Expert comment: Net zero policy delays a ‘bad idea’
20 September 2023
Professor Chris Hilson and Professor Hannah Cloke offer expert comment on reports that the government is set to water down some of its net-zero policies.
Professor Chris Hilson, Director of the Centre for Climate and Justice at the University of Reading, said: “These changes in Government policy are unjust. Rishi Sunak said at COP27 that ‘if we do not act today, we will risk leaving an ever more desperate inheritance for our children.’ Watering down our climate policy does precisely this. Instead of the older generation biting the bullet and paying for heat pumps and the EV transition (with appropriate subsidies to ensure that this is fair), that burden is pushed back to the younger generation.
“The Government narrative is about the cost of living and the extra costs of heat pumps and EVs for ordinary families. But the fact is that it will cost us more to kick the can down the road. It will keep us reliant for longer on expensive oil and gas, while also threatening our energy security because we will remain dependent on fossil fuel imports and their volatile prices.
“It sends the wrong signal to the world about the UK’s climate leadership and will encourage other countries to slacken off at a time when we cannot afford to. This summer has shown how climate harms are already hitting home around the world, including in the UK with the recent floods in the South West.
“Government leaks often involve news of policies that insiders think are a bad idea. This is clearly the case here. The UK’s net zero by 2050 target – a legally binding target – is the one that will only be hit by meeting smaller, more difficult targets. These include replacing fossil fuel gas boilers in new homes by 2025, phasing out new gas boiler sales altogether by 2035 and banning the sale of fossil fuel-based cars by 2030. Rishi Sunak is proposing to push back these targets. That is a bad idea.”
Professor Hannah Cloke, climate scientist at the University of Reading, said: “The suggestion that the UK government is looking to water down previous commitments to decarbonise the UK economy is frankly utterly baffling to those of us who work to study the causes and impacts of climate change.
“Clearly, there are political and economic consequences associated with expensive projects to move to electric cars and heating and insulating homes. But as someone who studies the impacts of climate change on events such as floods, droughts and wildfires, I would suggest that those who worry about the costs should look at the costs of not curbing emissions fast enough.
“Sure, new electric cars are currently a bit more pricey than new petrol ones, but the impact of millions more climate refugees fleeing the impacts of events such as the floods in Libya will have a far bigger cost in money and human lives.
“The effects of runaway climate change are understood by the whole world and agreed on by the UK government through the IPCC and commitments made in Paris and Glasgow. Study after study has shown the economic, environmental, social and security benefits of moving away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. And that's before the moral benefits are considered.
“I went into science because I love the natural world and I wanted to help people understand it and live alongside it. It is deeply depressing to see our government flip-flopping between supporting and undermining policies designed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”