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Conservatives Need to Start Being Rational About Climate Change

Harry Wilkinson, Free Market Conservatives

When it comes to climate change, this Government has put aside any notional attachment to free markets, or indeed to reason. With the rushed introduction of a target to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions, it appears there is no policy too expensive or poorly thought through if it is done in the name of stopping the so-called ‘climate crisis’.

This is so tragic because it is precisely the free market that leads to the more efficient use of resources. This means we can look forward to having a smaller footprint on the environment in the future, without a major need for government intervention. 

Radical attempts to decarbonise the economy threaten to affect almost every aspect of our lives, and yet there are almost no questioning voices in Parliament, only hysterical demands to go further and faster. Given that no-one can be certain that such a target is even feasible by 2050, such an attitude is particularly concerning.

In their zeal to appease Greta and the green religion, MPs are taking a casual attitude about the harm they may do to the economy and society, and in particular to the poorest people. There is a glaring need for more scrutiny of climate policies – both of their costs, but also of their purported benefits.

Take the new policy to ban the sale of all petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles by 2035, which threatens to make driving the preserve of the rich and destroy the car industry at the same time. EU regulations, as well as a prospective ban on diesel and petrol vehicles, have been forced on a public that simply isn’t ready (or wealthy enough). The result is that the car industry is in freefall, and despite all of the relentless advertising, only 3% of new car sales are fully electric. This is to say nothing of the considerable charging infrastructure or additional electricity generation that will be required. The lesson to avoid picking losers may never be learned by Government. 

The shift to electric vehicles could actually damage the environment too, and may not even reduce CO2 emissions by all that much. Electric vehicles still contribute significantly to fine particulate matter pollution and are more emissions-intensive to build. EV batteries contain significant quantities of cobalt, the mining of which has been linked to human rights abuses (including the use of child labour) in the DRC and elsewhere. It is particularly galling to see all of this presented as a clean, moral new technology by the government and car manufacturers, and for this to be believed by the public. 

The banning of petrol and diesel vehicles would only be the start. As significant would be the decarbonisation of heat. The mind boggles at why anyone would want to replace clean, ultra-efficient, cheap gas boilers with alternatives that are many times more expensive to install and run and do not work as well. No-one given a free choice. And so, it is those living in council houses who are forced to have such alternatives by the state and are now shivering in the cold because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Estimates for the cost of rolling out such a policy nationwide range from £450bn to more than £2 trillion.

When the Government is asked about the costs of Net Zero, it normally relies on the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). They have sought to downplay the cost using a vague figure described as between ‘1-2% of GDP’. As revealed by the-then Chancellor, Philip Hammond, the working figure in Government is £70bn per year, 40% higher than the CCC’s figure of £50bn per annum in 2050. The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has repeatedly asked the CCC to explain how it has reached its own number, but it will not say. 

This is not surprising when you consider that its Chairman, Lord Deben, receives hundreds of thousands of pounds from renewable energy companies, electric vehicle manufacturers, and green investors, through his ‘sustainability consultancy’, Sancroft. Another member of the Committee works for Drax, which is the single largest recipient of renewable energy subsidies in the UK, and also a client of Sancroft’s. The supposedly ‘good intentions’ of the climate fanatics mean these glaring vested interests get ignored.

Most disturbing of all is this talk of big ‘lifestyle changes’ required. We are being invited to feel guilty for almost all economic activities that we participate in. Far from making flying more expensive for example, we should be talking about how to make it less expensive, so that more people can enjoy the privilege of international air travel.

With such an enormous cost attached, Net Zero better have some pretty serious benefits. But what are they? We are supposed to blind ourselves to reality and imagine it will ‘save the planet’.

The world thankfully gets richer and richer every year, rates of most (!) diseases decline, infant mortality goes down, crop yields improve, and crucially in respect to climate change, the number of people dying in extreme weather events also goes down. This means that even if extreme weather becomes more frequent (it is not doing so globally at the present moment), the cost and the likely impact will still be lower than in the past.

Back in the UK, while it may be true that there is significant support for environmental targets, YouGov polling commissioned by the GWPF has shown that more people would rather the Government concentrated on getting their energy bills down. This was particularly true of Conservatives, Leave voters, C2DE voters and those in the North and Midlands.

The way for Britain to get ahead as we leave the European Union is not going to be by embarking on a quasi-religious, and quite frankly sinister quest to transform both the economy and society, but by simply focussing on improving the lives of its ordinary citizens. I pray for the day when the Government has a bit of humility and puts to bed the fantasy that it can ‘save the planet’.

There can be no honest answer from the Government about the costs involved in reaching Net Zero, because they are too astronomical. Nor can they be honest about the benefits, which do not exist. The right thing to do is to abandon the target and have the courage to explain why. Conservatives have appeased the green beast for too long, when it can never be satiated. At some point you have to stop.

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