Failure to back recommendations to decarbonise the UK economy will cost political parties at the next election, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change has warned.
Discussing the CCC’s recent Towards Net Zero report, which calls for deep decarbonisation by 2050, Chris Stark said the target “means nothing unless there are a set of policies in place to drive action to meet it”.
That requires MPs to back economy-wide action and Stark thinks there is cross-party support. By totting up the number of letters he has received from MPs in recent weeks, “you get a majority”, he suggested.
“If we don’t support [the report’s recommendations], I think the main parties will have a problem … with younger voters, for whom it matters immensely,” Stark told delegates at a conference hosted by Aurora Energy Research.
To hit the target, Aurora suggested the UK will need to deploy 5-10GW of renewables capacity every year from now until 2050 at a cost of up to £9bn per annum. The conference discussed whether that step change could be achieved by market measures or will require state control. “Both paths are valid,” said Stark, “but the things that have delivered over the last 15 years have been very market-led,” albeit seeded by government interventions, such as renewables subsidies.
“We might need to start off with deep intervention from government, and then step back,” said Stark. “There is a cost to be incurred. The transition to net zero will be very capital intensive – there must be good policy in place or this thing will not work.”
However, Stark said it is critical to treat net zero as an opportunity rather than a cost. Politicians must “make it a pro growth story; you don’t see a problem with economy, you see the opposite”. By taking action now, he suggested, “it is better for the economy and the environment in the long term”.
While some believe the 2050 target lacks ambition, Stark said the opposite is true.
“What we have presented to government is extraordinarily ambitious. 2050 is at the absolute edge of what we think is possible. We do not have the appropriate skills in the economy to get to net zero more quickly,” said Stark.
He said heat poses the biggest challenge. “It will be extraordinarily difficult to hit 2050 without a plan in place for heat very quickly.”
That means MPs will have to decide whether to back 2050 sooner rather than later. While Brexit continues to paralyse decision-making, Stark pointed out that climate change was a bigger existential threat.
“I’m not sure Brexit … matters all that much. This matters a bit more.”