AS I know from experience, government isn’t easy and it often involves balancing different priorities in ways that are far more complex than is apparent from the outside. Policy on climate change, energy and the environment is no exception. The Prime Minister, whose judgment I generally respect in striking these difficult balances, recently made a significant speech about Government decisions on these matters, but I believe the approach he set out was wrong in some significant respects.
In some of the announcements he made, I think he was right. Planned improvements in our ability to deliver offshore wind power and to enhance the connecting of new projects to the electricity grid are welcome. The speed at which households were being expected to install heat pumps in many areas, including in rural parts of my constituency which the gas grid doesn’t reach, was frankly unrealistic, as ways to do so in the required time were often either infeasible or unaffordable. It was sensible to extend that timetable. It is harder to accept the same argument for delaying the point at which new petrol and diesel cars are phased out from 2030 to 2035. The automotive industry has been working to the 2030 deadline for some time and it is unlikely that many long-term plans will be changed now. The trajectory towards electric cars (the ZEV mandate) remains the same. Customers have also had plenty of warning of this change and, given the deadline applies only to new cars, it does not seem to me likely that the car market could not be ready in time.
More concerning to me than the detail of these changes however is the tone in which they have been presented. Changing the way we live to reflect the need to moderate and mitigate climate change was always going to come at a cost. My sense is that, among those I represent at least, concern for the environment and for humanity’s effect on the planet has grown, not reduced, over recent years, and with it willingness to make some sacrifices. I think these announcements get the public mood wrong. Worse, they weaken the commitment to global leadership which I believe this country, under Conservative leadership, can be proud of in recent years. The Prime Minister was right to remind us that the UK has achieved the fastest reduction in carbon emissions in the G7, but the way these changes have been put forward suggests that we are going as fast as we need to. We are not. It is true, as he pointed out, that the UK represents only one per cent of global emissions, but we have represented a far greater percentage of the moral authority needed to persuade others, who pollute more, to do their part in reducing that pollution. Weakening our resolve to address climate change where we could choose to maintain it makes others more likely to do the same.
Where the pace of change is unsustainable because alternatives are not yet deliverable, it is right to make different political choices, but where alternatives are simply unpopular today, our future interests must take priority.