At the end of September the Government made a number of significant changes to the ‘path to Net Zero’. I welcome these decisions.
The UK remains on track to hit the target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This very ambitious target assumes enormous improvements in a range of technologies in a very short space of time. Policy is attempting to stimulate these improvements by means of ‘market shaping’ interventions, ranging from subsidies for green energy projects to outright bans on some oil and gas products.
The UK has set the most ambitious target in the developed world, to reduce carbon emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and is the only major economy to have set a target of 77 per cent for 2035. This follows progress over the past decades. The UK has cut emissions faster than any other G7 country, with the UK having already slashed emissions by 48 per cent, compared to 41 per cent in Germany, 23 per cent in France and no change at all in the United States.
It is right that as time passes adjustments are made to these policies. As the Government argues, the plans to hit Net Zero will only succeed if public support is maintained. I am pleased that the revisions announced last month will ease the burden on working people, the lowest-paid and those living in rural locations. They include: easing the transition to electric vehicles from 2030 to 2035, in line with other similar countries; giving families more time to transition to heat pumps while significantly increasing grants to upgrade boilers; scrapping onerous energy efficiency requirements and not forcing people to make alterations to their properties; and supporting new oil and gas in the North Sea, such as the new licence for drilling in the Rosebank field which has the potential to produce 8 per cent of Britain's oil output.
While the Government is working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels, there will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee. Oil and natural gas are still required for heating, cooking and transport, and are vital to the production of many everyday essentials such as medicines, plastics, asphalt, cosmetics and household appliances. The fact is that importing oil and gas harms our ambition to reach net zero far more than domestically produced oil and gas. According to the North Sea Transition Authority, imported gas has a carbon footprint which is three times that of domestically produced gas.
In addition to these measures, the Government has announced further steps to embrace the opportunities of the green economy to create more well-paid jobs, through new funding to support renewable energy research and development, and more onshore and offshore wind with an improved system of auctioning licences.
I appreciate that for many people any measure that extends the use of fossil fuels is intrinsically wrong (even if it means in practice importing dirtier fossil fuels from abroad). I greatly respect the deeply conservative (small c) impulse behind the environmental agenda; I too wish to see us tread more lightly on the earth, to waste less and conserve more; and I recognise the huge benefits of the green economy to provide abundant energy, create good jobs, and strengthen our national security.
But every policy has trade-offs and I do not think a quasi-religious worship of Net Zero - with every balancing consideration treated as an evil heresy - serves our planet or our society well. I hope that constituents who rightly care about the natural world will think about the people on modest incomes, in old houses, who need their old car or van to make a living; and also about the consequence of policies that (boosting demand for rare earth materials and manufactured products cornered by China in particular) enrich our strategic rivals at our expense.