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Tom Goodenough

How do the Tories solve a problem like net zero?

How do the Tories solve a problem like net zero?
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‘There’s a huge prize there if we get it right,’ says Tory MP Lee Rowley of the move to net zero. But there’s a big question mark hanging over this mission: how to get there without alienating voters and damaging the economy?

Andrew Griffith, Boris Johnson’s ex-chief business advisor and the government's net zero champion, warns that the path to switching away from carbon-based energy won’t be easy. ‘We’re going to unplumb the world economy,’ he says, pointing out that throughout the history of human progress burning fossil fuels has, until now, powered the engines of growth. If the last industrial revolution was disruptive, there’s no reason to think this latest upheaval in pursuit of green energy will be any different, he points out.

So how to do it? The job of the government is to ‘provide clarity of direction’ when it comes to reaching net zero, he says. Speaking at the ‘Delivering net zero’ Spectator panel at Tory party conference, he argues that people need to be given choice, rather than forced to make radical changes. He contrasts this with the approach of environmental protesters holding up traffic by blocking roads in London: ‘I’m going to glue my hands on the road so you can’t visit mum in hospital: that’s the way we don’t want to go’.

Can this gently-gently approach work? Rowley, who represents one of the seats the Tories picked up in the Red Wall back in 2017, is optimistic it can. Some sectors will need assistance, he says, not least the steel industry which accounts for some 15 per cent of Britain’s industrial emissions.

But asked whether the push for net zero is an obsession of metropolitan areas and is not altogether welcomed in the former industrial areas of the north, Rowley is dismissive: ‘My constituents are pretty sensible people and they can see through a lot of the hype…(but) they are up for it’.

Rowley is clear this push for green growth must not come at the expense of sacrificing quality of life though. He also says we need to focus on ensuring people aren’t put off from doing their bit: there’s nothing more discouraging, he says, for people to see their paper and plastic tipped in with the rest of the rubbish when the bin lorry turns up.

Already, though, Rowley thinks there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. He says that his constituency is full of people who have made the switch to greener options like electric cars.

Tony Danker, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, also suggests the much-anticipated drive to stop using fossil fuels is something many Brits are on board with. We are way ahead of the rest of the world in transforming the economy, he claims, suggesting that many businesses have realised that the cost of doing nothing could be bigger than taking action now. This is a shift, according to Danker, that has sped up during the course of the pandemic – a point that seems to chime with businesses like EY, which announced in January its mission to go net zero by 2025.

Danker concludes the panel by saying that Britain can be proud that going green hasn’t yet become a left-right issue. This is vital if we are to achieve that goal, says Rowley: ‘We are turning around four centuries of how we live work and play. Given the scale…let’s focus on that’, rather than political infighting and other distractions, he says.

Written byTom Goodenough

Tom Goodenough is online editor of The Spectator.

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