Sunday, April 24, 2016


There was a lighter moment in the UK referendum campaign last week, when well-known energy and climate expert Liz Hurley announced that she would be voting to leave the EU because she could no longer buy one of her favourite light bulbs.  This, it appeared, was all down to the EU’s insistence on prohibiting sale of the said bulbs. The story was given substantial prominence in the British press, notably in papers with a history of antipathy towards both the EU and climate science.

The story was spoiled somewhat when a spokesman for Hilary Benn revealed that Mr Benn himself had been personally responsible for the voluntary agreement in the UK to phase out the energy guzzling lightbulbs. “Ms Hurley appears to be in the dark on climate change policies. It was Britain that led efforts to reduce carbon emissions across Europe, including by encouraging more energy-efficient lightbulbs in the UK before the EU law was agreed.”
My source for the above quote is Joy Lo Dico [Evening Standard, 22nd April] but I have yet to find this clarification published in the papers that splashed the original story. Of course that would spoil the neat equation of European attacks on British sovereignty with the evils of attempting to take effective action to save the planet. But lurking behind these trivialities there are some serious questions.
What is the right balance between the EU and national governments for regulation and market initiatives related to energy and climate?  A believer in free trade ought to be arguing that a wider market, in emissions quotas for example, is essential for economic efficiency and ultimately benefits us all. On the other hand the EU emissions trading scheme has failed to live up to its early promise, and that is one of the reasons why so many national policies exist alongside the EU measures.
I shall try to return to some of these questions, which will also become prominent in follow-ups to the Paris agreements, during the course of the referendum campaign.


Jeffrey Vernon said...

Hilary Benn might not remember why he announced the low energy light bulb policy at Labour conference in September 2007, but it was already on its way through the EU. The European Council in March 2007 had instructed the Commission to draw up plans for a phase-out in private homes by 2009. See page 20 of the Council's own report:

Greenpeace separately claimed credit for it, saying they had already persuaded most retailers to phase out incandescent bulbs.

John Rhys said...

Thanks for that piece of information. That would of course fit in very well with the timing of the 2008 Energy Act, which was significantly more ambitious than the EU as a whole. In fact I think the UK is still more ambitious than the EU which means that blaming the EU for policies stemming from our very own carbon targets seems a bit perverse.