Prosperity, Security, Stability

These are anxious times. Much that we take for granted in the way the world is ordered is in flux. The brief moment when scholars talked confidently of the ‘End of History’ has passed. Change is no longer an option, to be welcomed or resisted, as a matter of choice. It is now an imperative: permanent and pervasive; intrusive, disruptive, often destructive. As it accelerates, it favours the strong, the educated and the affluent. For others, it is simply overwhelming, dislocating the familiar patterns of daily life, exposing vulnerabilities, defeating expectations.

Two factors in particular are driving this acceleration of change. In less than a single life time global population has risen from 2.5 billion to nearly 8 billion. All these people are now massively better connected. Everyone can see, moment by moment, what is happening to everyone else. Thus, the explosion in population has been accompanied by an explosion in expectations. The way the most prosperous and secure among us live their lives is now, literally, visible to billions whose lives are neither prosperous nor secure.

Such prosperity as some of us enjoy is built on a virtuous triad of forces that have spiralled ever upwards. Physical security provided the stability necessary to ensure the investment that generated the prosperity that, in its turn, enabled reinforcement of security, enhancing the stability that stimulated further investment to create more prosperity. The prospect that this fundamental engine of rising expectations – prosperity, security and stability – may be faltering is fuelling a deepening global anxiety.

This general anxiety is the fertile substrate on which the more specific anxieties that have led voters to support Brexit, Trump and a growing band of authoritarian national leaders thrive. Such voting choices reflect the defeated expectations of those being left behind by the accelerating pace of change. These elections are, however, only the early symptoms of a much deeper and more dangerous structural malaise.

The defining political challenge of the 21st. Century is that of meeting the rising expectations of more than 8 billion people without destroying the natural resource foundations of the economy. Those expectations are held by an increasingly well educated, more mobile, better connected and, above all, more urban population.

The scale of this challenge is daunting and worth a closer look. Today, just over a billion of us have arrived. We are where everyone else wants to be. We have assets: homes, savings, vehicles, goods. We have secure and relatively high incomes. We live predominantly in the cities of the OECD and increasingly in urban pockets in the emerging economies. We expect life to continue its upward progression much as it does now.

There are about one and a half billion people who are in transition. They are on their way to arriving. They also live in cities throughout the world. They are beginning to acquire assets and have moderately high incomes that are less secure than they were. These are the growing professional and technical populations in emerging economies; the public sector employees in the OECD and service industry employees in the private sector. They expect their lives to get measurably better.

Some two billion people are in motion, literally. They are mostly moving from the countryside to the cities – about 75% of global population is expected to be urban by mid-century. They are also moving from poor countries to rich countries. They have no assets and low and very insecure incomes. They live in informal, often illegal, settlements on the edges of cities. They are to be seen driving rickshaws in Dacca or picking over the waste sites of Manila for things to recycle. They expect life to get materially better and work very hard to make it so.

Perhaps two and a half billion people remain in rural areas. They are subsistence farmers, forest dwellers, coastal fishers, indigenous peoples. They have no significant cash income and such assets as they possess are often communally held. What happens to the world economy has little impact on their lives. Extreme events – floods, droughts, wildfires, storms – however destroy their livelihoods. If this happens those who can, move. The rest suffer and eventually perish. These people expect life to continue much as it is, improving, if at all, only at the margins.

The politics of the 21st Century will be shaped by whether or not we manage to meet the expectations of the three and a half billion city dwellers who are either in transition or in motion. If we fail to grow the economy in a manner that meets their expectations, then the virtuous circle of security, prosperity and stability can quickly become a vicious circle of insecurity, instability and poverty. Put bluntly, failure to meet the expectations of urban populations leads rapidly to political disruption of a scale and magnitude far greater than ever results from failure with rural populations.

Explosive growth in human expectations has happened before. It occurred, primarily in Europe, albeit at a far slower rate than is experienced today. Nevertheless, there are some instructive lessons to be drawn.

From the middle of the 18th Century a debate ran, mostly within Europe, about making the economy grow faster. As the industrial revolution gathered pace under the stimulus of the Napoleonic Wars and the subsequent prolonged period of peace the answer became clear. Individuals freed to pursue their own self-interest, enhanced the interests of all and the economy would grow. As this liberal doctrine gained hold, economies did indeed grow rapidly.

But economic growth corrodes social ligatures. The complex, multi-dimensional relationships of relatively stable communities were replaced in the creative destruction of capitalism by the simpler, transactional relationships of the cash economy. Cultural bonds with their complex patterns of mutual rights and obligations were replaced by economic bonds based simply on the ability to pay.

