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Fighting Thermageddon just got £1 trillion cheaper

Thanks to the magic of numbers

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

As if by magic, a trillion pounds has been shaved off the estimated cost of Global Warming regulation in the UK overnight. Parliament has yet to be informed of this numerical feat.

When MPs and Lords passed the Climate Change Act late last year - see Snow blankets London for Global Warming debate - they did so without so much as a back-of-an-envelope calculation from the departmental Sir Humphreys to go on. That didn't seem to bother them, however.

Politicians were so keen to appear virtuous, they queued up to show their support for raising the carbon reduction target from 60 per cent to 80 per cent. But how much would all this virtue cost?

It was only after the bill became law did some numbers trickle out. The government isn't really supposed to do this; BERR is obliged to provide "Impact assessments". So we learned that the potential costs of £205bn were twice the estimated maximum benefits, of £110bn. But overnight, the "benefits" have blossomed tenfold. While the cost estimate now ranges from £324bn to £404bn, the "benefits" are estimated to top £1tn.

"I congratulate on [sic] finding nearly £1 trillion of benefits which had previously escaped your notice," writes Peter Lilley in a letter to Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband. Lilley was just one of just five elected members out of 653 to oppose the Climate Change Act.

"As so often in the debate on Global Warming – when the facts don’t fit the theory they change the facts," he adds. Lilley says he welcomes sensible CO2 reduction, but wants the costs - around £20,000 per household - discussed in Parliament.

In a footnote to the Miliband letter, Lilley notes that the cost excludes "transitional costs" of about one per cent of GDP per annum. This alone dwarves the top range estimate, since the UK's annual GDP is over £2tn. Also missing was the cost of UK businesses moving abroad to less virtuous countries - something even the Ministry admits is likely.

But we should salute this impressive feat of statistical inventiveness. Creativity with numbers seems to be a benefit when "fighting climate change", but creativity on this scale could make our economic problems vanish at the stroke of a pen-pusher's biro. ®

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