As a lofty political idea, Net Zero has generated public support in the short term – but it could yet prove a devastating hostage to fortune as the full costs become apparent.
How politically rewarding it must have seemed for Theresa May in one of her final acts as Prime Minister to amend the Climate Change Act giving Britain a legally-binding target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, as opposed to the previous target of an 80 per cent cut.
Back then, in June 2019, Extinction Rebellion had just finished its two-week blockade of Oxford Circus, David Attenborough had rarely been off the telly warning of climate Armageddon, while governments everywhere were busily paying homage to Greta Thunberg.
Only slowly are the costs of reaching that target beginning to sink in. Voters, aligned in principle with climate campaigners, may well have a different view when they realise they could end up paying many thousands of pounds, or even face losing their homes.
The government’s newly-announced target of installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 is just the latest indication of the massive costs that are going to be dumped on ordinary people. Together with measures to insulate homes better – heat pumps operate at lower water temperatures than ordinary boilers – it will mean extra costs of £18,000 household. One scheme, the Green Homes Grant, was supposed to help low-income homeowners with these costs – but the government abolished it last week, after less than six months in operation.Advertisementhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.448.1_en.html#goog_685493241Advertisement : 30 sec
It is the same with the costs of switching to electric cars. The current government won easy plaudits by pre-announcing a ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2030. But it hasn’t even begun to grapple with the costs of that transformation on the general public.
Electric cars are fine as second cards for people who have off-road parking near their homes and have a second vehicle for longer journeys. But what about people who can’t park near their homes and who will need some sort of charging point at the roadside, or in car parks?
The switch to electric vehicles promises to make life easier for elite motorists, who will enjoy emptier roads, while pricing ordinary drivers off the road. Again, there were grants available to subsidise the purchase of expensive electric vehicles, but they have all been gobbled up by the relatively wealthy early-adopters – and will probably have been phased out before the masses are forced to go electric.
Nor has the government grappled properly with the cost of a zero carbon electricity grid. We keep being told that the cost of putting up wind turbines and solar panels has fallen – yet that is just one part of the equation. The other is coming up with ways of storing massive quantities of electricity to iron out the fluctuations in supply.