In the 19th Century rapid economic growth led, then in Europe, as it does today globally, to very rapid social change. This social change, unmediated by any attempt to ameliorate its impacts on the welfare of large numbers of people, led to growing political instability which threatened to undermine the engine of economic growth driving the changes. The consequent rise in mass discontent meant that Marx had written the Communist Manifesto by the middle of the 19th Century.

As the dynamics of what we would now call a negative feedback loop became apparent, a new argument began. This debate was about how to maintain the social conditions necessary to keep the economy growing. The answer emerged over the following century. Some of the proceeds of economic growth must be invested in maintaining the social conditions necessary for that growth to be sustained.

By the middle of the 20th Century this debate, too, was over. It was everywhere accepted that government needed to invest in health, education and social security if the social cohesion necessary for economies to grow was to be maintained. There is now a robust consensus that a primary purpose of public policy is to promote economic development; that is, economic growth plus the public investment needed to support the social conditions for its achievement.

The population bomb went off just at this consensus became firmly established and global population almost quadrupled in less than seventy years. As the implications of meeting the accompanying expectations explosion began to emerge a new debate began. This debate focussed on managing the stresses imposed on the natural resource systems that underpin the economy as governments strive to meet rising expectations.

We are some way from reaching a global consensus on the need to maintain the environmental conditions for the economy to grow. Evidence that environmental stress is beginning to undermine the economy is rapidly accumulating. This is true across a wide range of the natural systems on which we depend from the climate and oceans to freshwaters, forests and soil fertility. For the global economy to continue to grow in the 21st Century we must now maintain both the social and environmental conditions necessary for the economy to thrive. This idea is expressed in the current shift of the focus for public policy from economic development to sustainable development.

Much of the knowledge and technology we need to do so is already available or within reach. But, despite the recent adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, there is little sign that the strength of political will necessary to reshape the balance of advantage between incumbents and innovators to deliver the Goals is genuinely present.

The effort to maintain the social conditions for economic growth that began towards the end of the 19th Century was slow to get going. The resultant deterioration in social cohesion culminated in the political stresses that led to the dominant political question in much of the world for the first half of the 20th Century being a choice between Communism or Fascism as the preferred form of totalitarianism. There is little reason to believe that our current failure to make a rapid enough transition to sustainable development will have less significant political consequences.

The industrial revolution made possible the creation of truly national economies. Prior to the construction of the modern canal system and railways the growth of economies was limited by the ability to move large volumes of goods and commodities quickly and cheaply except by sea or navigable rivers. Most economic activity was local or regional. As economies became national so national standards emerged for the first time, starting with the national synchronising of clocks. This led eventually to the creation of the national standards on health, pollution, labour and much else. In effect, the nationalisation of opportunity led in time to the nationalisation of responsibility.

Since the middle of the last century we have reprised the building of national economies on a global scale. By removing barriers to the free flow of capital and information we have globalised opportunity. The result has been the creation and distribution of wealth on a scale unparalleled in history. But this wealth is being bought at a price in global social cohesion and degrading of the economy’s natural resource foundations that cannot be sustained. We are experiencing globalisation of opportunity without globalisation of responsibility.

The social and political stresses that culminated in the Second World War fashioned an unprecedented intensity of shared experience. The result was a near universal appetite for institutional innovation, especially in Europe, to avoid its repetition. It led to the creation of the network of global institutions, the United Nations, the Bretton Woods Institutions and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, that were the foundations on which our current security, prosperity and stability are built. In Europe, it led to the formation of the world’s first significant, sustained and successful experiment in pooled sovereignty that the European Union is today.

As memories faded and generations changed, the appetite to build global institutions has also faded. Since the seventies, as the world became ever more dependent on the global rules system bred and nurtured by these institutions, the impulse to innovate and invest in them has declined. Meanwhile, the realm of opportunity created by freeing the flow of information and capital was also available for exploitation by malign forces. The new pathways for global goods and services are also available to international terrorists, people and drug traffickers, organised crime, money launderers, tax evaders and pathogens.

None of these problems can be successfully tackled without greater sharing of sovereignty and more political and financial investment in global rules. No single country, no matter how powerful, can protect its economy or citizens from the consequences of climate change. Nearly two billion people already live with absolute water scarcity and almost two thirds of the world’s population are already experiencing some water stress. Losing climate security will add to these stresses. Without water security, food security becomes impossible. A government that cannot maintain food and water security cannot maintain internal stability. The climate together with food and water security forms a single system whose integrity must be maintained if we are to have stability and prosperity.

