The ultimate effect of this rushed strategy could be to push political and economic power East, into the hands of Beijing.
The greatest irony of the climate debate is that those who would normally describe themselves as liberals - and thus believers in pluralism - have casually parked that core virtue in favour of net zero fealty. This new religion of environmentalism has led to the dismissal of any rational questioning, with the individual accused of being a climate change apostate. I can almost see the Crusader cry of ‘Deus Vult,’ being screamed at anyone concerned about the cost of and even the pace or direction of change.
The normal interrogative process of accountable democracy has been turned on its head. Instead of robust interrogation, everyone is presented with a fait accompli. The roots of this can be traced to a meeting of key scientists, including the IPCC’s first chair, held thirty years ago where they agreed that traditional cost-benefit analysis should be abandoned in the climate arena as the risk it ran was that the public might baulk at the costs, when set against the scale and nature of the risk. That principle has prevailed, as across the free world democratic debate has been replaced by a new project fear.
Even when a watered-down Treasury report hinted strongly at serious costs as a result of our net zero policy (with significant implications for the UK’s fiscal position), it was ignored. Just take the lost fuel duty of £37bn alone for the next three decades - it ought to sound alarm bells everywhere, but is instead hardly discussed. There is little talk, too, of the cost of upgrading the electricity grid to cope with the huge extra demand for non-fossil fuel energy, estimated to be between £250bn and £300bn.
It is unthinkable that governments in the free world would embark on such huge changes without properly debating the scale of the challenge, how much it will cost and, most importantly, where that burden will fall. Perhaps that’s because it is becoming increasingly clear that such a cost will be paid disproportionately by the lowest earners. Asking these questions is not climate denial - no matter the accusations of zero covid zealots whose techniques increasingly resemble those of totalitarian governments.
We have seen this before. When a climate report emerged in the 1990s which said the world could suffer mass starvation within four decades, anyone questioning it was ostracised. Yet in the intervening years, undernourishment in developing countries has nearly halved, from 23.3 per cent in 1991 to 12.9 per cent in 2015. In 2013, the IPCC claimed that the extreme climate scenario was most likely - from which so many of the doom-laden scenarios have since sprung - yet their recent report has belatedly revised that opinion, considering the extreme outcome to be of low likelihood.
As Allister Health wrote in The Telegraph, there is a case to be made that if the political elite refuse to engage, a referendum on net zero might be necessary. Whether you agree with him or not, ignoring critical questions and silencing debate on an issue of such consequence will almost certainly ensure that the people react against the politicians.
There is a more potent question to ask, though, about the impact on our geopolitical position. Totalitarian states who have spurned arbitrary Western targets for net zero, and whose leaders refuse to attend COP26, are set to gain from the free world’s strategy. We in the west are already far too reliant on China for batteries, electric vehicles, computers, solar arrays and wind turbines, produced using huge amounts of fossil fuels.
The effect of our quasi-religious commitment to net zero could well be to push power East, into the hands of Beijing, which continues to pollute, opening coal mines and power stations, whilst threatening its neighbours. It is sadly a gift to Xi Jinping that will just keep giving.