Does Climate Denier Lord Ridley Boast Britain’s Biggest Carbon Footprint?

Lord Ridley, Owen Paterson and miner Harry Banks

Lord Matt Ridley, a card carrying member of Britain’s one percent, is responsible for one per cent of the entire country’s CO2.

Lord Ridley is a powerhouse of climate denial in Britain – and a leading contender for the title of Britain's biggest individual carbon polluter.

The self-styled Rational Optimist is an advisor to Lord Lawson’s secretly funded charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), and acts as a one-man think tank to his brother-in-law, the sacked environment secretary Owen Paterson.

At the same time, the landed aristocrat will mine more than 10 million tonnes of coal from open cast mines scattered around his expansive Blagdon Estate in Northumberland during the next five years.

Miles King, a conservationist with almost 30 years of professional experience, has used publicly available information to estimate that the coal mined from Ridley’s estate will produce 28.6 million tonnes of CO2.

The government has estimated that the UK emitted a total of 570 million tonnes of CO2 or equivalent greenhouse gasses during 2013. This means Ridley’s mines will contribute an estimated one percent of the total annual emissions of a country of 60 million people.

Massive Profit

I don’t know how much profit Ridley is making from his coal but it must be massive,” King writes on A New Nature Blog. “As the modern day King Coal, one might suggest Matt Ridley has an extremely large vested interest in stoking climate denial.”

Ridley declares an interest in coal when speaking in the House of Lords. He denies being a climate denier, and denies the charge of promoting the coal industry. He claims his arguments support gas rather than coal interests.

However, as King points out, Ridley has been known to defend coal. “It’s the fashion these days to vilify coal as the root of all environmental evil, but I think that’s mistaken,” Ridley writes on his own blog.

Coal and the technologies it spawned made it possible to double human lifespan, end famine, provide electric light and spare forests for nature.

Because we get coal out of the ground, we do not have to cut down forests; because we use petroleum we don’t have to kill whales for their oil; because we use gas to make fertilizer we don’t have to cultivate so much land to feed the world.

This country can compete with China on the basis of either cheap labour or cheap energy. I know which I’d prefer.”

Financial Benefit

King’s investigation into Ridley’s carbon footprint was inspired by reports launched by DeSmog UK just before the New Year where we claimed that the mines around the aristocrat’s estate would yield a further £13m a year due to recent planning approvals.

Ridley has so far refused to confirm the exact amount of money he is making from the coal under his family’s land, citing commercial confidentiality. “I receive no financial benefit other than a wayleave in exchange for providing access to the land,” he told DeSmog UK.

The Ridley mines are operated by family firm Banks Mining. The coal under the ground is still owned by the British government following nationalisation in 1947, although the Coal Authority charges very little for the extraction and sale of our most valuable and dangerous resource.

Yet, soon Ridley, his miners and the government could be mandated to reveal exactly how much in profits is being made by the Blagdon mines, how much is paid in taxation, and the amount in fees going to the Coal Authority.

The controversial Infrastructure Bill currently going through Parliament will, if passed, make the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) legally binding.

According to the government, “EITI is a global standard ensuring openness and accountability in the management of revenue from natural resources including coal, oil, natural gas, quarrying and mining.”

Unburnable Coal

The transparency initiative was launched by campaigners concerned about the relationship between major oil companies and corrupt governments around the world.

They believe transparency will allow citizens to fully appreciate how national resources are being sold cheaply by their political elites.

But Britain’s support for this initiative could have serious implications for Ridley, when local residents find out exactly how much is being made in profits from the coal on his estate and can test the veracity of his claim to only receive a negligible amount in fees.

A study by academics at University College London (UCL) published in Nature confirms that 80 per cent of the world’s coal is “unburnable” if there is to be any hope of keeping climate change to less than two degrees – and averting catastrophe.

Dr Christophe McGlade, from the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, told the BBC: “Policymakers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2C goal.”