Engineers understand systemic risk. These are the risks that emerge when there is a high degree of interdependence among the component parts of a system. In such systems the failure of a small, and not necessarily vital, component can trigger a cascade of failures that leads to a collapse of the whole system. When this occurs in complex, interdependent systems, such as an aircraft in flight, the results can be catastrophic.

Financiers do now. They did not before the financial crisis of 2008. The liberalisation of financial markets in the late 20th Century stimulated an unprecedented growth in the size and complexity of financial markets. This created a financial system that made credit more widely available to people than ever before. But it also created a landscape of risks that very few in the world of finance understood.

When an important, though not particularly large, bank, Lehman Brothers, collapsed in September 2008 the degree of interdependence between private financial institutions had become so great it triggered a cascade of financial failures that threatened to bring down the whole global financial system. It took vigorous, and untypically swift and coordinated, action by world’s governments to prevent an economic cataclysm. A decade later, the social and political consequences are still reverberating around the world.

This was a powerful wake up call. It illuminated the vulnerability of the global financial system on which we depend to enable the global economy to meet the rising expectations of our growing population. There were many lessons to be learnt. Not all of them have been. One of the clearest was of the importance of governments. Left to their own devices the financial markets would have collapsed and with them the global economy. Governments did intervene, and the day was saved – at least for the time being.

We rely on governments to detect and prevent the emergence of economic systemic risks in much the same way as we rely on engineers to keep our aeroplanes safe. It is not anyone else’s job. Few, if any, have yet understood that we face the prospect of a set of nested systemic risks as we strive to meet expectations.

We have learnt that the global economy nests within the global financial system. If that fails, the global economy fails. Governments have yet to fully grasp that the global financial system nests within the global political system: the nexus of global rules developed after the Second World War. Without the political stability they provide the financial system is unable to supply the capital to drive prosperity. There is little capital flowing into Syria or Libya or any of the world’s growing number of failing states.

What has yet to be widely understood is that both the financial and political systems that support security, prosperity and stability nest within the global climate system. An unstable climate is a stress multiplier. It makes bad situations worse. All of recorded human history has occurred within the climate system we are now disturbing with our burning of fossil fuels. We are on the verge of going beyond any climate we have ever recorded.

The risk we are running is that an apparently small failure to keep the eventual rise in global temperatures below 2°C – say, going to 3°C or 3.5°C instead – could precipitate a cascade of failures through the global political and financial system and with it the security, stability and prosperity required to meet the expectations of all 8 billion of us on the planet. We already have the technologies to prevent this failure. We are more likely to improve rather than wreck our economy if we deploy them. But governments everywhere are a long way from rewriting the balance of advantage between incumbents and innovators necessary to do so.

Tom Burke
December 27th 2017

This piece was originally published by The Oracle Partnership

Posted in Articles, Blog, Brexit, Business, Changing the Politics, Cities, Climate Change, Conflict, Domestic, Economics, Economics, Energy, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Energy Security, Environment, Europe, European, Finance, International, Migration, People, Policy, Politics, Poverty, renewables, Sustainability, The Human Cost, Trump | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Prosperity, Security, Stability

The Environment

The myth

The development of the Single Market has done more harm than good to the natural world and the EU’s environmental achievements are overstated. The UK can be more successful in protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development if we leave the Single Market and have the freedom to develop our own policies.

“Often well-intentioned environmental policies are outweighed at every turn by the more fundamental drivers of its bid to turn the whole of Europe into a paradise for (environmentally damaging) agribusiness and industry.” Jenny Jones, former Chair of the Green party, June 2016

“Once out of the Common Fisheries Policy the UK will be able to manage fish stocks and the ocean environment better.” Labour Leave, Leave Means Leave and Economists for Free Trade, September 2017

“We stand for a positive vision of a future Europe based on democracy, social justice and ecological sustainability, not the profit-making interests of a tiny elite. For these reasons we are committed to pressing for a vote to leave the EU.” Letter coordinated by Labour Leave, 17 February 2016

The reality

The EU has been an overwhelmingly positive force for the environment – strengthening legislation, preventing a race to the bottom and driving forward collective action on climate change. The framework of rules and regulations underpinning the Single Market is not, as some on the left have argued, a threat to the environment, but rather our best means of protecting it. Compounding the result of the referendum by choosing to leave the Single Market would be a mistake with terrible consequences for our ability to preserve the natural world.

It is this government, not the EU, that is a threat to the environment Few things are as incomprehensible as the resolute determination of climate deniers. No matter how often they are publicly caught cherry picking the evidence or distorting the truth their belief is unshakable. The rest of us are victims of a mass delusion at best or are left-wing conspirators at worst.

