Keeping the Lights On: a look at UKIP’s energy policy evidence base
- 09 Nov 2012, 16:00
- Carbon Brief Staff
Unproven and implausible" climate science and an energy policy
based on coal, gas and nuclear: welcome to the UK Independence
Party's vision for UK energy, according to its new policy document.
We check our pick of the report's claims.
UKIP's energy policy document, '
Keeping the Lights On: How UKIP would prevent the impending
energy shortfall', came out last month. Co-authored by UKIP MEP Roger Helmer, it
threatens energy apocalypse at the hands of Brussels, climate
scientists and, of course, wind power, unless the UK ditches them
all in favour of UKIP's plan - highlighted in Union Jack bullet
1. Climate science - back to the dark ages
First, climate science. According to UKIP:
"Professor Phil Jones of the Climate
Research Unit at the University of East Anglia recognises that
there has been no statistically significant warming for fifteen
This is a misrepresentation of an interview Jones
did with the BBC in 2010. Jones told the interviewer
temperature rise from 1995 to 2010 was statistically insignificant,
"but only just". Whether a trend is statistically
significant can vary depending on the time period over which it
is measured - and a bit more data either side can change the
And as we have
discussed before, scientists don't draw general conclusions
about global temperature trends
based on short timeframes, as
Jones himself and the Met
Office have said. The argument also ignores the
well-established evidence base from different scientific
disciplines showing that
the world is warming.
Next, in our favourite comment, UKIP says:
"The slight warming in the last hundred
years is entirely consistent with well- established, long-term
natural climate cycles - the Roman Optimum, the Dark Ages, the
Mediæval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age. And now we seem to be
moving into a new, natural 21st century optimum."
Many climate skeptics cite
solar activity or other natural climate variation to explain
the warming trend. Scientists at bodies such as the US National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have investigated all of
natural forcings, and have ruled them out as the dominant cause
of warming over the last few decades. According to the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), these have been
ruled out as the dominant cause of warming over the last few
FAQ page gives a good explanation.
And no - the Dark Ages is not a climatic
period. The term - now rarely used by historians - refers
to a period in the Middle Ages ushered in by the fall of the
western Roman empire.
2. Renewables - no jobs, or not enough
In the next section, UKIP takes issue with the idea that the
renewable energy industry could create jobs. It cites two studies -
both of which former presidential candidate Mitt Romney also used
energy strategy. First, a "recent report" by small and hitherto
little-known Fife-based consultancy Verso Economics
called 'Worth the Candle?'. According to UKIP, the study, which was
"demonstrates that for every job created
in the renewable sector, four jobs are destroyed elsewhere in the
economy [...] by driving up energy costs, reducing
competitiveness and deterring investment."
industry has countered that Verso significantly underestimated
the number of people working in the renewables sector. And
according to the BBC, a
spokesman for the Scottish government said in making its
calculation, Verso focused only on public subsidies to renewables
and did not consider any private investment in the sector.
The second report, from King Juan Carlos University, has also come
Spanish government argues it is "based on a simplistic,
reductionist and short-term view of the problem". Meanwhile, the US Department of
Energy says the authors' premise "is not supported by their
work". And even the
Wall Street Journal, which cited the Verso report in an article
criticising Europe's renewables strategy, says the Spanish
report's premise based on opportunity cost - that the money Spain's
government spends on green jobs cannot be spent by private parties
- is flawed as Spain's renewable subsidies come from existing tax
3. Energy bills
UKIP also claims UK and EU climate and energy policies are driving
up consumer bills. It says:
"Government Feed-In-Tariffs (FITs) [...]
have encouraged households to become small-scale electricity
producers with solar PV panels on south-facing roofs connected to
feed into the grid [...] But the costs come back to other
consumers, with Ofgem reckoning the average householder to be
subsidising the favoured few by £70 per year."
In fact, Ofgem's estimate for 2012 the
cost of the FITS policy is less than £1 per year on the average
household electricity bill.
4. UKIP's alternative
So, what's UKIP's alternative? It says it will ignore the "black
propaganda from the green lobby, which seems to be opposed to just
about every viable energy technology", and promote an energy mix of
coal, gas and nuclear technology.
UKIP's arguments in favour of reinvigorating the UK's coal
industry are particularly noteworthy. First, while it "strongly
supports a clean environment and clean air" it says it's not
concerned about emissions from burning coal:
"We do not...regard CO2 as a pollutant.
It is a natural trace gas in the atmosphere which is essential to
plant growth and life on earth. Higher CO2 levels increase
agricultural crop yields and 'green' the planet. Man- made
CO2 emissions amount to only around 3% of the natural carbon
Some studies show that it is possible to increase
the growth of some plants with extra carbon dioxide, under
controlled conditions inside greenhouses. But when scientists have
experimented with real outdoor conditions, the outcome
is less promising, with average yields around 50 per cent lower
than the greenhouse experiments. Many factors affect plant growth,
like temperature, water and nutrient availability, pests and
diseases - all of which may be affected by climate change, which
means the claim that carbon dioxide will enhance growth is a huge
As to the three per cent claim, given the volume carbon dioxide
already in the atmosphere, an extra three per cent is still a
considerable increase in the total abundance. Adding more
greenhouse gases and aerosols alter the Earth's energy balance, so
even a relatively small change will make a big difference to the
global climate. The IPCC's
AR4 report says:
"Changing the atmospheric abundance or
properties of these gases and particles can lead to a warming or
cooling of the climate system."
And since the Industrial Revolution, human activity has altered
that balance in favour of warming.
"...the UK still has substantial coal
reserves - enough for 200 years, on some estimates."
Enough to revive UK coal mining, then? Not according to UK
Coal: it says only about 20 years' worth of coal remain from
known reserves in the UK.
Keeping the lights on
These highlights are just a few of the claims UKIP makes about the
climate and energy. But while UKIP certainly provides a lot of
references, we're not sure this document counts as evidence-based