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« Gleick "cleared" | Main | Shale gas dropped? »
Sunday
May202012

Swords at dawn

There is an important FOI story (or, more precisely, an EIR one) at WUWT. It concerns the compliance of the Irish government with the Aarhus Convention, an international agreement to involve the public in formulation of environmental policy, which, at the same time, requires disclosure of environmental information to the public. The convention is the reason we have the Environmental Information Regulations in the UK.

According to anti-windfarm campaigner, Pat Swords:

[T]his is an important decision, because the EU’s renewable energy programme as it currently stands is now proceeding without ‘proper authority’. The public’s right to be informed and to participate in its development and implementation has been by-passed. A process will now be started to ensure that the Committee’s recommendations are addressed; if ultimately they are not, then UNECE has the option of requiring the EU to withdraw from the UN Convention on Human and Environmental Rights.

I wonder what the implications are for the UK?

More thoughts here, where Richard Tol is active in the comments threads.

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Reader Comments (17)

This story seems to have implications for Your Grace's previous one about the British government rejecting shale gas on the advice of "experts."

May 20, 2012 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Very interesting story. The link to The Irish Economy blog has a helpful comment by Pat Swords, here are a couple of paras, but the whole post is worth a look.


"Pat Swords Says:
May 16th, 2012 at 9:18 pm
....

Yet when it comes to carbon dioxide there has been essentially a complete failure to properly fund and execute these vitally necessary, albeit complex, studies. We are in the dark about the external cost of carbon dioxide. To explain, the internal cost is what we pay directly, such as on our electricity bill, while the external costs does not appear as a direct charge to the consumer, but which has a cost to society as a whole, such as through environmental degradation. Obviously external costs are an absolutely key element of cost, benefit analysis and the resulting decision making.
...

We cannot as a society make proper decisions in the absence facts and figures. Neither can we hand out contracts to support 4,000 MW of additional renewable energy on essentially a ‘one pager’ justification, which does not provide a single figure as to what the greenhouse gas and fossil fuel savings will be. In particular when the existsing grid functions perfectly without any of this considerable investment."

May 20, 2012 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterJosh

http://blip.tv/reliveproductions/pat-swords-talks-on-his-challenge-for-freedom-of-information-in-ireland-6020391

May 20, 2012 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid, UK

The UK gov't is hoping to build a big wind farm in Ireland and transmit the power back to Great Britain, so as to help meet its renewables targets while circumventing planning regs.

Because of Swords, planning in Ireland will have to be tightened and the above plan may be one of the first victims.

May 20, 2012 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Is this correct: renewable energy programmes throughout the UK (and other EU countries) are all likely to be illegal because insufficient information was provided regarding their costs/benefits?

If so, might each of us be able to claim damages equal to the amount added to our energy bills to pay for all of these (illegal) programmes? How should this be done?

Could each renewable energy programme be shut down until such a cost/ benefit analysis is produced? How could this be done?

May 20, 2012 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered Commentersam

sam,

Only those who thought it was a bad idea will be able to claim it back (and those who believe they were duped into supporting it). Those who thought it was a good idea will not be able to claim it back - and neither will they want to.
I think we need to start three lists.

May 20, 2012 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

Pat Swords and Richard Tol have posted some good points here, note this ruling also covers public access to information which may overrule any changes to FOIA in making it harder to conceal information.

http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2012/05/14/pat-swords-v-the-world/

May 20, 2012 at 12:43 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

ah yes, Pacta sunt servanda

jus cogens

May 20, 2012 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

As Roy points out, these regulations/rulings present something of a double-edged sword [pardon the pun].

And while any old NGO is allowed to get away with asserting that carbon dioxide represents the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, then the economic "externalities" trick will remain as a threat to sensible economic policies.

May 20, 2012 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Thanks for the post.

This ruling by the UNECE Compliance Committee, which applies to the 27 Member States is very important as it opens up many other important legal avenues. For instance in the UK the Compliance Committee ruling of Novemver 2010 is now leading to a reform of the UK legal system to bring down the cost of legal challenges (Judicial Reviews), to satisfy the Convention's requirements of Access to Justice, which fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive.

The Convention is also part of EU law, namely Directives 2003/4/EC, Directive 2003/35/EC and Regulation 1376/2006. There is now a ruling that this legal framework was not complied with.

Under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Lisbon Treaty there is a Right to Good Administration and a Right to have damages made good. The latter is well established within case law, such that the EU Commission has even produced guidance on it. Why? They see it as an effective way of ensuring that EU law is adhered to - let the Citizen enforce it:

http://ec.europa.eu/eu_law/infringements/infringements_dommages_en.htm

Personally I would encourage others to look at this. There simply has been too many damages associated with these dysfunctional policies, which have by-passed proper technical, economic and environmental assessments, which were legally binding. The cost burden, both financially and environmentally is too high.

May 20, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterPat Swords

Richard Tol makes this important point:


I overlooked one thing. Aarhus also stipulates access to information, not just information held by the official bodies, but also information held by their advisers.

Does this then cover all data used in reports to government upon which policy is derived, and the UK government is following EU policy?

May 20, 2012 at 2:31 PM | Registered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

On 29 April the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee ruled that the EU and Ireland were in breach of the Convention in respect of Ireland’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan ( NREAP). On foot of NREAP the Government provides large subsidies to wind power generators via the Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff ( REFIT). The government and the EU both provide aid for grid interconnections. Such subsidies and aid are otherwise prohibited under EU law. The EU imposition of a target of a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 is the ostensible justification. However NREAP was not underpinned by evidence that it would reduce CO2 emissions or by cost benefit analysis. There was no attempt to demonstrate that the cost of mitigation of CO2 emissions was competitive with alternatives ( which it is not), and no attempt is made to determine if CO2 emission reductions are actually achieved. The “renewable energy” strategy which has given us among the highest electricity costs in western Europe and despoiled our landscape is both a chimera and a deception.

The Department of Finance has already advised Minister Noonan that Ireland’s Climate Policy is based on Ideology and Target setting not on a rational assessment of what is possible or in Ireland’s national interest. The so called Green Economy agenda is imposed on us by National, EU and international political establishments without concern for our economic benefit, environmental welfare nor by any scientific rationale .

To leave no doubt, in an interview published in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on 14 November 2010, Otto Edenhofer, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III, said:-
“The climate summit ( at Cancun) ...is not a climate conference, but one of the largest economic conferences since the Second World War…. one must say clearly that de facto we redistribute the world's wealth by climate policy….  One has to rid oneself of the illusion that international climate politics have anything to do with environmental concerns.”

We are taken for fools!

May 20, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Whitehead

Lord Beaverbrook:
"Richard Tol makes this important point:
I overlooked one thing. Aarhus also stipulates access to information, not just information held by the official bodies, but also information held by their advisers.
Does this then cover all data used in reports to government upon which policy is derived, and the UK government is following EU policy?"

-I think your question is a good one, with this caveat: Politicians, like "climate-change" scientists, know that what you omit to declare as a source of data, advice, influence, or policy, is just as important as important as that which is acknowledged. Yes, it seems trite to say it, but that is their profession, and we should not underestimate them.

May 20, 2012 at 4:29 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Congratulations to pat for his doggedness and for getting a good result. One obvious group that could seek compensation are conventional generators (gas turbines, coal plant, nuclear etc) who have all seen drastically reduced revenues because wind is given priority dispatch in power systems, certainly in Ireland anyway. Whenever the wind is blowing, other plant have to reduce their output or switch off entirely, which will end up reducing the lifetime of those plants. The startup costs of a gas turbine is about 100K euros, and this of course ends up on the final consumers bill.

May 20, 2012 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan

@Lord Beaverbrook, Michael Hart
Note that my comments were made in an Irish context, where Freedom of Information is much more narrowly defined than in the UK.

My reading of Aarhus that a "retained consultant" -- an adviser whose work is exclusively for the client and who is remunerated -- falls under Access to Environmental Information regulations. That is, FOI extends to commercial consultants, private advisers etc.

May 20, 2012 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/environmental_information.aspx

There is a good bit of information already available on the subject, see above. It is a shame that the public are not using this mechanism to more effect.

As the webpage above clarifies:

"The Regulations apply to most public authorities that are covered by the Freedom of Information Act, but they can also apply to any organisation or person carrying out a public administration function, and any organisation or person that is under the control of a public authority and has environmental responsibilities".

Hence Richard is right in his assumption.

Walking down the main street in Belgrade recently I spent some time looking at a catching poster exhibition. One struck me as being particularly apt: "Dissent protects democracy. Secrecy promotes tyranny".

True words. Information, i.e. the lack of or the quality thereof, has always been a key issue. Unfortunately people have been slow to exert their rights in this manner with the net result that the public at large has been increasingly misinformed.

May 20, 2012 at 11:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterPat Swords

Thanks, Pat, for backing that up.

It implies that the paper trail can be followed into private organizations and charities.

May 21, 2012 at 6:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

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