It is this last accusation that gives their game away. Climate denial is almost exclusively found on the political right. It is not hard to see why. If your core political project is smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation and markets ever freer from the bondage of government, you cannot have a problem with the climate. There is no more compelling reason for activist government than the urgency of stopping climate change destroying prosperity and security for everyone.

Those same political impulses drive Brexiteers: a Britain free from the bonds of EU legislation, able to do what it likes to drive taxes and regulations down and out from under the jurisdiction of a court that can make it obey the law is the goal. It is not a coincidence that Brexiteers and climate deniers fight together and use the same weapons. Illusions are not, however, a right-wing prerogative. There are those on the left in British politics who see the EU as a neo-liberal protector of corporate interests, always willing to put profits above people and the environment.

Brussels bureaucrats are too friendly to business. Our own Parliament can do a better job of protecting Britain’s environment. If you believe the last sentence you haven’t been paying attention to the sustained, if stealthy, Government attack on Britain’s environment. Starting with the abolition of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution when it came into office in 2010, Conservative-led Governments have consistently weakened the machinery protecting our environment.

Since then the independence of our environmental watchdogs, the Environment Agency and Natural England, has been seriously compromised. Access to the courts for judicial review has been restricted and made prohibitively expensive. The right of environmental bodies to lobby has been constrained and the rights of ordinary citizens under the planning system have been gutted.

Fortunately, Britain has many champions of the environment, from Buglife to the National Trust. Their combined membership is several times that of all the political parties in Britain combined. They probably know rather more about the will of the people than our political party leaders. They trust Brussels more than they do Whitehall and Westminster. They do so with good reason.

The Single Market encourages responsible environmental behaviour by business Air pollution kills some 40,000 people each year in Britain and costs the NHS as much as £15 billion a year.

Our air has exceeded legal limits since 2010. Environmental law firm Client Earth has successfully sued the Government twice. Each time the courts have required the Government to make our air legal. Each time the Government has evaded the courts’ requirements to act. Client Earth has now gone back to the courts for a third time to force the Government to obey the law.

Each time the Government has bowed to corporate pressure from the motor industry. Escaping from the European Court of Justice has been a crucial red line for the Brexiteers. This is because it has acted as a powerful force for ensuring that the UK Government complies with environmental laws. This is because the ECJ has, as a last resort, the power to impose sanctions for non-compliance. This can be very expensive, as the UK found out to its cost when a failure to implement the Nitrates Directive properly led to a crash spending programme in Northern Ireland of some £240 million.

This was to avoid the possible imposition of daily fines for noncompliance that could have cost even more. The UK Courts have no such ability to fine the British Government. Nor is there any likelihood that a future Government would be willing to allow them to impose fines or other sanctions.

The reality is that British membership of the EU has considerably strengthened our ability to insist on responsible environmental behaviour by businesses. Nowhere is this more clear than in 27 checking the activities of developers. As the effectiveness of our own planning laws has been systematically undermined by successive governments, the EU Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive have been strong constraints against rampant development on sensitive sites for nature.

The European Commission publishes a series of multi-annual environmental action programmes setting out its legislative agenda well in advance. It is certainly heavily lobbied on this agenda by corporations, but it is also lobbied by environmental and community organisations in a manner far more transparent than in Britain. The last time a British Government published a comprehensive environmental policy was in 1990.

A hard Brexit will pave the way for an assault on the environment We are now on a steepening slope towards a crash exit from the EU.

This will be a catastrophe for the British environment. If this happens it will leave Britain exposed to an economic hurricane. This will wash away all the warm words about the environment we have heard recently from Michael Gove.

As the need to fulfil the false promises he, and the other Leavers, made in the referendum grows the political imperative, over-riding everything else, will be expanding the economy. There will be a tsunami of deregulation. Everything corporate leaders ask for they will get.

Then there will be the much-vaunted free trade agreements. Without the bargaining power of the other 27 economies, Britain will be a deal taker not a deal maker. These days the so-called non-tariff barriers to trade are far more important than tariffs.

Another word for non-tariff trade barriers is environmental regulations. As we negotiate free trade agreements from a much weaker position it will be open season on our environment as foreign companies seek to compete in our markets by washing away environment, consumer and employment protections.

No-one could argue that the EU is a model of green perfection. It has not always succeeded in turning its high environmental ambition into the right outcomes. But it has provided a stable framework within which to make consistent progress towards a better environment. As Britain encounters the harsh economic winds of a post-Brexit world I fear we will often have occasion to recall the words of Joni Mitchell’s early eco-song Yellow Taxi, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone.’

