The UK’s top climate adviser has vigorously rejected “defeatist” criticisms that the country’s net zero target is expensive, urging the Treasury to accelerate the current pace of “incremental” decarbonisation.
Chris stark, the executive director of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), urged that the debate on net zero be framed in a more positive way: “It can be done,” he said. “It’s worth it … I hope we can stop thinking about cost and see it as a mission to modernize the economy.”
Two years ago, the UK led the world in adopting a net zero target for 2050, which is essential for humanity to have any chance of keeping global warming at a relatively safe level of 1.5 ° C to 2 °. C. Last December, the CCC outlined five ways to achieve that goal, which the cabinet will soon have to decide before the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in the fall.
In recent weeks, however, there has been a wave of criticism from right-wing commentators that the costs are too high, highlighting which side of the debate the Treasury will support.
Stark said it was essential that Chancellor Rishi Sunak back the government’s net zero plan because his spending review would shape his outlook.
“There are some important decisions to be made there,” he said of the cabinet talks. “We cannot continue to advance little by little in all this. The incremental pace that we have seen in some policies over the last 12 months is not going to slow it down. This is a great moment. That moment is ahead of Cop26. There will be a lot of emphasis on what that strategy contains. “
He acknowledged that some of the recent criticism of the CCC had been “ugly”, but welcomed the debate on how to get to net zero. “I hope there is a battle around the cabinet table because they have to be owners.”
But he advocated a shift in narrative to a more optimistic message reflecting success so far in lowering the cost of wind and solar energy prices, phasing out coal, and decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions. . “This is such a positive story … I would love to see the chancellor shouting this from the rooftops,” he said. “Why is the framing of this often so defeatist? I think we should try to change the record on this. The scale of this transition is what’s exciting about it. We didn’t blink in the past when we made these national transitions, like from coal to municipal gas and from municipal gas to North Sea gas. We made it a national priority and we are proud to carry it out. “
However, he said the government had some tough decisions to make. Whichever path the cabinet chooses, Stark said state intervention would be necessary to ensure that costs and benefits are fairly distributed across regions and corporate sectors. Policies would also be needed to encourage modest lifestyle changes, including less meat consumption and a switch to electric cars, he said.
“This is a difficult time for those who like less of state intervention,” he said. “This is the controversial part. To those on the right, this may sound a little state-owned and a little command-and-control. “
But he said the market would play a vital role and that the private sector needed clear political signals to support investment decisions that would decarbonize and improve the country’s transportation, heating, energy and building stock. He estimated that this would require an eighth more capital expenditure in the UK than it currently is. Starting in 2030, this would require around £ 50bn a year of additional spending, mainly by the private sector. Low interest rates and high efficiency benefits would bring this to less than 1% of GDP.
Stark said the economic and geopolitical benefits of assuming a leadership position would outweigh the costs. He cited improvements in industry, improvements in health, increased skill levels in the workforce, leveling off society and improving the natural world, along with greater energy independence and less dependence on fossil fuels from import locations. “potentially very unpleasant”. He said the UK also had a responsibility as a major historical issuer and as a signatory to the Paris Agreement.
Time was of the essence because fossil fuel purchases, such as cars or power plants, tended to have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years, he said, adding that policies are now needed to encourage investment to change over the next decade and beyond. climb. until after 2030.
Using the example of renewable energy and electric cars, he said: “It can be done. I think it’s important to say that. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism