There's gold in green: profiting from climate change
The double standards of our eco accountants
Imagine an unpopular, impotent, and fragile UK Government, trying to make political capital out of a looming crisis. To avoid being embarrassed by criticism of its shallow policies, it appoints an independent panel of experts, to which it defers controversial decisions. Now imagine that the panel proposes measures from which its members and their associates will directly benefit.
It couldn't happen here, you may think. Scandal and resignations would surely follow. Who could possibly allow vested interests to profit from the legislation they are instrumental in creating?
This week, an independent panel of experts called the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published the details of its recent advice to Parliament that the UK should reduce its CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
There's no doubt there's money to be made from this new legislation, which was passed last week. A recent conference, given the title 'Cashing in on Carbon' was, in its own words, "aimed squarely at investment banks, investors and major compliance buyers and is focused on how they can profit today from an increasingly diverse range of carbon-related investment opportunities".
Amongst these bean-counters-turned-Gaia-botherers were representatives from IDEAcarbon, which offers carbon market intelligence, ratings and advice to governments, organisations and companies. Climate Change Committee member, Samuel Fankhauser, a former climate change economist for the World Bank, is the company’s managing director, strategic advice. IDEAcarbon’s parent company, IDEAglobal, appointed Nicholas Stern, author of the highly influential Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change and former chief economist at the World Bank, as vice chairman, last year.
The group has its eyes on the carbon market, which it says "grew from $10bn to $34bn between 2005 and 2006", and projects to be worth well over $100bn in the future.
A "carbon market" is built on the idea that, if greenhouse gas emissions are capped by law, then the legal right to emit these gasses becomes a commodity that can be traded. But without legislation, there can be no market, as IDEAcarbon (pdf) acknowledges:
The global carbon market is moving into a critical new phase of development. If it is to succeed over the long term, both in its role in reducing carbon emissions and as a financial market in its own right, legislators need to provide certainty of a regulatory framework that will be robust, flexible, and valid over the long term.
The company’s website is surprisingly candid about the influence it exerts over the UK Government:
Working with the key decision makers who are shaping the future of the market enables us to accurately predict market trends and provide tailored strategic advice to clients.
In other words, the interests of investors and national policy makers must be aligned. And it would be most fortunate if they were one and the same.
There's gold in that there green
Prominent environmental campaigner, and author of Kyoto 2, how to manage the Global Greenhouse, Oliver Tickell protests of carbon trading schemes that, "Carbon fortunes are indeed being made, and many of them in the City of London, which dominates the global carbon marketplace". Instead, he favours carbon offsetting – paying poor people not to develop their economies – rather than trading.
But Oliver’s eyes are greener than his mind; he too stands to profit from his environmental activism. His father, former diplomat and patron of the neo-Malthusian Optimum Population Trust, Sir Crispin Tickell, who made the first arguments influential for the greening of the UK Government in the 1970s with his book, Climatic Change and World Affairs, was appointed chair of a committee to check the integrity of carbon-offsetting firm, Climate Care, part of JPMorgan's Environmental Markets group.
Oliver Tickell is a shareholder and is entitled to 0.3 per cent of royalties. Asked if there was a conflict of interest, his father told The Times: "Frankly, no."
But, frankly, it seems increasingly the case that not far behind the characters and campaigns influencing the Government's climate polices are private interests, waiting to cash in on climate legislation. They are dressed as superhero ‘social entrepreneurs’, saving the planet, but unless we take environmental doom for granted, they could be said to be cashing in on fear.
Former Greenpeace activist, and founder of alternative energy firm Solarcentury and the world's first private equity fund for renewable energy, Bank Sarasin's New Energies Invest AG, Jeremy Leggett, was, between 2002 and 2006, a member of the UK Government's Renewables Advisory Board. The board, it explains,
"…aims to provide the Secretary of State with independent, impartial and authoritative advice on policies, programmes and measures, to improve Government understanding of the obstacles and opportunities for the development and deployment of renewable technologies in the UK"
Impartial? Independent? Buy a solar panel – from Leggett, perhaps – and the UK Government will stump up £2,500 of the costs. Schools, charities and the public sector can receive up to 50 per cent of costs up to £1 million in grants. The inefficient, expensive, and unreliable Green Energy Revolution®™ cannot stand on its own two feet, and is heavily subsidised.
Conflict? What conflict?
Chairman of the Climate Change Committee and former advisor to investment firm Climate Change Capital Lord Turner heats the swimming pool at his second home - the first is a mansion in Kensington - with solar panels, while warning that "growth has to be dethroned" for the sake of the planet.
Such lofty ideals come easily to millionaires such as Turner. But for the billions of people who lack such wealth, Turner’s words sound like a door slamming behind him. For, if Turner and his team get their way, every kilogram of carbon will be audited by carbon market firms, some of which will likely be managed by certain CCC members and their associates, at a price, making energy increasingly expensive.
We posed some questions to the government departments. First stop, the Climate Change Legislation Team at DEFRA. Did they see that there was a conflict of interests?
"You’re plucking stories out of thin air", a DEFRA press officer told us.
We asked the Climate Change Committee itself to comment on the idea that there was a conflict of interest.
"You’ve got no evidence", said their press officer.
But what evidence does one need to show that a conflict of interest exists, other than to point out where the interests lie? We wondered what steps had been taken to make sure that no conflict of interest existed?
"Committee members were asked to declare any conflicts of interest at the time of their appointment. None were declared", they told us.
Asked if they were politically motivated, the CCC told us
"The CCC has been set up to independently advise Government on tackling climate change and as such does not adhere to any particular ideological agenda. Our analysis is based on factual evidence."
We asked each department if there was any register of interests - shares, commitments to political causes, and son on - like there is for members of the House of Commons or House of Lords.
The CCC said there was no such register, simply that appointees were asked to declare anything at the beginning, and that they hadn't.
So that’s that then. The extent of the scrutiny of appointments to public roles is to ask candidates if there is a conflict of interest. And we have to take their word for it.
Now imagine if it emerged that the panel of experts included a number of oil industry executives - and that the policy advice had recommended lower emissions targets. There would be outrage.
The Commmittee favours a narrow set of solutions, ignoring adaptation and biomass management in favour of carbon markets, from which the participants directly benefit.
("The whole issue of adaptation needs to be taken off the back burner and receive a lot more serious attention," the executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat Yvo de Boer now says, citing biomass management as an example).
The claim that the nefarious influence of dirty, dirty oil money has forced action to prevent catastrophic climate change is a mainstay of the environmental movement. It divides the world into villains and heroes. Typical is this broadside by Climate Change Commmittee member, and erstwhile president of the Royal Society, Lord May:
On one hand we have the IPCC, the rest of the world's major scientific organisations, and the government's chief scientific adviser, all pointing to the need to cut emissions. On the other we have a small band of sceptics, including lobbyists funded by the US oil industry, a sci-fi writer, and the Daily Mail, who deny the scientists are right.
May might argue that there had been a failure of due process. After all, if Parliament defers to the advice of a committee on the basis that it is not equipped to make good policy, it cannot scrutinise the findings of the committee, and so must accept their advice, or be seen to be acting contrary to the evidence that it has sought.
But shouldn't we subject the real winners of the climate change debate to the same scrutiny that Lord May subjects climate sceptics? ®
Ben Pile studies philosophy and politics at the University of York, and is co-editor of the climate resistance blog.