar bears drowning, about half of the British population do not believe that the global warming occurring over the past 30 years is necessarily man-made.

Somehow, I doubt those millions of so-called "deniers" will be won over by the sight of the chauffeured plenipotentiaries and princes in Copenhagen.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

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