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The cost of net-zero – The latest disinformation issue facing the climate crisis
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The cost of net-zero – The latest disinformation issue facing the climate crisis

The cost of net-zero: The latest disinformation problem facing the climate crisis


Climate scientists have been the subject of unfounded and dismissive criticisms over the years about the climate crisis’ causes, impacts, severity, and cause. Even though the majority of nations around the world are pushing for net-zero emissions now, a small, vocal minority is confusing the waters about what net-zero will cost.

The cost of net-zero: The latest disinformation problem facing the climate crisis

Multiple studies have disproved the belief that climate change is a hoax. 97% of climate scientists actively publishing their research agree that the climate crisis is real, and is largely due human activities.

Indeed, we’re now at the point where net-zero emissions by mid-Century is the consensus, with 90% of global GDP covered by actual or intended net-zero targets following negotiations at COP26.

But in the current economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus epidemic, there are many influential people who could lose a lot from the net zero trajectory if they or the sectors they support fail to act. It is here where climate’s latest disinformation dissemination has emerged.

Net-Zero Scrutiny

20 Conservative MPs and peers, along with 20 others, formed the Net-Zero Scrutiny Group. They called for a temporary halt to the 5% VAT rate for energy bills and a suspension or the ECO levy. This raises money for Government schemes such as renewable energy, household insulation, and alleviating fuel poverty. Although the NZSG is relatively new and small, it is well-connected in media and business circles.

This approach was quickly shot down by an array of green groups, thought leaders and politicians, who argued that abandoning long-term investments in energy efficiency and renewables – which would decrease the nation’s reliance on imported gas – is a short-sighted approach. There is also the fact that the ECO levy adds just £29 per year to the average domestic energy bill.

It is the latest in a long line of lobbying calling for the reversal of green standards that have so struggled to make it through Parliament in an effort to spur green and low carbon markets.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), urged policymakers to reject the claim that the current energy price crisis was caused by more low-carbon energy.

It’s a disappointing start to the year, and the marathon build-up to last year’s COP26 summit that ended with more than 90% of global GDP covered by net-zero targets now sits under a cloud of skepticism that has formed, in part, by those with the most at risk from the net-zero transition.

Disinformation has been rife in politics for a long time now, to the point where even the Prime Minister can’t be sure if he’s attending work events or boozy Christmas parties. It was instrumental in stirring the anti-EU agenda in Britain, propelled a populist TV personality to the highest office in America, and is currently leading the anti-vax movement. Disinformation spreads and society is divided. It makes it harder for strong, forward-leading policies to be implemented as governments seek to appease the zeitgeist. It seems that net-zero is the latest target of a manipulative movement.

Open Democracy has rummagedThrough the darkest depths of political lobbying, he has discovered some interesting links with this newly formed NZSC. Open Democracy claims that NZSC has “largely morphed” from the taxpayer-funded European Research Group of Conservative MPs – which “played a starring role in the UK’s exit from the EU”.

Other climate doubtersTo scrutinise the movement, many are rebranding their businesses under the Net Zero slogan. However, while the future generations are marching in protest against the lack of action and climate strikes are being made public, the net-zero doubt has largely been formulated by those whose livelihoods and finances are firmly rooted in high carbon industries.

The Guardian has released that the Conservative party and its MPs have “registered £1.3m in gifts and donations from climate skeptics and fossil fuel interests since the 2019 general election”, with MPs such as Steve Baker wading into this territory, namely through an unpaid position at the Global Warming Policy Foundation which has been relaunched as Net Zero Watch.

The narrative about the climate crisis follows an interesting cycle. The rise of groundbreaking scientific reports from the IPCC has led to climate deniers being dismissed. Net-zero has also brought forth a new wave denialism which could descend into tribalism.

If Netflix’s Don’t Look Up film has taught us anything it’s that politicians can and will do what they can to stop the public staring at a cataclysmic event. While there is no imminent end to the world, there is a catastrophic ecological breakdown that could destroy the planet. So it is alarming to see that if we do “look up” now, we’ll see empty planes flying to avoid losing take-off and landing slots.

This is only one example of the broken economy net-zero is trying fix. Yes, the cost of net-zero is noteworthy – around $125trn of climate investment is needed by 2025, but research suggests that by 2030, up to 80% of decarbonising technology investments could be better value than current emission-intensive practices.

