Campaigners fear that Rishi Sunak’s refusal to offer adequate funding is stifling the net zero strategies.
Boris Johnson’s leadership will be put to the test ahead of the Cop26 climate summit, as the chancellor and business secretary are at odds over the government’s impending aim to achieve net zero carbon emissions.
On Monday, the government is expected to release its long-awaited net zero strategies, which will outline how the UK can accomplish its targets of reducing CO2 emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 and reaching net zero by 2050. This will include the heat and buildings strategy, which will include insulating draughty homes and phase out gas boilers, as well as a significant expansion of offshore wind and the construction of electric vehicle charging networks.
Campaigners have warned that failing to present a feasible and well-funded plan for reaching net zero will jeopardise the UK’s credibility at a vital time, only weeks before the UN Cop26 climate talks begin in Glasgow at the end of this month.
“To achieve an ambitious outcome at Cop26, the government has to lead by example,” said Ed Matthew, campaign director at green thinktank E3G. “If they don’t have their own house in order on how to reach net zero, how are they going to persuade the rest of the world to get on track? The whole diplomatic strategy is absolutely dependent on having a credible plan in place in the UK.”
Kwarteng has endorsed the idea of decarbonising electricity generation by 2035 and is working behind the scenes to achieve net zero emissions. As one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, the business secretary comes from a firmly free-market stance. Therefore this is a new departure for him. However, insiders suggest that the pandemic has changed his perspective and that he has experienced some “green” conversion – despite the fact that he still wants to licence more oil and gas in the North Sea.
One close observer added, “With the pandemic and the energy crisis, he sees a need for government intervention. Energy security is now a key theme, and building renewables can help with that.”
“It’s astonishing that he did not mention climate change: the single greatest threat the UK economy is facing, and with Cop26 approaching,” Matthew remarked. “Without the Treasury, we can’t be on track for net zero because we need not just the policies but investment – this is the litmus test.”
The Treasury is also likely to release its own net zero conclusions on Monday, in the form of a review that will detail the costs of reaching net zero. Green specialists are divided over the Treasury’s net zero study, which would ignore many of the benefits of decreasing emissions, such as green jobs, lower energy bills, and improved health from reduced air pollution, as well as mitigating the effects of extreme weather.
“It’s as if the Stern review never happened,” one expert said, referring to climate economist Nicholas Stern’s famous 2006 research, which found that the short-term costs of reducing emissions were much surpassed by the long-term economic benefits. “They have stuck to their old pre-Stern models of cost.”
Climate sceptics in the Tory ranks, according to Green campaigners, will jump on the Treasury review. They’re also concerned that the fossil fuel industry has persuaded the government to make hydrogen a key component of its net-zero goal. That would be a mistake, they believe, because some kinds of hydrogen are not low-CO2 but rather need the conversion of fossil fuels into hydrogen and the storage of the resulting CO2, as opposed to genuine green hydrogen systems, which produce hydrogen using renewable energy.
“Hydrogen boilers are greenwash,” said Matthew. “They will massively increase energy bills. If they’re considering hydrogen, that’s a bad sign.”
“The government is currently promoting false solutions that effectively subsidise the fossil fuel industry,” Kat Kramer, global climate head at Christian Aid, said. ” It’s crazy that they plan to use taxpayer money to promote hydrogen made from fossil gas rather than renewables, and for capturing carbon from burned fossil fuels and storing it underground.”
“We are absolutely committed to meeting our world-leading climate commitments, and the prime minister’s 10-point plan set out £12 billion in investment for green industries,” a Treasury spokesperson said.
“Government alone cannot achieve net zero, which is why we are working with the private sector to boost investment and lead the world in green finance,” they said.