Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Article Of Faith: Climate Change Law

Joan Groizard Payeras is a departmental director-general with the Balearic government. His brief CV on the government's website tells us that he received a masters in energy engineering and the environment from Cambridge and that he has been a consultant to and engineer with energy companies, with a particular emphasis on renewables. It's pretty impressive and one cannot therefore quibble with his credentials for being the director-general for energy and climate change within the ministry for land, energy and transport.

The government has informed us that it will be introducing pioneering legislation on climate change. We already know a direction in which the government is going on this. The increased use of renewables (solar) is a key policy. As to most other aspects, we will need to wait until the draft legislation is presented in order to gain an appreciation of this pioneering initiative. It will need to demonstrate greater originality than a shift to renewables to fall into the pioneering category, albeit that placing solar at the centre of the energy agenda will represent a pioneering move in the Balearics. It has taken a stupidly long time to get around to the exploitation of a natural resource we have in abundance glaring down on these islands and one, moreover, that isn't in any immediate danger of disappearing.

The irony with solar energy is that ever more of it is going to be required over the next decades. That's because the source of the energy is going to make everywhere that much hotter. Climate change policy can therefore take a positive from the sun being a supplier of energy for air-conditioning in order to offset the negative of the sun being so damned hot and reducing the islands to an almost permanent state of drought, or at least the victims of prolonged heat waves.

Groizard was last week presenting some conclusions from the first study to be made of climate change vulnerability. The Balearics, it has been noted in various reports of a scientific variety, are going to be particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change; if they aren't already. Studying this vulnerability seems like a good start, but what did he have to tell us? In truth, nothing that we don't already know or would have guessed. More violent storms, greater risks of flooding and landslides, drought, heat waves, rising sea level, impact on infrastructure and buildings.

What is this legislation likely to be? It is tempting to think that its pioneering quality will be confined to the fact that nowhere else has actually passed a law which specifically states climate change in its title. For a government as virtuous as the current one, it would be a feather in an already environmentally plumed cap to lay claim to such legislative innovation. This assessment, however, does rather dilute the role that Groizard has and is presumably playing. He isn't a civil servant, he's an expert; that's why he's director-general.

The problem, though, is the political nature of climate change. I think by now we are familiar enough with the arguments, so for a government such as the one we have at the moment, having a department bearing the title climate change, enacting legislation called climate change are indications of its political view of the issue. But not everyone of course agrees.

Rod Liddle is someone who can typically be relied upon to stoke an argument. Writing in The Times recently, he wasn't denying climate change - "I can see (the climate) doing its stuff outside my window" - but he made a point, as if it was really again needed, that "climate change proponents are required to hype up the rhetoric, to provide politicians with suitably scary predictions". He was referring in particular to scientific experts and to, for example, university departments being dubbed climate change. Once you have these, climate change becomes an article of faith and spawns what it does - policy initiatives, taxes and a lucrative industry.

In a similar fashion, if you have a government department with the title, it's highly unlikely that its expert director-general is going to tell ministers that climate change needn't cause sleepless nights. And I say this with the greatest respect for Groizard.

With certain policies, like solar, they just seem common sense. Exploit the sun, and stop polluting everywhere with contaminants and emissions. Likewise with stopping anchorage on posidonia and preventing harm to the marine environment. Posidonia's benefits in terms of preventing erosion and lessening the impact of CO2 are a bonus. One can and should accept this, but in other respects there are doubts. Will this pioneering legislation, as an example, set in motion an ultimate process of urban relocation away from more vulnerable areas? It has to be a possibility. But at what cost? To whom and to where? Yet uncertainty would determine such a policy. Wouldn't it?

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