What is net zero?
Net zero is a target the UK government has set which entails the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions reaching net zero by 2050.
This doesn’t mean that all emissions will be totally eradicated, but that any residual emissions are removed or captured through industrial storage or natural methods of storage such as trees or peat bogs – thus achieving “net” zero emissions.
Achieving this target is considered the best way the UK can contribute to keeping global temperatures below 1.5C – a target scientists say must be met to avoid runaway climate change.
What are net zero sceptics claiming?
For some time, a group of backbench Conservative MPs known as the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) have pushed back against the net zero target.
Tory leadership hopefuls such as Kemi Badenoch also publicly expressed opposition to the target on economic grounds.
Meanwhile, commentators like Darren Grimes have blamed net zero for the high cost of energy that millions now face.
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These MPs, ministers and commentators say that the pace of the planned switch to renewable energy is happening too fast and increasing costs for consumers.
Some propose using more of Britain’s own gas or even approving further exploration of oil and gas, in spite of repeated warnings from scientists that climate targets can’t be met if further fossil fuels are exploited.
The NZSG has also called for an end to the “green levy” on energy bills, which funds insulation for the homes of those in fuel poverty and subsidises renewable energy.
1. Renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuels
Net zero sceptics have blamed an accelerated shift to renewable energy for the cost of living crisis.
Thanks to the falling cost of installing wind farms and solar panels, however, renewable energy is now much cheaper than fossil fuels on the whole, with prices set to fall further.
According to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) in June 2021, almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally in 2020 will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the cheapest new coal plants.
A shift to renewable energy would therefore mean lower energy bills in the future, while reducing the UK’s reliance on the temperamental gas market which is currently driving up prices for ordinary households.
2. Properly-insulated homes would slash energy bills
Poorly-insulated housing stock is another reason why the UK is suffering badly as a result of rising energy prices.
The UK has some of the least energy-efficient housing stock in Europe, meaning millions of homes are hard to heat, and require more energy to keep warm.
This high energy consumption both leads to higher bills for households and contributes to the climate crisis, with households accounting for around 15 per cent of the UK’s overall emissions.
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A large part of the net zero strategy involves properly insulating the UK’s leaky housing stock, with the government setting out its Heat and Buildings Strategy in October 2021.
Successfully insulating housing stock would slash energy bills for households, cut emissions and prevent deaths resulting from cold homes.
3. Previous pledges to remove environmental levies have cost ordinary people billions
MPs on the NZSG and some energy bosses have proposed that the government cut the green levy on energy bills.
The green levy funds renewable energy projects and provides insulation for those living in fuel poverty, making it a vital part of the transition to net zero.
Those calling for an end to the levy say it would save households money in the short term – but there’s a chance doing so could accrue huge costs long-term.
In 2013, David Cameron promised to “cut the green crap” from energy bills, removing previous levies on bills which funded renewables and insulation for deprived households.
Recent Analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has now shown that households could have saved a combined £1.5 billion in the next financial year if the levy hadn’t been dropped and insulation had continued to be installed at the same rate as a decade ago.
In 2012, around 2.3 million homes added new insulation, but since 2013 this has collapsed to just around 230,000 homes, the ECIU said.
4. Not acting on the climate crisis will cost billions more than acting on it
Net zero sceptics have repeatedly expressed concern over the cost of achieving the target, even beginning a hashtag – #CostofNetZero – on social media to voice their opinions.
Though achieving net zero will require massive investment, climate experts including the Climate Change Committee (CCC) have repeatedly outlined that the costs of acting on climate change are far outweighed by the costs of not acting on it.
Chris Stark, head of the CCC, has estimated that the cost of achieving net zero by 2050 would only amount to a four month delay in economic growth over 30 years before even considering the wider benefits to society.
CCC analysis has also found that cost savings from no longer having to buy oil and gas almost completely offsets the £50bn per year investment needed in low-carbon power, transport and home heating across the next few decades.
It also found that taking action on adaptation to climate change, such as by investing in low-carbon housing or creating flood defences, is up to 10 times more cost-effective than not doing so.