An extraordinary interview took place today on the PM programme on BBC Radio 4, between Evan Davis and Lord Deben of the UK Climate Change Committee. Here is my transcript:
Evan Davis [ED]: Lord Deben, thanks so much for joining us. I’ll start if we could with that interview we’ve just heard before the news summary about that Cumbrian coal mine. He thinks – er, that is the Leader of Copeland Borough Council, Mike Starkey, thinks – that permission will be given. Is that the right decision?
Lord Deben [LD]: No, it wouldn’t be the right decision. The fact is that erm this coal mine is not just for British steel. They’re going to export 80% of the coal produced. And the truth is that we’re moving towards the ability to produce steel in a much greener way. We really musn’t go back to old-fashioned ways of doing it, and it would set a very bad example for the rest of the world. And so I very much hope that the Government will say what they ought to say, which is that this is not a suitable thing and er we won’t have it. And the fact that the Cumbrian County Council did not er turn it down was simply because we still haven’t changed the er system, the planning system, to include the fact that all decisions must be made in the context of our battle against climate change, our commitment to net zero by 2050, and the fact that we’ve signed up to the Glasgow and the Paris Agreements.
ED: Mm, OK, you’ve made your view on that one very clear. Let’s go to the topics of the day, I suppose, which are, starting with Rishi Sunak. So he came round to the idea that he would go to COP27 and I’m assuming, Lord Deben, that you are pleased with that U-turn.
LD: Well, I said I hoped he’d go, erm, I thought that the original thing was not his decision at all, it was just the, er, I’m afraid, one of those occasions in which the Number 10 said I’ve looked at his diary and there’s no space in it, and it’s gonna be very difficult for him to do it because of the, I think, the G… the G7 meeting beforehand, but he will do it. I’m pleased about that, and he’s re-stated his commitment, which has been long-standing, to fighting climate change and realising there really is no economic future for us unless we do that.
ED: And do you believe him? Obviously, there’ve been words that say he is with the programme, the programme that you support, Lord Deben, but do you, do you feel there’s been any watering-down of this country’s commitment to net zero and the steps along the way since Boris Johnson stopped being Prime Minister, for example?
LD: No, not as far as he’s concerned. The problem is, even when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister, was, we’ve got the right targets, we led the world on where we have to go, and how fast we have to do it, but our delivery has been appalling. We’ve erm only managed to cover well, less than 40% of what we have to do. That’s why, in our report, last June, the Climate Change Committee made absolutely clear that what we need is a much more detailed er plan as to how we reach what we’ve promised to do by 2030, what we’ve promised to do by 2035 and what we’ve committed for 2050, and so I’m looking for that, for that very practical man, Rishi Sunak, who, as Chancellor, did show his support for what needs to be done and I’m expecting him to continue to do that.
ED: You used the word appalling to describe the British Government’s record on delivery, as opposed to targets.
LD: Yeah, I’m very sad because, you see, we’re so good on the targets. We’ve done so well on that, the Government has to be congratulated on that, and whatever you think of, er of Boris Johnson, he really did er follow on from Theresa May’s er commitment to net zero, and we’ve really had the standards, we’ve led the world. But in the end, people will not believe you unless you show how your delivery’s gonna happen.
ED: Targets are pointless if they don’t actually lead to anything, you just keep revising the targets as you miss them. Do you think Rishi Sunak…
LD (interrupting): Well just a moment, you can’t revise the targets, because the targets are in the law, and they can’t change the law unless the Committee on Climate Change gives them permission, and we’re not going to.
ED: Oh, that’s interesting. Often we have changed the law when targets, child poverty, for example, we just, we missed the targets and changed the law.
LD: But unfortunately for those who would like that, you cannot do it under the Climate Change Act. The law says that once Parliament has voted for those targets they become statutory [sic] necessary, and unless you actually repeal the Climate Change Act, you can’t change those targets.
ED: Extraordinary. D’you know, I did not know that. Of course, you can sack the Climate Change Committee and appoint some other people, presumably, can you, Lord Deben…?
LD: Well, I, you can’t do that either, because…
ED (interrupting, laughing): This is so interesting!
LD: Happily, the Chairman of the Climate Change Committee is appointed, not by the Government alone, but by the First Minister of Scotland, the First Minister of Wales…
ED (interrupting): Right.
LD: …and the First Minister of the [sic] Northern Ireland. I don’t think you’d get them to choose precisely the person that you’d want for that purpose, do you?
ED: No, well that is a really, really set of interesting, erm, interesting points. Lord Deben, we need to leave it there but, erm, absolutely fascinating, they’d better make sure we hit the targets, is what I might take out of that! (laughing). Lord Deben, thank you very much.
Lord Deben did at least acknowledge that Parliament could repeal the Climate Change Act, but that seemed to be his sole concession to the concept of democracy. To this listener, at least, he sounded like a tin-pot climate dictator, absolutely confident in the knowledge that his position is unassailable, and that he and his colleagues are going to ensure that the targets adopted under the Climate Change Act must be treated as holy writ. What a marked contrast in those comments, to his comments earlier in the interview regarding the planning process. In that respect he sounded to me as though he thinks that the planning process should be treated, not as as the law currently provides, but as though “all decisions must be made in the context of our battle against climate change, our commitment to net zero by 2050, and the fact that we’ve signed up to the Glasgow and the Paris Agreements”, even though – as he acknowledged – “ we still haven’t changed the …planning system” to make that the law.
As for this:
Well just a moment, you can’t revise the targets, because the targets are in the law, and they can’t change the law unless the Committee on Climate Change gives them permission, and we’re not going to.
Who “they” are wasn’t made clear, but it sounded to me as though he was talking about Parliament. If you thought that we live in a democracy, perhaps you should think again.