The commitment to reach ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050 is the most expensive government proposal in modern history. Yet it was rushed through parliament with minimal debate or scrutiny, thanks to a last-minute pledge by Theresa May in 2019, weeks before she left office. She had no credible plan, just a lofty ambition without costings. It has taken the government two-and-a-half years to come up with a proposal — and it is not convincing.
The Net Zero Strategy document published this week opens with the Prime Minister’s trademark optimism. ‘We can build back greener, without so much as a hair shirt in sight,’ he writes. ‘In 2050, we will still be driving cars, flying planes and heating our homes, but our cars will be electric, gliding silently around our cities, our planes will be zero emission, allowing us to fly guilt-free, and our homes will be heated by cheap reliable power drawn from the winds of the North Sea.’
This stands at odds with the Treasury’s Net Zero Review, published on the same day. The difference in tone between the two reviews underlines the chasm between 10 and 11 Downing Street over the likely cost of the transition. The Treasury review states, for example, that ‘policies to support the adoption of electric vehicles may disproportionately benefit higher-income groups, and the costs of any policies that affect the remaining drivers may fall disproportionately on low-income groups’.
While there is still no clear figure for the cost of achieving net zero (previous leaked estimates had put it at £1 trillion) the Treasury review includes a graph which suggests that the additional investment required will hit £60 billion a year by the next decade. Government estimates are notoriously in-accurate — just witness the spiralling costs of HS2.