Tom Burke

This piece was first published by Open Britain the full publication ‘Busting the Lexit Myths’ can be found here

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Could we be about to see a wave of public money for new nuclear?

I am quoted in this piece by Greenpeace “Unearthed” about the public financing of new nuclear. Originally published here

By Joe Sandler Clarke

A reported public financing deal between the UK and Japanese governments for a new nuclear plant in Anglesey, Wales, could set the UK government up to provide state-support for a raft of nuclear projects hit by financial difficulties.

The FT reported on Tuesday that letters had been exchanged between Tokyo and London expressing support for the Wylfa project – which will be built by the Hitachi-owned consortium Horizon.

The FT story followed up a series of reports in Japan suggesting that the Japanese and UK government’s had agreed $20bn in loans to acquire a stake in Horizon with the help of financial institutions – including an equity stake for the UK government.

Any move to put public money into new nuclear would represent a significant policy shift from the Conservative government; exposing taxpayers to significant risk while potentially lowering the cost of building a new power station.

The news comes as the UK government faces accusations of refusing to intervene over the collapse of Carillion and the East Coast Franchise.

Both the Japanese government and the Treasury refused to confirm or deny speculation when approached by Unearthed.

A spokesperson for the Japanese government told us: “We are aware that this has been reported, but our understanding is that at present there has been no specific decision made.”

When asked about the numerous media reports on public financing a Treasury spokesperson said: “the government is engaged in constructive discussions with a number of new nuclear developers. These discussions are commercially sensitive and it would be inappropriate to share at this time.”

Horizon is amongst the closest of the UK’s much-delayed nuclear programme to an investment decision – but there is also speculation around other projects hit by financial difficulties.

There are also reports in Korean media that the Treasury is involved in project finance for the troubled Moorside nuclear plant – including another possible equity stake.

Troubled projects

It was announced in December that state-owned South Korean firm Kepco is to take over construction of the power station in Cumbria.

Kepco was named as the preferred bidder for the NuGeneration consortium running the project, after its owner Toshiba was forced to sell due to financial problems, including the bankruptcy of its US nuclear subsidiary.

According to an article published in Korea last year, the UK Infrastructure and Project Authority, a branch of the Treasury, worked on a financing structure with the Korean government, with Kepco at its centre.

The website Business Korea stated in October that the Korean government was working with the Infrastructure and Project Authority on a financing plan alongside US and Japanese institutions to enable the company to buy a stake in Moorside.

Before Christmas, the FT reported that the head of Horizon, the Hitachi-owned consortium which hopes to build the plant at Wylfa, Duncan Hawthorne, felt the project needed government backing to get off the ground.

Hawthorne added that Treasury officials were “fully engaged” with Horizon and committed to ensuring that the power station was built at a lower cost than Hinkley Point C.

Antony Froggatt, a senior research fellow in energy at Chatham House, told Unearthed that the Conservatives were shifting their policy because new nuclear plants are unlikely to come online without significant state backing.

“What we’re seeing, and this has been the case for the last 5-10 years, is that the Conservatives have gradually been salami slicing away at their pledge to allow the construction of new nuclear, provided that they ‘receive no public subsidy’,” he said.

“There’s been a shift on this because nuclear can’t happen without significant government financial support.”

Peter McIntosh, acting national officer for energy at the Unite union, which has long pushed for public investment in new nuclear, told Unearthed that the reports of the Wylfa deal were welcome, but urged the state to go further. “Privatisation of the energy sector has failed and we would call upon the government to bring the sector back into public ownership,” he said.

Public money

The government has reaffirmed its commitment to building a fleet of new nuclear power stations in recent months, despite concerns over the cost and delivery.

But if it decides to back a nuclear project it may prove difficult for ministers to avoid offering the same public support to other similar schemes.

Alex Mosson, construction and engineering law specialist at Keystone Law, said it was unlikely that the government would be in legal trouble if it chose to invest in Wylfa and ignored other projects, but he said it could face political difficulties.

“In terms of the legality, the government more or less has free reign to do what it wants within the parameters of its investment requirements. But in terms of politics, it becomes very different, because these deals can be used as leverage. Legally, I couldn’t give a definitive answer, as I don’t know what the scheme is. But commenting on the industry itself, there will always be a circumstance where one party will try to use another party’s leverage to their benefit,” he said.

Ultimately, however, nuclear projects will depend on agreements to buy the power they produce – with new subsidies ruled out until 2025 in the Autumn budget.

