Ross Clark Ross Clark

The boiler ban fiasco and the true cost of net zero

(Photo: iStock)

Politically it must have seemed an easy promise for Theresa May to make in the dying days of her premiership: to commit Britain to a legally-binding target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, rather than the 80 per cent reduction previously stipulated in the Climate Change Act. It was the summer of 2019 and Extinction Rebellion protests had taken place with surprisingly little counter-protest. David Attenborough’s TV documentary was received warmly by the press, and polls indicated that the public appeared to supported action on climate change – according to a YouGov poll in December 2018 two thirds of the population stated they did not believe the risks of climate change were being exaggerated. Given that May knew she wasn’t going to be around personally to worry about achieving the new target, perhaps she saw it as an easy chance to secure a legacy.

But it is steadily becoming apparent just how politically costly the net zero commitment could be. When environmental issues are expressed in general terms, people tend to fall on the side of taking action; when the consequences for them personally are explained to them, it tends to be a very different matter. A government threat to ban gas boilers in existing homes by 2035, and to fine homeowners if they failed to meet the deadline, seems to have lasted less than a day. It was reported on Tuesday morning that ministers were considering including such a ban in a new heat and buildings strategy to be published next month – but by the afternoon the government appeared to have backtracked, and said there wouldn’t be any fines.

That would be just as well if the government is to have any hope of hanging on to its new heartlands in former red wall seats – and indeed elsewhere.

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