Minister for Government Policy Oliver Letwin Concedes Defeat: Nigel Lawson Wins Climate Policy Bet

  • Date: 03/01/13
  • The Global Warming Policy Foundation

Oliver Letwin, David Cameron’s chief policy adviser, has conceded defeat in a £100 climate policy bet with Nigel Lawson which they had agreed four and a half years ago.

Towards the end of a climate debate between the two Conservative heavy-weights in the July 2008 issue of Standpoint, the following exchange took place:

Oliver Letwin: Nigel can’t know whether there is going to be a successor to Kyoto.

Nigel Lawson: Well, look, there’ll be an international agreement in the sense that there will be platitudes. The acid test is: will there be an agreement to have binding cutbacks for all participants on their carbon emissions? Instead of arguing about it, we could have a wager on it.

Oliver Lewtin: I’d be very happy to have a wager, and I offer you a £100 bet that before either of us is dead, whichever is the first — our estates can pay — we will see a very substantial agreement on carbon reduction.

Nigel Lawson: But I don’t think I want the bet to be “in my lifetime” because I’d like to get the £100. I’m sorry it’s such a modest amount you’re prepared to wager — it shows how unconfident you are — but I would like to be able to collect before I die. So I think we should say “by the time Kyoto runs out”, because there is meant to be no hiatus; there is meant to be a successor to Kyoto. So “by 2012 we will have the agreement” — maybe I’ll die before then, of course —but 2012 is the acid test.

Oliver Letwin: On the same basis, Nigel, I’m perfectly willing to take that bet too. The reason I’m willing to take the bet is that I know that the only way it can be made to happen is if we try to make it happen and if we build up the moral authority to make it happen by taking the steps ourselves.

The original Kyoto agreement which set binding CO2 emissions targets for 37 developed nations only ran out on the 31st of December 2012. There has been no new international agreement on CO2 emissions reduction, let alone a ‘substantial’ one. In the meantime, Canada, Russia and New Zealand have officially abandoned the Kyoto Protocol while Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have threatened to abandon it as well.

Oliver Letwin has now conceded that Lawson has won the bet.

Lord Lawson comments:

“I made the bet because I knew I would win. It has always been blindingly obvious that the positions of Europe, the United States and China were much too far apart for a truly global successor to Kyoto to be negotiable.”

“Oliver Letwin is one of the nicest people in politics, and one of the cleverest. It is, however, disconcerting that UK climate change policy - which makes no conceivable sense in the absence of a binding global agreement – has been based on the advice of someone so totally divorced from any understanding of practical realities.”