Net-cost opportunity

In its recent Sixth Carbon Budget Advice, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) priced the UK’s net-zero transition at 0.5-1% of GDP, down from original estimates of 1-2% of GDP. This advice is not intended to be taken as a recommendation. Will be enshrined into law the Treasury report states that the overall cost is still “uncertain” and calls on the Government to develop its own forecasting. Previous Treasury analysis claimed that the transition could be either slightly negative or slightly positive for the UK economy as a whole.

Reports from the Carbon Trust also claim that “embedding” flexibility across power, heat and transport will be necessary to reduce the cost of the low-carbon transition – and will reduce operational costs as well as upfront costs. Flexible technologies such as batteries and low-carbon peaking can be properly embedded and scaled. plants could cut up to £16.7bn off of annual bills by 2050.

Additionally, the Office for Budget Responsibility examined the Climate Change Committee (CCC’s) calculations as part of its ‘Fiscal risks report’In July. It found that investments to reaching net-zero would be offset by savings, particularly by avoiding the purchase of fossil fuels, amounting to £991bn during the 30 years to 2050. This translates to an overall net cost of around £321bn over a 30-year period, equating to annual costs of £16bn. However, by 2050 this could be outweighed by annual savings of £19bn. The savings could increase if we consider reducing climate change risk by decarbonising. Winter floods in 2013 and 2014 alone created around £450m in insured losses.

It is here where most of the calls for further cuts to energy efficiency policies, cutting VAT on energy bills, or scrapping renewable subsidies can be dismissed.

The Government is trying to tackle the current energy crisis. Carbon Brief analysis shows nearly 90% of the rise in bills over last year is down to the Government. Gas prices are risingThey can learn from past mistakes.

Carbon Brief’s expert analysis showed that a near-decade-long period of energy policies being scrapped, such as the limits on onshore Wind in England and the removal of the zero carbon homes standard, has led to energy bills. that are almost £2.5bn higher than they otherwise could’ve been.

Politizizing the necessity for net-zero is problematic because it slows down a trajectory which should be expected and not considered as an option. Every day passes, energy suppliers are feeling more anxious.21 of them had collapsed as of November) and for families and businesses unsure of how they will cope with rising bills. These are the immediate effects of a lack of political action on net-zero. It’s easy to worry about what disruptions may follow if the Government fails truly to back low-carbon markets.

Indeed, experts including the Government’s own advisors at the CCC have warned that the longer the transition is delayed and the less it is organised, the higher the costs will be and the lower the chances will be of the UK meeting its legally-binding pledges to cut emissions.

Think-tank the Institute for Government’s (IfG) new policy paper states that, unless the Government takes urgent action to manage the current cost-of-living crisis, the public and political momentum built up around COP26 will fizzle out. Millions of UK households are set to see their energy bills surpass £2,000 this year, largely due to the skyrocketing costs of gas imports. In the meantime, food prices continue to rise and income tax changes could result in many low- and middle-income homes paying more. up to £3,000 extra annually.

The IfG’s senior fellow Jill Rutter claimed that the Government “needs to convince the public that it can manage the immediate energy bills crisis, without sacrificing its long-term net-zero objective”.

The UK’s current pathway to net-zero is paved with good intentions but isn’t sturdy enough to inspire others to partake in that journey.

The Net-Zero Strategy is currently in crisis two court cases, with ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth arguing that it doesn’t comply with the UK’s legal commitments to tackle the climate crisis.

The Strategy was Published in October 2021 in preparation for COP26 in Glasgow. At the time, the Government badged the Strategy as a pathway for “transforming every sector of the global economy” in a manner aligned with net-zero by 2050. However, green groups, trade bodies MPs have all said that the Strategy left much to be desired.

And while one area of the economy claims the Net-Zero Strategy isn’t ambitious enough a new wave of climate skepticism has emerged.

So we are at a crossroads. Two months after COP26, the UK is in danger of succumbing to a new wave disinformation and lobbying. This comes at a time when its current Net-Zero Strategy lacks sufficient detail to capture the economic opportunities of the transition.

Both sustainability professionals and activists need to remain firm in their conviction that net-zero must be achieved. It should be based on scientific advice and not the ever-changing movement of money. Now is the time for us to speak out louder. Don’t just #LookUp, but say what you see to others and use the science that net-zero is grounded in to appeal to the human emotion of society. Make 2022 the year when debating and politics are drowned out with tangible action.

Matt Mace

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