Robert Colvile director of the Centre for Policy Studies: If there’s one thing we can be confident about in 2020, then, it is that we will see more high-level warnings about the impact of climate change, more lectures from Greta Thunberg and more stunts from Extinction Rebellion — all building up to the big UN climate summit in Glasgow in November. If you scratch the surface of the green agenda, you tend to find red beneath. In September, during the climate strike protests, the millions marching were largely unaware that the organisers’ demands essentially consisted of switching off the modern economy — not just leaving fossil fuels in the ground but banning any solutions involving markets or innovation, ranging from nuclear power to GM crops and smart agriculture to carbon trading and offsetting. The environment is at the heart of the [Tory] party’s economic vision, and of the revolution in government being pushed by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s senior adviser. It was notable that in his recent blog appealing for brilliant weirdos to work in Whitehall, Cummings cited climate science as an area of need. The government is not just doubling total research spending but promising that clean energy will be a main focus. (It doesn’t hurt that Johnson himself is a nuclear fusion geek.) Britain’s green energy expertise is clustered in precisely the places the government is keenest to support. Carbon capture on Teesside, wind turbines in Hull, hydrogen in Lancaster, emission-free buses in Northern Ireland, electric vehicles in Sunderland, the West Midlands and possibly Wales — these could well be the Tories’ new industrial heartlands. Most importantly, this transformation needs to happen without upsetting the voters. Yes, they care about the climate. But there is a limit on their willingness to stump up to fix it. Emmanuel Macron plunged France into months of unrest by asking the public to pay slightly higher green taxes. The challenge for Johnson is to persuade the voters that getting to net zero can be done in a way that enhances rather than reduces growth — and, above all, keeps down the cost of living. That will involve hard thinking about decarbonisation, electrification, carbon taxes and all manner of other issues. (If you thought smart meters were a hard sell, just imagine trying to replace every gas boiler in the country.) Taking control of the climate narrative away from the “doomsters and gloomsters” will be one of the government’s toughest tasks. But it needs to be done for the long-term health not just of Conservatism and capitalism, but of the planet itself.
Times 5th Jan 2020 read more »