Former environment secretary Owen Paterson tonight
delivered a lecture to climate skeptic thinktank the Global Warming
Policy Foundation. In his speech, he called on the government to
suspend the UK's legally
binding obligation to cut emissions and abandon its
pursuit of renewable energy in favour of submarine-style nuclear
Paterson's speech was
heavily trailed in the media earlier this week, which
analysed in detail here. Here's a summary, with some extra
context on what Paterson had to say on...
Paterson suggests forecasts of climate change's
impacts have been "consistently and widely exaggerated", adding
that the atmosphere has failed "to warm at all over the past 18
This is incorrect. The atmosphere has warmed by
0.05 degrees since the end of the 1990s.
This is slower than in previous decades, but when
what's happening to the oceans is also
considered, scientists are clear that the
planet as a whole is warming.
Scientists expect air temperatures to rise
quickly again when
natural cycles that are currently pushing
heat into the deep ocean
reverse. This kind of natural
has happened many times in earth's history -
and when you take the ups and downs out, the long term trend is one
of warming since industrialisation.
Paterson doesn't dispute that carbon dioxide is
a greenhouse gas, but he says there is "considerable uncertainty"
over how much warming we'll see.
Scientists haven't pinned down exactly how
much temperatures rise per doubling of carbon dioxide -
known as the climate sensitivity. But
importantly, if we continue emitting greenhouse gases as fast as we
are, we'll see serious warming this century wherever climate
sensitivity sits within the range scientists have
The lights going out
Cutting emissions and decarbonising the
energy sector means "the lights would eventually go out".
While the idea of the lights going out is an
attractive shorthand for journalists and commentators, it
isn't seriously expected to become reality.
However, the government has long recognised the need
for significant investment to replace the UK's aging energy
infrastructure. Many of the UK's power stations are
very old and are due to
reach the end of their natural life over the coming
decades. There are
particular concerns about generating capacity over the
next few winters.
That's why the government is planning to pay firms
reduce demand at peak times, and is creating a
capacity market. This will pay power companies money to ensure
there is always enough capacity to cover peak demand, so that the
lights will always stay on, even if we have to pay to make