In the week that we celebrate the 10th birthday of the Climate Change Act I conducted a completely unscientific straw poll of 21 people and found that only four had heard of the term Net Zero. Four. Out of 21. And only one of these four were able to say anything more than ‘…hmmm…erm…carbon?’
To me that figure is eye opening, especially when you consider that all of those 21, all of whom shall remain nameless, are news junkies and all but one are in their 20s.
What does this trivial figure open our eyes to? Net Zero just hasn’t registered in public consciousness yet. Why? It’s not piqued people’s interest. It’s not seen as exciting. It’s not seen as an achievement to strive towards.
You may be reading this and thinking to yourself that Conservatives would be fools to spend time talking about Net Zero when so few people know what it is. For me this overlooks the opportunity for us to get ahead of the game, to put in place the building blocks for the country’s bright future, and to drive positive change that leaves the environment in a better place than we found it.
We all know that the country is fed up to the back teeth with incessant talk about Brexit and is crying out for something positive to get behind. So, as Conservatives, let’s do just that.
For the economy, the opportunities of Net Zero are clear.
We are perilously close, 12 years according to the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to keeping global warming to a maximum of 1.5C. More effort, from everybody, is needed to avoid the world from creeping over this uptick and unleashing the extreme weather, flooding and droughts, falling air quality, habitat extinction, and unprecedented movement of people that would follow. The constant refrain to ‘business hating uncertainty’ would be put into perspective should the impact of these things be felt on supply chains, share prices and consumer spending power.
Not only could Net Zero help by contributing towards global efforts to avoid the worst repercussions of climate change it could foster growth, innovation, jobs, and value creation.
Since 1990, the UK’s emissions have gone down by 40% while the economy has grown by over 60% -showing that green growth is possible. The low-carbon sector supports more than 400,000 jobs in the UK and this number is expected to grow by 11% per year up to 2030. This is four times more than the rest of the economy.
The reason why? The green economy is moving at a rate of knots from a narrow focus on power generation to a broader focus on blending decarbonisation with digitisation. This means that parts of the economy that were historically ‘out of bounds’ are becoming rapidly greener and connected to other sectors as a consequence. Just look at electric vehicles as an example. Auto manufacturers and energy retailers are working together in a way that was a dream when the Climate Change Act was signed.
What’s more, we can be proud that in 2018, 20% of electric vehicles sold in Europe were made in the UK, while more than half of our country’s electricity comes from low-carbon sources with 32% from renewables. And there is more to come. Digitisation is opening up a whole world that allows consumers to take greater control of their energy use at the same time as the cost of renewables continues to come down. Onshore wind is already the cheapest technology, but by 2020, the International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that all renewables will be as cheap, or cheaper than fossil fuels – costing between 2p and 7p per kilowatt hour.
It is people who will benefit from the falling cost of energy and it is people who will benefit from the improved air quality and better health that goes hand in hand with falling emissions.
As Conservatives, let us talk confidently about what the ambition to reduce the country’s emissions to Net Zero could mean for the economy and for people’s lives. Net Zero is affordable and it is feasible. Most importantly it is desirable. Let’s not waste any time in getting on and driving towards it.