I’ve been trying to get my head round what it would actually cost the UK to address its climate change challenge. This question of course is largely irrelevant if other countries, particularly the U.S., China and India don’t step up to the mark. But the UK for quite a long time has claimed a leadership role, so it should know what is required, when it’s required and what it’s going to cost. The Labour Party reckons that £28 billion a year until 2030 will set us on the right track. The Tory government a couple of years ago said it was going to spend £12 billion. Both figures refer to public money, and both assume the private sector will multiply those figures. The Institute for Government said this:
‘In 2019, the CCC [Climate Change Committee] estimated that the total costs of getting to net zero would be £50bn per year, less than 1% of projected GDP over that period. The Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) put the figure at £70bn per year, or over £1 trillion by 2050 . The economic analysis of net zero will undoubtedly change in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, however.’ (UK net zero target | The Institute for Government)
With the cost of renewable energy sources plummeting, perhaps there can be some reasonable doubt as to what the real figure will be. But with current energy costs driven by fossil fuels, there is an extra shovel of doubt, since we can already hear Tory leadership pretenders suggesting they would slash green subsidies paid by all of us, and even cut taxation on transport fuel duties. In politics, the world of the immediate problem always trumps what’s brewing in the longer term.
But here we are only talking about the costs of mitigating climate change—by it seems 2050, when everything will be alright. In the meantime, the other cost of climate change –adapting to it—will begin to have a marked impact on public finances. Flooding, storms, heatwaves, infrastructure breakdowns will all demand immediate attention. I doubt there are many people who will say another windfarm will stop their local flood. The connection is too tenuous. I think the demand for adaptation will, forgive the pun, swamp the demand for mitigation. Perhaps one example of this will be that the demand for air conditioning will outstrip any lagging demand for insulation (forgive the pun again).
I’ve had difficulty trying to find precisely what Labour’s annual £28 billion would be spent on. I imagine it’s a commitment which basically follows the advice of the Climate Change Committee. No doubt a good part of it will find its way into nuclear coffers, which as I’ve said before does not address the issue (the timelines are all wrong). In any case, what will survive of this commitment if Labour wins power? The challenges of putting the economy back into shape after a Tory government (a not unprecedented challenge) cannot be understated.
We are, I think in a world of slogans and soundbites (that’s original!). Meanwhile, l’actualité is pointing south faster than the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change can reach a watered down consensus every five years. The underlying message remains the same: don’t frighten the horses! Everything will be alright!