Saturday 5 December 2009

So, who are the shadow Cabinet climate sceptics?

Growing climate change scepticism on the political right has been one of the themes of a week in which David Davis gave voice to the Parliamentary dissenters to David Cameron's (welcome) "hug a huskie" enthusiasm, while the Australian Liberals ditched a leader over his support for legislation to reduce carbon emissions.

Andrew Grice reflects in his Independent column, quoting the well informed Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home claiming that the dominance of climate scepticism around the Tory blogosphere, documented here on Next Left is not simply an internet phenomenon buzt reflects majority sentiment among Tory MPs, candidates and activists.

Climate change really is an issue that can split conservative parties around the world," said Tim Montgomerie, editor of the ConservativeHome website. He is a sceptic – like all the others voted among the "top 10 Tory bloggers". He believes the vibrant Tory blogsphere on the issue reflects the doubts among a majority of Tory MPs, parliamentary candidates and grassroots members. "The core of the party is very sceptical," he said.

Mr Montgomerie argues that the Tory party tolerates Mr Cameron's approach to green issues – a crucial element in his rebranding of the party – but does not share it.

Tempting though it may be to dismiss this as leftist stirring, that seems a good right-wing source.

If Montgomerie is right about the strength of scepticism at all levels, then it is not at all surprising that Grice reports that there are 'sleeper' allies at the top table:

The doubters are believed to extend to a few members of Mr Cameron's shadow Cabinet, although they are bound by the rules of collective responsibility and cannot speak out.

So, who are they? Tips, educated guesses and/or evidence from previous statements very welcome! I don't think any member of the Shadow Cabinet will think the balance of risk would make it worth a showing a bit of leg to grassroots sentiment, not this side of a General Election anyway.


A large part of the appeal of climate scepticism is the opportunity to polemicise against received opinion.

James Delingpole seems a fairly entertaining chap who could probably turn a contrarian column, or book, around to the tightest of deadlines on any issue under the sun. But it has never been part of Delingpole's brand proposition that the reader is meant to take his views too seriously. (He had a good line in self-deprecation over his jealousy at not being invited into the Bullingdon Club on the recent Boris and Dave documentary).

While Delingpole chunters away about the email scandal having disproved climate science on the Telegraph blog, one hopes he gets the chance to keep up with what is in the newspaper too.

Perhaps a wish for a serious newspaper to observe the distinction between comment and facts helps to explain why The Telegraph employs, as environment editor Geoffrey Lean, who can legitimately claim to have done more than anybody to pioneer reporting on environmental issues over several decades, including at the Yorkshire Post and Independent on Sunday.

Lean's piece in the Telegraph today offers a rational and balanced overview of the history, science and politics of climate change - noting also how, except for the more extreme end of the sceptic fringe, there is often rather less in dispute than is claimed.

All this – though you could be forgiven for not noticing amid the excitement of the last week – is accepted by all but the most extreme, or ignorant, of the sceptics. Lord Lawson, for example, told a House of Commons committee over two years ago that it was “fairly clear” that “man-made emissions, largely carbon dioxide, have almost certainly played a considerable part in the 0.7C warming over the 20th century as a whole”.

And the sceptics’ latest hero, Tony Abbott – who was this week elected to be Australia’s leader of the Opposition and then promptly torpedoed the Government’s global warming legislation – confesses: “I think climate change is real and that man does make a contribution.” He did, it seems, once call it “absolute crap”, but now entertainingly disowns this as “not my most considered opinion”.

Further evidence that the Telegraph may have spotted a gap in the market to emerge as a voice of reason in the climate change debate on the right comes with a significant Telegraph editorial on the prospects for Copenhagen - an article which one could equally imagine reading in the Independent, Guardian, Financial Times, Economist or Times.

It is not keen on a rhetorical and theological war, wants to see science done, and wants challenges about policy responses to get a fair hearing. It describes the diplomatic, policy and public political challenges accurately - and sides strongly with the cross-party frontbench consensus in the UK about why a deal matters.

The governments of most countries in the world now accept the consensus. And so, as many as 100 world leaders will gather in Copenhagen – not to argue about the reality of global warming, but to decide what to do about it ...

Essentially, the summit is a gathering of the wealthy polluters of the North and the poorer nations of the South, though countries such as India and China consider themselves in the latter category when they are perhaps moving towards the former. The two big issues are carbon cuts and money. The reductions in emissions to which most are prepared to commit remain at the lower end of what scientists believe necessary to keep the rise in global temperatures this century to 2C ...

Then there is the money. No deal is possible without a commitment by the North to pay the South up to $100 billion a year by 2030, to help poorer countries adapt to climate change and mitigate the effects of the slower economic growth that might arise. This a good deal of money, though less than has been spent bailing out the banks. Selling such a package to voters who do not see any immediate threat to their lives (and are already wary about misspent aid money) will require political skill and courage, as well as enterprising policies that emphasise incentives as much as taxes.

So, in Copenhagen, the leaders need to reach a politically binding agreement that contains the essential elements of a deal, even if a formal treaty is delayed for a further six months (the most likely outcome). This is a rare moment in history when political leadership of the highest order will be required

The Telegraph leader writers can't hope to compete with the energised, if inexpert, polemicising of the commentators and bloggers of the right, including from its own stable. But perhaps it could give a few of them pause for thought at least.

Except for those who will take this as the worst sign yet of how far a quasi-Marxist plot can get its tentacles into the Establishment of the right.

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