“The only short-term option the government would have for giving public money to new nuclear would be to take an equity stake,” says Froggatt.

Doing so may still not be sufficient to make the projects happen, however.

Tom Burke, chairman and founding director of the environmental group E3G, suggested that there might be something else at play.

“The struggling nuclear industries of Japan, France and Korea are all looking to the UK to rescue them,” he argued.

“What they are getting from the government is warm words and long promises. The truth is that there is no room for additional nuclear in Britain’s rapidly modernising electricity supply system. Without power purchase agreements paid for by consumers none of these projects will go ahead however much they reduce their capital cost.”

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Tom Burke – E3G – One Planet Summit – Channel 4 News – 12 Dec 17



What’s going to make the difference in people’s lives, is what happens in the real economy. What we’ve seen is the financial community getting into this game because they have understood the level of risk if we don’t deal with climate change, and they are beginning to see massive opportunities if we actually get on with the job of dealing with it.


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On November 23rd, Financial Times Energy Editor, Andrew Ward, wrote, ‘energy consumers face paying £30bn above market prices for electricity for Hinkley over the 35-year life of the contract’. He was in error. The actual additional cost to consumers is £59bn.

In his defence, Mr Ward can fairly claim that he has accurately reported the figure given in the Public Accounts Committee’s devastating report on the Hinkley deal. The Committee wrote: ‘the Department estimates that top-up payments will cost consumers around £30 billion over the 35-year contract.’

Unfortunately, the Department’s estimate is also wrong.

The arithmetic is straightforward. The current wholesale cost of electricity is £42/MWh. EDF is guaranteed £109/MWh for Hinkley’s electricity. Consumers will pay the difference between the wholesale cost and the guarantee. That is £67.

Hinkley’s capacity is 3,200MW. No power station operates 100% of the time. Hinkley is expected to operate 90%. Consumers will therefore have to pay £67 x 3,200MW x 0.9 x 24hrs x 365days x 35yrs.

This comes to £59.2bn which is the additional amount that will actually be added to consumers’ bills.

Is this simply a basic error in simple maths by the Department? I suspect not. The £30bn amount is not what consumers will pay, it is the present value of what consumers will pay.

That is, it is the amount consumers will pay discounted back to today. However, the guarantee to EDF is index-linked. This means the cost to consumers goes up with inflation.

In other words, the number you discounted to get the £30bn figure will be inflated by the same amount. This gets you back to the actual £59bn. There is no reason in economic theory why you should discount an index-linked amount back to its present value. There is however a very clear political reason for replacing a £59bn bill to consumers with £30bn bill.


Tom Burke

November 23rd 2017



Posted in Blog, Business, Changing the Politics, Domestic, Economics, Economics, Energy, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Finance, Hinkley, In the media, Nuclear, Policy, Politics, Poverty, renewables, Sustainability, The Human Cost | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on SMALL BITE NO.3

China’s increased emissions – BBC World News Business Report – 15 Nov 17



I think what matters about the suggested increase in emissions this year, is whether it is a blip, or whether it is an actual change in the trajectory. The trajectory has been ahead of what is needed to get us on to the right path, to stay below 2 degrees. Because it is peaking now, rather than in 2020 when it needs to peak. So we will see whether it is a blip or not.

I think that what we saw when Trump pulled out of the climate agreement, the very same day, we saw Blackrock and State Street publicly vote against Exxon’s board, for not having done enough to assess climate risk. So I think on one side, the investment community is really beginning to get a sense of the risks, of the kinds of events that we have seen all through this year, and what they will do for business, and on the other side, we are seeing a massive increase in investment in renewables by opportunity seekers, people simply seeing that the world has made its mind up, and it is on its way to a low carbon economy, and they want a piece of the action.

What we have seen, very interestingly, in China, is that it has started to cut back on coal, it had massive plans for building coal fired power stations, it is cutting those back, it’s cutting its emissions. There was a drought this year, which is why I think that there is a bit of an increase, because they lost hydro power. But much more importantly it is, by far, the country that is investing the most in renewables, and looking to see that as a massive opportunity for exports going forward. What you are seeing in India, again a similar thing, you are seeing growth in coal use in India actually slow down quite a lot more than was expected, and again a big investment in renewables as they see that as the fastest way to get electricity to India’s poor.

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Matt Ridley is almost always wrong about the environment. His regular column in the Times is a mishmash of misinformation and malice. He dislikes environmentalists and hates their influence on public policy.

His criticism, in yesterday’s column, of Michael Gove’s proposed new ‘independent’ body to ensure a post-Brexit Government obeys its own laws is, however, partly right. As he says, such bodies already exist: Natural England; the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission.

