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Do we truly know the cost of net zero?–Ross Clark


By Paul Homewood


It is pretty clear that support for net zero drops away rather rapidly as soon as people understand its implications

Just why is Chris Skidmore’s review into the government’s target to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 called an ‘independent’ review? It somewhat stretches the definition of the word ‘independent’.

Skidmore was the very minister – the Energy and Clean Growth Minister – who pushed the net zero commitment through the House of Commons in the first place in 2019. He remains a Conservative MP. Putting him in charge of an ‘independent’ review on net zero is analogous to Rishi Sunak putting Boris Johnson in charge of a ‘independent’ review into Brexit. That, of course, would be laughed out of the House of Commons. But things seem to work very differently in the world of net zero.   

The legally-binding target to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 has the most far-reaching 
consequences of any piece of legislation in recent times. It is far more significant than Brexit, for example, as it requires Britain to adopt multiple new, extremely expensive and unproven technologies. And yet it was passed through the Commons without even a vote. The commitment to net zero didn’t even feature in either the Conservative or Labour manifestos in 2017, the last election before the measure was passed.

But any dissent doesn’t matter, according to Skidmore, because he has held 50 ‘round tables’. He claims, ‘We heard a clear message for businesses, organisations, individuals, and local government across the country: net zero is creating a new era of opportunity, but government, industry, and individuals need to act to make the most of the opportunities, reduce costs, and ensure we deliver successfully.’ Was it really that unanimous, Chris? And if so, who did you invite to your round tables? I guess my invitation got lost in the post.

Skidmore claims there is strong public support for net zero. This might well be the case when people are asked simply about net zero without any context, i.e. what the implications will be for them personally. Polls suggest around 60 per cent of people are generally in favour. But it is a very different matter when people are asked directly about measures which form part of the government’s net zero strategy.

Planting trees (92 per cent approval in a YouGov poll in 2021) and banning single use plastics (81 per cent) are wildly popular. So, too, it seems is ‘only using renewable energy’ (66 per cent). That is perhaps because the cost implications were not explained in the question. A majority, too, backed a frequent flyer levy (60 per cent). Banning petrol and diesel cars, however, was met with approval of 48 per cent, taxing air fares 37 per cent, increasing fuel duty 27 per cent and restricting consumption of meat and dairy 26 per cent.

It is pretty clear that support drops away rather rapidly as soon as people are allowed to understand the implications of net zero. Most support it only as an abstract idea which does not impinge on them personally.   

What we really need is a genuinely independent review of this policy which explains very clearly what some of the known costs are and also looks at the many unknown costs of decarbonising food production, industries, backing up intermittent wind and solar, and so on. As Lord Frost suggested in a tweet today, what we could do with is a Red Team review of the review, which asks the difficult questions – the ones MPs failed to ask when they nodded net zero through the Commons. And it needs to be led by someone who really is independent of government.

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