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This immoral policy to put green energy before the world’s poorest people


IN the last wretched days of her premiership, Theresa May has announced her worst policy yet. No, I am not talking about her decision to rush through a £1trillion ‘Net Zero’ emissions target with no scrutiny and no impact assessment, extraordinarily ill-considered though that is. I mean her pledge that in future Britain’s entire £14billion aid budget must be spent ‘in a way that contributes to the transition to the global low-carbon economy’. 

The phrase is pure jargon, but it means that the welfare of the poorest people in the world is now less important to us as a country than supporting a trillion-dollar worldwide ‘green’ energy racket. What does that say about us?

It means we will not build a road that would help emergency services reach remote areas ‘because climate change’. It means we will not help build a power station that would bring electricity, jobs and growth to an under-developed region ‘because climate change’. It means less money on life-saving medicine ‘because climate change’.

It is difficult to think of a more direct or brazen abrogation of our responsibilities to the world’s most needy people.

Her decision may have been influenced by her absurd International Development Secretary, Rory Stewart, who claimed: ‘The real lesson of the last ten to 15 years is that poverty and climate are actually one of [sic] the same thing.’ Has a more intellectually lazy, morally bankrupt, ignorant statement ever been made by a Government minister? I try to stay level-headed when thinking about these things, but people may well die or be impoverished needlessly because of this totally callous attitude. When Stewart looks around him, he will see an economy in the West that owes its development to the use of fossil fuels, and yet he would pull up the drawbridge for so many others.

Of course, where wind, solar, nuclear and hydro power promote development they should be supported, but this will not always be the case. Sometimes the most cost-effective and quickest way to bring reliable energy to those who need it will be through the use of fossil fuels. Are we saying we would deny them that energy? Food, health, transport, energy, life itself: supported only if to do so helps ‘tackle climate change’. Is there a more heartless and counterproductive attitude?

It is certainly true that poorer countries are the most vulnerable to climate-related disasters, but it’s precisely because they are poorer that they are more vulnerable. Economic development is the best protection against the climate, but this is not what Theresa May means. She means reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

When it comes to pollution and public health, the mantra of ‘fossil fuels bad, renewables good’ gets us nowhere. At the heart of the Paris Climate Change Agreement is a desire to reduce energy and water usage, but this flies in the face of economic development and the improved health that it brings.

Public health specialist and epidemiologist Dr Mikko Paunio has described how a large proportion of air pollution deaths are from indoor air pollution. Many people have to burn wood in their homes for cooking and keeping warm because of a lack of access to electricity. The situation is worsened by pervasive faecal pollution that is at the root cause of malnutrition among some 800million people. Repeated bouts of diarrhoea leave them permanently malnourished and especially vulnerable to both indoor and outdoor pollution. Centralised power production would bring clean ambient air, clean water supplies and effective food refrigeration. These are all urgently needed, and their provision should not be subjected to an Orwellian CO2 test.

Britain happily spends well over £1billion a year on ‘International Climate Finance’ (ICF). Much of this money goes straight to Western energy companies keen to make a killing out of the climate change obsession. It is a complete perversion to call this money ‘aid’, and most taxpayers have no idea this is what their money is being spent on.

Neither, it turns out, does the government. In 2016, foreign aid officials admitted they had ‘lost track’ of a £274million climate fund handout. A large proportion of ICF funds is channelled through international development banks so it can be very difficult to trace where the money has gone. In any case, they are almost certainly not going on items such as mosquito nets, vaccination programmes and disaster relief – the kind of things on which most people expect the aid budget to be spent.

It is on a moral level that this policy is so objectionable, but it also makes no sense strategically. When we are unable to provide the vital infrastructure that the developing world needs, China steps in to fill the gap. Chinese companies are building or planning more than 300 coal power plants around the world, in countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. These investments will give China greater influence, while ours wanes.

Making humanitarian objectives conditional on reducing carbon dioxide is the apotheosis of an establishment group-think that has abandoned reason in favour of hysteria. You can’t just ‘believe in the bin’, to quote Rory Stewart. The overriding motive of aid spending should always be to improve people’s well-being. When cutting emissions is not compatible with that, which is arguably most of the time, then it should not form part of any foreign aid strategy.

So often, aid does not have the intended effect because well-intentioned but naïve administrators are too cocksure to consider the unintended consequences of their interventions. What hope do we have if even the objective to help people is no longer paramount?

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Harry Wilkinson
Harry Wilkinson
Harry Wilkinson is Researcher to the Global Warming Policy Forum

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