If you mandate a policy that has big implications for people’s lives, then you have an obligation to help them comply with it, and ease the transition. My electric car woes were a mere teaser of what is to come. Net zero is more than a policy: it’s a complete, wholesale change to many aspects of our lives. Everything from how we heat our homes, to what our pension funds can invest in, to the food we eat and clothes we wear, will be touched. And as such we are only just waking up to the full consequences of it. Last week came a significant step along that journey: an announcement by the International Energy Agency that showed the scales dropping from the eyes of an organisation that has previously been a cheerleader for big oil. The IEA left the oil industry reeling when it said that exploration for new oil and gas must end now if we are to have any hope of hitting the target of negating carbon emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C. Heating our homes will either involve using hydrogen instead of gas, or electricity-hungry heat pumps coupled with better insulation. But try that in a draughty 1930s semi and watch what happens to energy bills. More baffling still is that viable solutions to cutting carbon, such as building a string of nuclear power stations, have been left for the market to decide. Unsurprisingly, given the huge upfront bills required to build a £20 billion power station, developers such as Japan’s Hitachi and Toshiba have balked at that. Net zero is a societal shift that requires detailed, multi-decade planning. It is something that should transcend electoral cycles. It involves investment decisions from which only future generations of politicians will reap the plaudits. It demands a clear and realistic strategy to create jobs that will replace the tens of thousands set to be lost in cities such as Aberdeen, when the North Sea oil and gas industry dies, or Birmingham, when the combustion engine is killed off. It is not something that can be left to the market alone to decide. It is something that, in short, requires an industrial strategy.
Times 23rd May 2021 read more »