He is wrong to say they are up to the job. Their independence is a distant memory. Access to the courts for judicial review has been restricted. The right of environmental bodies to lobby has been constrained. The rights of ordinary citizens under the planning system gutted.

He then reprises his animus against ‘unelected’ environmentalists. This is particularly rich coming from an hereditary peer. Matt Ridley is, to give him his proper title, the 5th Viscount Ridley and an unelected member of the House of Lords.

Tom Burke

November 13th 2017



Posted in Blog, Brexit, Campaigning, Changing the Politics, Domestic, Energy, Environment, EU, European, In the media, People, Policy, Politics, Public Services, Referendum, Security, Sustainability, The Human Cost, The Times | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on SMALL BITE NO.2











In a speech in London, American Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, last night accused the EU of limiting the ‘role of science in assessing risk’ in trade policy. He was warning the UK not to be like the EU when seeking to negotiate a post-Brexit trade agreement with the US.

Say ‘hello’ to chlorinated chicken. Whatever Liam Fox says now, the reality is that any post-Brexit trade deal with the US will put Britain’s environmental regulations and standards in danger.

There can be few more risible sights than an official from the Trump administration claiming to base current US policy on science. Make no mistake, some politicians and newspapers in Britain have already been infected by the same structural hypocrisy.

If Brexit does go ahead, there will be a domestic battle royal over a trade deal with the US that will be about a lot more than the technicalities of ‘sanitary and phytosanitary’ rules.

Tom Burke

November 6th 2017.



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There is a catastrophic gap between promises to cut carbon emissions and the action need to deliver those cuts – BBC World Service



There is a catastrophic gap between promises to cut carbon emissions and the actions need to deliver those cuts. That is the verdict today from the United Nations, a new UN Report says amounts pledged in the Paris Agreement amount to just a third of what is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It is calling on both governments and the private sector to do more to breech the gap.

“Catastrophic is the right word, if we don’t close that gap then it will be a catastrophe. It will be a catastrophe for everyone on the planet, and it will make it impossible for businesses of all kind to attract investors, or to find markets.”

“The problem is climate change, there isn’t anything going on that we didn’t anticipate. When Paris came out, it was well understood, that although it put us on the right road, it wasn’t going to take us far enough down the road and it wasn’t going to do it fast enough, and this report has confirmed that judgement. We’ve seen some of those flashing red lights coming up in other areas recently, we have seen it with extreme weather events, we have see it with the report that came out in the last few days about the impacts on health. We are starting to see that the climate is changing faster and more dramatically than we anticipated.”

“I think we have got to move out of coal extremely fast, and by and large the OECD countries are already doing that, China’s starting to do that, but there are quite a lot more proposals to build coal fried power stations in developing countries. Now actually that is probably not going to be the best ways economically to solve the problem you have in a lot of developing countries, which is large populations without access to electricity. What has now become clear, because the cost of renewables have gone down so fast, is that it is probably much better to invest in deploying renewables to get electricity particularly to rural populations. We have seen India shift it’s emphasis from talking about coal to talking about renewables. I think that needs to become more widely accepted around developing countries.”

“What we are seeing already is that renewables, basically solar and wind, are now beginning to compete even with gas, without subsidy, because the cost are coming down in many parts of the world really fast. I think that we are going to see is the same thing happening with vehicles because battery cost are coming down. Where I think we really have got to make much more progress is with buildings, and I think that the report is absolutely right to say that there an enormous amount of cost effective things that we can do to reduce the emissions from buildings. But the bit that people haven’t begun to focus on anything like enough, are the emissions from agriculture. We really need to do a lot more.”

“90 percent of businesses on the stock market don’t emit much, of any kind of emissions. Their emissions are not the problem. The emissions that are the problem are those that come from the fossil fuel industries, and their primary customers, the power industry, the motor industry. In effect, what is happening to the bulk of businesses, if we don’t deal with this, is that the fossil fuel industries are eating their lunch. Because the non-fossil fuel industries, the bulk of the stock exchange, don’t suffer from a successful climate policy. Where as if you constrain the use of carbon and therefore solve the climate problem, you do hit the oil and gas industries, you hit the motor industry, and you hit the very energy intensive industries. But that is a very small part of the stock exchange. Most businesses have a lots to gain from successful policy that closes that gap, and much to lose if we don’t close it.”

