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Conserving ‘Net Zero’: For the workers’ sake?

Dreaon McDonald Simms

Ahead of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirming his due attendance at COP28, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom set out several changes to the United Kingdom's approach to its green targets, most notably to achieve 'Net Zero' by 2050. 


Sunak announced that the first part of this new approach is to 'change the debate.'


Rightfully, the Prime Minister outlined that currently, the debate lies at the end of two extremes. The first view is that we must move even faster and further to hit green targets no matter the costs and disruption. Such a view would be that of radical activist groups like Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil and those who fear climate degradation. 


Those who want to abandon Net Zero are on the other side of the spectrum. Though many may assume this is the view of the far right, it is shared by many working people who fear for their job security, increasing living costs and personal autonomy. 


Where is the middle ground? As someone from a low-income background, rising living costs are a daily concern. Though I have growing anxieties around climate degradation, living costs are a much more immediate worry. 


Sunak rather plainly stated that both extremes are wrong. He argues that the "test" should be if "we have the fairest credible path to reach net zero by 2050." "The conservatives' current systems and policies do not meet this test." 


This quick note of accountability is one of the most important parts of the whole speech. Sunak's effort here to acknowledge that his government's plans need to be revised and to make amendments to them is commendable. 


The PM illustrated that a "More pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach to reach net zero that eases the burdens of working people," is the goal of this new approach. A Tory PM has not successfully eased my burdens in the last 13 years (unless we include Boris Bikes), but on hearing this, a flicker of hope for this government was restored in me. 


Sunak predicts that "by 2030, the vast majority of cars sold will be electric," but by consumer choice and "reducing ", not the "government forcing" people and businesses to make the switch. So, the decision has been made to "ease the transition to electric cars", allowing the purchase of new '[petrol and diesel cars, vans and trucks to be extended to 2035.


Making such a change suggests that even with this ease, the UK can still reach Net Zero by 2050. However, if we had held fast to the previous plan, we might have reached Net Zero earlier than 2050. Taking the position of the Tortoise as opposed to the Hare eases pressure on the average household without sacrificing our Net Zero goals. 


Sunak also stated this to be an 'Aligning approach' compared to other countries such as France and Germany.


France, for example, is "committed to the objective of making 100% of vehicles electric by 2035. [Emmanuel Macron, French President]" This 'Aligning approach' from the PM is beneficial as France is a major vehicle manufacturer.


In the first quarter of 2023, the UK imported £1.7 billion worth of cars from France. A favourable opportunity for cooperative wealth expansion could arise by aligning with France. It is ironic, though, that despite leaving the EU, the government continues trying to align itself with European policies.


Furthermore, the Prime minister stated that "this government" will "never force anyone to rip out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump." Only people who need to replace their boiler will have to install a heat pump, which will not be policy until 2035. 


Mr Sunak also alluded to a "new exemption"; those who meet the exemption will not have to switch to a heat pump. An addition has also been made to the current 'Boiler upgrade scheme,' which gives grants to people to replace their boilers. The amount will be increased by 50% to £7500.

 

The Conservative government will "never force any household to switch" to an energy-efficient system, meaning a house that reduces unnecessary energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and the demand for non-renewable resources.


It doesn't take an economist to realise how expensive this would be for the average homeowner.


Sunak then listed a series of scrapped plans such as "the proposal for government to interfere in how many passengers you can have in your car" and forcing homeowners to have seven bins in their homes.


Sunak most likely said this for headlines' sake. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it was "never the case that seven bins would be needed by a household." This subtle lie does throw much of the approach into question. Disposing the policy as a myth would have been much more effective. 


As a closing point, Sunak committed to embracing with "even greater enthusiasm the great opportunities of green industry" and "create whole new sectors." One action plan for this was the introduction of a "£150 million green future fellowship" to support scientists to create "'real breakthrough green technologies." 


Sunak failed to go into greater detail but did confirm that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Claire Coutinho will "shortly bring forward comprehensive new reforms to energy infrastructure." Furthermore, in the coming weeks, the PM will 'set out the next stage in our ambitious environmental agenda.' 


Sunak has outlined changes to the government's journey towards Net Zero 2050. These amendments certainly ease pressures on families and reduce short-run costs for firms. However, it begs the question, are we moving too slowly towards Net Zero, or is Sunak being pragmatic?


Image: Getty Images

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