Sacred Cows

Hot air

Climate change targets are rising at a dangerous rate

This article is taken from the August/September 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

Britain is a world leader in setting targets for greenhouse gas emissions. They are legion. They are ambitious. They are rigorous. They are, in some barely comprehensible way, legally binding. In 2019, lame duck Prime Minister Theresa May not only pledged to make Britain a “net zero” emitter of carbon dioxide, but made it illegal for her successors to not achieve this. This legislation was so obviously sensible that MPs were relieved of the burden of having to vote for it.

In 2020, Boris Johnson promised to cut carbon emissions by 68 per cent (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030, outflanking the feeble 57 per cent target set by girly swot David Cameron four years earlier. Raising the ante again this year, Johnson boasted of setting “the most ambitious target to cut emissions in the world” of 78 per cent by 2035.

Unless he sets his sights even higher between now and October — and who would bet against it? — these are the targets the government will be bragging about at COP26 in Glasgow. COP26 is all about targets. The United Nations wants the world to halve carbon emissions worldwide by 2030 and it needs world leaders to fly to Scotland to sample some fine wines and discuss how this is to be done.

And not just to Scotland. COP26 will be preceded by Pre-COP26 in Milan where “ministers from a representative group of countries” will “find solutions to outstanding issues and set the tone for COP26”. There will be a UN Biodiversity Conference in China and a Global Investment Summit in London to “showcase the UK’s leading global position”. In October there will be the Global Conference of Youth in Glasgow and the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Rome. No Zoom or Skype for the saviours of the planet.

As the host, the United Kingdom hopes that its robust targets will encourage other countries to step up to the plate. It has a friend in Joe Biden who announced in April that the USA would halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and was rewarded by having cow manure dumped on the White House lawn by the frustrated thespians of Extinction Rebellion.

For once, the am-dram doomsday cult had a point. It is bullshit. Neither the USA nor the world has any chance of halving emissions by 2030.

By 2050, when the UN hopes to achieve Net Zero, there will be ten billion people in the world, twice as many as in 1990

This is not to say that it should not be done. Who can gainsay the many scientists who say it is necessary? It’s simply that, barring a near-miraculous leap in technological innovation, it will not happen.

By 2050, when the UN hopes to achieve Net Zero, there will be ten billion people in the world, twice as many as in 1990. China expects its carbon dioxide emissions to peak in 2030. That alone makes a mockery of the UN’s target. India has refused to sign up for anything more ambitious than a 35 per cent reduction by 2030. Brazil’s president Bolsonaro, under pressure from the USA, has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050, but no one believes him. Turkey and Iran haven’t even ratified the Paris climate agreement.

In the UK, emissions are now 44 per cent below 1990 levels and that has been enough to convince politicians that they can push it down to 68 per cent by the end of this decade, but there is only so much heavy industry you can outsource to the developing world before you have to make tough decisions.

Decarbonising transport is the relatively easy bit. People quite like electric cars, they cut pollution, their range has improved, they are cheap to run. All good but it will take a mammoth infrastructure project to install charging points for the millions of drivers who park their car on the street, which is 60 per cent of them in high density areas.

Furthermore, decarbonising transport will require us to produce two or three times as much electricity as we do today and yet renewables do not come close to meeting our existing needs. In the past year, less than a quarter of the UK’s energy came from renewable sources, mostly from highly unreliable wind. 42 per cent came from fossil fuels, mostly gas, and 17 per cent came from nuclear.

Our nuclear power plants are being closed down and only one is being constructed. With shale gas off the table, where is the green energy going to come from to power our vehicles?

After that, things get more difficult. The government says decarbonising the UK will cost one trillion pounds, but then it also said HS2 would cost £36 billion. Since HS2’s budget is now three times higher, the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s estimate of Net Zero costing more than three trillion pounds may be more realistic. And this is in addition to our contribution to $100 billion of “climate finance” the rich world has promised to give developing countries every year.

The government will soon stop asking people to eat less meat and take fewer flights and find ways of forcing them. Will the public put up with it?

It will not be long before 25 million households are told to rip out their gas boilers and pay £20,000 for a less efficient electric heat pump and insulation. The government will soon stop asking people to eat less meat and take fewer flights and find ways of forcing them. Will the public put up with it?

In France, months of violent protests by the gilets jaunes were caused by the government putting 6p on a litre of diesel. Macron swiftly froze the carbon tax, froze gas and electricity prices and postponed tougher vehicle emission rules. In Britain, the fuel tax protests of September 2000 were the only time Labour lost its lead over the Conservatives in the opinion polls between 1993 and 2005. Gordon Brown responded by cutting and freezing petrol duty. The Conservatives learned the lesson and by 2018 George Osborne was boasting of freezing fuel duty for the sixth year in a row because, he said, the Conservatives were “the party for working people”.

This is reality of ‘climate action’ in a democracy. It’s all fun and games until the public gets involved. A report from the Green Alliance noted with regret that “for the overwhelming majority of people, climate change is a non-issue”. It quoted an MP saying: “I’ve knocked on thousands of doors, and had thousands of conversations with voters, and I just don’t have conversations on climate change.” That is why the “international community” is so keen to portray eco-truant Greta Thunberg as the voice of the people. It is why the likes of Extinction Rebellion have been elevated to the status of “civil society”. It is why Sir David Attenborough has been appointed as COP26’s “People’s Advocate”.

If the British public were given an honest account of the sacrifices involved, they would be donning the yellow vests. The government can set as many targets as it likes, but if it tries to meet them, Net Zero will be Boris Johnson’s poll tax.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover