We cannot let Extinction Rebellion and its offshoots wreck public support for ambitious environmental action. Their divisive approach does nothing to help the environment and only causes misery by disrupting people's lives. If we are going to unite Britain and decarbonise our economy, we need to champion a conservative approach to reach net zero.
These protesters are attempting to hijack the broad consensus for environmental action and push for undeliverable action. For many of them, it's not about halting climate change but scrapping capitalism and replacing our democratic institutions with unelected citizens’ assemblies.
Spreading division will not drive progress. Extinction Rebellion's destructive cousin, Insulate Britain, is a clear example. They took an uncontroversial issue and made it toxic. Recklessly protesting on the motorway and stopping people from travelling did not insulate a single home.
But without a doubt, Just Stop Oil is proving to be their most disruptive iteration. It's inflicting colossal harm to people's lives by bleeding petrol pumps dry across swathes of Britain at a time when people are already struggling with the sky-high cost of fuel. Their attempt to bring communities to a standstill will not strengthen public support for net zero or clean energy sources.
Stopping British new oil and gas licensing overnight would not create a green utopia. We are rightly moving quickly away from expensive oil and gas in the UK, but we shouldn’t make ourselves more reliant during the transition on insecure fossil fuel imports to keep the lights on and homes warm. Instead of defunding Putin's military, they would make Britain more dependent on volatile energy supplied at the whims of oil and gas-rich autocrats.
There is another way, and my Conservative Environment Network colleagues and I have long campaigned in Parliament and our constituencies for this approach. We can protect our planet and unite Britain through an orderly transition to net zero, which minimises the cost of decarbonising our economy and maximises the economic reward.
But cutting our emissions - and we acknowledge that there remains more to do to achieve our net zero goal - does not mean bending to XR's most radical demands. That would only lead to economic ruin and division. Instead, we can grasp this opportunity and transform our economy, winning new skilled jobs and clean industries through a green industrial revolution.
We can deliver the pace of environmental action needed and reap the economic rewards by pairing private sector innovation with ambitious government leadership to drive change.
This transformation is already underway on Britain's roads. People are choosing to buy electric vehicles faster than anyone predicted. In 2021, people bought over 190,000 new fully electric cars, 76 per cent more than the previous year. At the same time, 7,500 new public charging points were installed, a growth of 36 per cent.
Our bold plan to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by the end of the decade is behind this acceleration in electric vehicles. It has spurred car manufacturers to produce better, cheaper and more models of electric cars. With the government backing businesses to install 300,000 public charging points by the end of 2030, private sector innovation can make this transformation easy and smooth while expanding consumer choice.
Similarly, there has been a quiet revolution in British energy production for a decade. The private sector, helped by the government's Contracts for Difference auction scheme, has driven the price of renewables down significantly in the past decade.
Since 2010, the cost of new solar power has plummeted by 88 per cent, offshore wind has fallen by 73 per cent, and onshore wind is 57 per cent lower. New solar or wind power is four times cheaper than producing electricity by burning gas at today's energy prices.
Thanks to the approach set out in the new Energy Security Strategy 95 per cent of our electricity production will be low-carbon in just eight years. That means cheap, clean and homegrown power for British homes and businesses. Stopping new oil and gas licensing without proper consideration of continued demand for fossil fuels wouldn't speed this transformation up, but risks making our country energy dependent on corrupt regimes.
Extinction Rebellion's bleak vision for the future of Britain's economy is not what people want. Nor is it necessary to halt climate change. They serve as a warning of the damage the left would inflict in power if we conceded environmental leadership to them. We must reject their divisive approach and instead unite Britain behind a conservative approach to achieve net zero and build a greener and more prosperous nation.
First published by Daily Express. Fay Jones MP (Brecon and Radnorshire) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.