Fraser Myers: Net Zero by 2050 is dead in the water. So what's plan B?
The Daily Telegraph, 27 July 2021
The truth is, the sacrifices being demanded of us in the name of Net Zero are incompatible with democracy. And the PM knows it.
Boris Johnson has always tried to take a ‘cakeist’ position on Net Zero. We can drastically cut carbon emissions while boosting living standards, he claims. But the truth is, the sacrifices being demanded of us in the name of Net Zero are incompatible with democracy, and the PM knows it.
Just look at the anguish the gas boiler ban is causing to the government. Johnson has now conceded that the ban will have to be pushed back from 2035 to 2040. It will have to be some other prime minister’s problem.
The boiler ban was a key plank of the government’s Net Zero strategy. Gas boilers were to be replaced with heat pumps. These heat pumps are not what anyone could call a reasonable alternative to boilers. While a boiler can heat your house fairly quickly at the flick of a switch, a heat pump can take around 24 hours to heat your home to between 17 to 19 degrees celsius - i.e., not-quite room temperature.
For the pleasure of living in your not-quite warm house, you will have to fork out around £10,000 for the unit and installation. Then, according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC), you can expect to spend an additional £100 per year on your energy bills.
If you want to own a heat pump and have a house that’s more than lukewarm, you’ll need lots of extra insulation. This means yet more tens of thousands of pounds in renovation costs. The Energy Technologies Institute estimates that a ‘deep retrofit’ could cost as much as building a home from scratch. This is not money that any ordinary person has down the back of the sofa - or that the taxpayer can reasonably cover for millions of households.
Getting used to this reduced lifestyle ‘will take an attitudinal shift’, says Chris Stark, CEO of the CCC. This is quite the understatement. It means abandoning what was once a completely normal expectation in a developed country: having a warm home in winter.
In our Net Zero future, we can also forget having a stable and affordable supply of electricity. Boris says he wants to make the UK the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind power’. But we should be wary of green energy experiments. Places like California that have rushed to swap nuclear and fossil fuels with renewable energy are regularly faced with rolling blackouts. Since Germany embarked on its Energiewende (energy transition), its electricity prices are now among the highest in the world, though, ironically, this hasn’t done much to lower CO2 emissions.
Net Zero is easily the largest national project the UK has embarked on since the Second World War. But even as politicians boast about it on the world stage, parading their harsh ‘targets’ at every opportunity, they have tried to downplay its significance to the public. It’s just a tax rise here, a subsidy there, maybe a bit less meat-eating or not rinsing the plate before loading it into the dishwasher. Technology will take care of the rest, anyway, they say.
But when the public really finds out what Net Zero means, will they tolerate it? The gilets jaunes protests in France were the most significant public revolt since 1968. They were sparked by an eco-tax. This tax didn’t affect the metropolitan liberals who dreamt it up. They were baffled that anyone would stand in the way of carbon neutrality. But they had to reverse course. This tax was but a drop in the ocean compared to Net Zero.
All of this is why a Deutsche Bank analyst has, provocatively, suggested that a period of ‘eco-dictatorship’ may be necessary to get to Net Zero. Governments may struggle to stay in power, or may have to deal with civil unrest if they preside over such a drastic reduction in living standards.
Perhaps the most likely outcome is that Net Zero simply doesn’t happen, as the bigger sacrifices get shunted into the long grass for the next government to impose. But if the government and its technocrats truly believe that climate change poses an existential threat, shouldn’t they at least have a Plan B?
For further reading see series of GWPF papers on the cost of Net Zero