Owen Paterson’s proposal to scrap the UK’s Climate Change Act is “bonkers”, “doesn’t stack up” and shows the former environment secretary does not understand the risks from global warming, according to politicians, economists, campaigners and scientists.
In a lecture to be delivered on Wednesday for Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation thinktank, Paterson is expected to say the legislation risks blackouts and holding back investment in shale gas.
The law, which was the first of its kind when it was passed in 2008, makes it a legal requirement for the UK to cut carbon emissions 80% on 1990 levels by 2050.
Paterson, who has previously said significant global temperature rises of 1-2.5C would only be modest and who claimed he was sacked as minister to appease the “green blob”, is to call for a repeal of the act unless other countries adopt similar carbon-cutting laws.
“Blind adhesion to the 2050 targets will not reduce emissions and will fail to keep the lights on. The current energy policy is a slave to flawed climate action,” his speech will say, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
“It will cost £1,100bn, fail to meet the very emissions targets it is designed to meet, and will not provide the UK’s energy requirements. In the short and medium term, costs to consumers will rise dramatically, but there can only be one ultimate consequence of this policy: the lights will go out at some time in the future.”
The Tory MP will also reportedly say that “instead of investing huge sums in wind power”, the UK should invest in shale gas, combined heat and power, small nuclear reactors and managing energy demand, but the 2050 target stands in the way of such technologies.
Lord Stern, author of the influential 2007 report on the economics of climate change and recent New Climate Economy report, said Paterson had failed to understand the risks posed by climate change. “Repealing the Climate Change Act now would be a perverse backward step by the UK, with the worst possible timing. It would create additional uncertainty about the direction of government policy, undermining the confidence of investors, and increasing the cost of capital for new energy infrastructure.
“Its perversity would be even greater because the costs of renewables have fallen by extraordinary amounts in recent years and there is growing medical understanding of the damage to human health from the pollution caused by fossil fuels. This is a further example of the former environment minister’s complete failure to understand the immense risks from unmanaged climate change, as documented by national academies of sciences around the world.”
Baroness Worthington, one of the architects of the Climate Change Act and shadow minister in the lords for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, said Paterson’s proposal was “utterly bonkers”.
“He obviously hasn’t read it [the act], is my overall conclusion. There’s nothing in the act that tells you how to get to the  target, it’s completely flexible.”
She added that it was “ludicrous” to suggest there was enough support to repeal an act that was passed in 2008 with cross-party support that she called unprecedented.
“It would take a huge parliamentary debate. At the current time, when all the evidence is that climate change is getting worse and we need urgent action, I can’t see any desire to repeal this act. It’s the desire of a small group of fanatics who don’t even know what the act does.”
Only four MPs, including three Conservatives, opposed the legislation when it was passed.
Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist and deputy director of the Tyndall Centre, said the act should be strengthened and the timetable brought forward.
“In part I agree with Owen Paterson; his proposals on demand management and recovering waste heat from thermal power stations are to be welcomed. Moreover, we certainly need to revisit the Climate Change Act – but to significantly strengthen it in line with the science underpinning our prime minister’s international commitments on the 2C goal [of keeping average global temperature from rising above 2C].
“Policy informed by evidence demands both much tighter carbon budgets and an 80% target that is for 2030 – not 2050. Owen Paterson’s populist proposal to threaten to scrap the act if others don’t join in is far removed from that of a measured and scientifically informed government confronting difficult and dynamic issues.”
Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said “a large number of the elements don’t stack up” in Paterson’s argument.
He said: “The Climate Change Act does not mandate use of renewable energy, the Coalition government has just opened its capacity market auction specifically to ensure that the lights don’t go out, bills will not rise ‘dramatically’ in the short term, and small-scale nuclear reactors are not taking off primarily because investors are not convinced of their viability.
“On the other hand, his support for combined heat and power and demand management will find a lot of support among energy academics and – ironically – the green movement, who don’t want to see additional fossil-fuel-fired power stations being built if we don’t need them.”
Paterson’s claim that the lights will go out because of current energy strategy is at odds with the regulator Ofgem, which says disruption to supply is not “imminent or likely”.