In the absurd parallel universe of some right-wing Tory MPs, the answer to an energy crisis caused by soaring gas prices is to increase our reliance on gas and slow down – or even dump – moves to decarbonise our energy system.
The Net Zero Scrutiny Group, as they call themselves, are using the gas crisis to push their real agenda: abandoning our legally binding target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and prolonging our dependence on fossil fuels.
The impact on the climate doesn’t seem to feature in their calculations. But worryingly, there appear to be at least some in the Cabinet who are listening.
There are so many flaws in their argument that it’s difficult to know where to start. But let’s begin with the obvious: the answer to rising gas prices – which are likely to continue for some time – is to wean ourselves off gas by reducing demand, not drill for more of it.
The reason we are so dependent on gas now, and so vulnerable to a volatile global market, is because David Cameron reportedly gave in to right-wing Tory voices, agreed to ‘get rid of all the green crap’ and thus slowed down the essential transition away from fossil fuels.
Energy efficiency measures, like insulating people’s homes or ensuring new ones were built to the very highest efficiency standards, were scrapped, so the UK is left with some of the least energy-efficient housing in western Europe.
The idea that a couple of fracking sites in Lancashire could have a material impact on a five-fold increase in global prices is risible
That short-sightedness means energy bills are £2.5billion more than they might otherwise have been over the past decade, which works out at an average of £40 per household. This is expected to rise to £60 by next winter.
If we’d installed more renewable energy and invested in energy storage years ago, we’d be using less gas now, and bills would therefore be cheaper because wind and solar power are cheaper than gas – not to mention better for the planet.
Then there’s the ludicrous suggestion that we should restart fracking to bring down gas prices. The idea that a couple of fracking sites in Lancashire could have a material impact on a five-fold increase in global prices is risible.
In any case, that gas would almost certainly be sold on global markets, as is happening to gas produced in the North Sea now, and the amount exported has doubled in the past year.
We also know that if we are to keep 1.5C alive – the key objective of last November’s Glasgow Climate Pact – there must be no new oil and gas exploration – in the North Sea, Lancashire or anywhere else.
We were the hosts of that critical UN summit, COP26, and Alok Sharma remains COP president for most of this year. Imagine the conversations between him and his Tory colleagues who are now suggesting the climate pact he worked so hard to negotiate should be simply ignored a few months later.
When 88% of global emissions are covered by net zero targets, nearly half of them for 2050, the UK would be an international pariah if we abandoned ours.
Is that what Global Britain is to stand for?
Finally, there’s the real target of the climate-sceptics: the Climate Change Act, which commits us to the net zero target by 2050. They want a ‘rethink’, in other words: for it to be abandoned. If the Government was remotely serious about climate leadership, it would accelerate this transition, not listen to siren voices urging delay.
In case they need reminding, the climate crisis is the gravest threat humanity has ever faced. Delaying our response to it only adds to the eventual cost.
Yet that is what these right-wing Tories are proposing, dumping all our children and grandchildren with catastrophic costs and devastating impacts from deadly heat waves, to disastrous flooding.
People need help with soaring energy bills now which are adding to a cost-of-living crisis.
But let’s not pretend that Tories now pushing a return to fracking or cutting the environmental and social levies on energy bills are concerned for those living in fuel poverty.
Only months ago, they were voting through a £20 a week cut in Universal Credit and had to be shamed by a footballer into providing funding for free school meals during school holidays.
Millions of families face real hardship in the coming months and need support, not just with fuel bills. The Chancellor’s £200 ‘loan’, which will have to be paid back over the next five years regardless of wholesale prices, is a sticking plaster response typical of this Government. Even combined with the council tax rebate, it will cover only half the price increase facing millions of families.
When oil and gas companies like Shell and BP are reporting record profits because of soaring prices while families shiver because they cannot afford to heat their homes, in the short term we should be taxing one to help the other.
But most importantly of all, we need to leave fossil fuels where they belong, in the ground and accelerate the transition to a greener, sustainable, carbon-free energy system.
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