29 March 2023
There are few surprises in the IPCC report published last week. Yet again, the prominent scientific panel have stated that unless we address global warming in the next decade, we could inflict damage that will take thousands of years to reverse. So again, we hear the need to cease using fossil fuels by 2035 if considerable damage to our environment is to be avoided.
Governments worldwide have been party to this report and would have anticipated its content many months before publication. It is depressing then that so little is being done to move at the speed the IPCC advocates is necessary to avoid the consequences of global warming.
The fear of short-term economic pain and competitiveness is the underlying brake on the policymakers. It is clear China, which built over 50% of the world’s new coal power station in 2022, has little intention of shutting down its coal-fired power stations and America, which also has vast coal reserves, is unlikely to expand its climate spending package while China continues to gain economic competitiveness through burning coal.
However, today the UK can still exercise leadership over green issues. We are unconstrained by EU bureaucracy and politics and have a valuable mix of wind, solar, tidal and biomass that many other nations do not have.
With all the major political parties struggling to differentiate their message and offering, being bold with the green agenda would be a way to attract voters, particularly young voters who have more at stake. Moreover, getting ahead on green technology now could create a long-term advantage for the UK as after initial investment is made, green technology can provide more cost-effective energy.
Bold green politics would have a short-term negative economic impact but not any bigger than either Covid or the Ukrainian war. The £20bn announced in the budget to drive forward carbon capture is tiny compared to the £410bn the UK spent on managing Covid. Sadly, this shows how far we have to go in terms of political commitment, and it is ironic given how much more threatening and long-term climate change is.