“Fossil fuel businesses need to get out of fossil fuels fast, what companies like the Shell’s the Exxon’s the BP’s need to do is to join in the energy transition a lot more aggressively than they are doing. The non-fossil fuel businesses, need to get government to act much more quickly. Because if they don’t get government to act much more quickly, because if they don’t put pressure on government, they will find that the gap goes on, we get catastrophic climate change, and their business gets hurt.”

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There are a great many champions of the environment in Britain. Between them, our environmental bodies have several times the membership of all the political parties in Britain combined. They probably know rather more about the will of the people than the political leaders who somehow managed not to mention the environment at all in making their case, either way, on Brexit.

Brexit will have more immediate impact on our ability to manage the growing stresses on the environment than any other single political development of the past 50 years. Environmental problems pose particular challenges for policy makers. Many of the most serious problems are geographically blind. They pay no attention to political borders or legal jurisdictions.

Consider the poor air quality in London, which is undoubtedly a product of the failure of our own government to enforce the law here. But there are days when, even if the law were fully enforced, pollution blown across the Channel from France, Holland and Belgium damages the health of Londoners.

We may well regain control of our traditional fisheries as we leave the EU. We will not however, be able to prevent climate change, as it warms our waters, from driving those fish back out of our control.

Britain’s membership of the European Union has been an immense benefit to the health of the British public and to its environment. This is so, not the least, because it has created a whole new route by which the will of the British people on the environment could find effective expression.

This Government has made, and repeated, a clear promise to be the first ever to leave a better environment to its successors than it inherited. This is a big promise. There can be no doubting its environmental ambition.

Whether it can meet its ambition and fulfil this promise will largely be determined by how well it manages the environmental aspects of Brexit. This means getting the Withdrawal Bill right. The transposition of current EU law into domestic UK law must not leave the regulatory and institutional frameworks for protecting Britain’s environment weaker than they are today.

In the longer term, whatever future arrangements with the EU and other trading partners are finally agreed must offer not just a better level of environmental protection they must also offer similar levels of regulatory stability and cost. Otherwise the promise will be broken.

With this is mind, it is worth looking at some of the ways in which our membership of the EU currently supports the Government’s environmental ambition. It offers a set of clear principles for the development and interpretation of environmental law. It offers regular environmental action programmes that set a forward-looking agenda for the development of policy. This makes it possible for businesses and civil society organisations to plan strategically for their participation in policy development.

It offers a mechanism for the enforcement of EU legislation, and therefore the achievement of its environmental goals. It is a mechanism that backs the power of persuasion with the prospect of sanctions.

It offers stronger influence on the development of global regimes to manage the environment than would be available to any one of the 28 present members acting on their own. The size of the EU market is such, and the rewards of access to it so large, that its environmental legislation on matters such as chemicals, shapes the development of policy in other parts of the world.

What will be different after we leave? There is no place in British policy practise for the writing into legislation of principles such as the ‘polluter pays’ principle or the precautionary principle. This weakens the strategic guidance to policy makers and judges as to the tests that should be applied in policy formation or implementation.

There is no equivalent in British environmental policy making of the series of environmental action programmes produced by the Commission over the past four decades. The publication of ‘Our Common Inheritance in 1990’ was Britain’s first comprehensive statement of policy on the environment to offer guidance to business and civil society over the longer-term development of environmental policy. In the 27 years since then there has been no further publication of a framework for the future development on environmental policy in the UK.

What we have seen instead is a succession of Governments whose attention to environmental policy has been intermittent. On occasion, there have been outbursts of arbitrary and rapid policy change destructive of both business and civil society confidence. This loss of regulatory stability will be accompanied by an increase in the cost of regulation as the UK mirrors domestically the work of European agencies whose costs are currently shared by 27 other countries.

The European Court of Justice, has acted as a powerful incentive on member states to comply with the requirements of European environmental law. This has largely worked, flexibly and efficiently, by encouraging negotiated settlements of disputes. An approach to compliance that we in the UK have long favoured.

However, the ability of the Court, as a last resort, to impose sanctions has been a powerful incentive to settle. The UK found this out to its cost when a failure to implement the Nitrates Directive properly led to a crash spending programme in Northern Ireland of some £240 million to avoid the possible imposition of fines that could have cost even more. The UK Courts have no such ability to fine the British Government.

These changes set a clear bar for the Government’s long delayed 25 Year Environment Plan to clear if Brexit is not to lead to the Government breaking its environmental promise. The plan will first have to appear. It will then need to show how the Government will transpose not only the text of European legislation, but also its functionality. Without the functionality the text can make little difference to outcomes. It is environmental outcomes that matter to the people of Britain, not environmental words, no matter how warm.

Tom Burke
October 16th 2017


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