Thursday 21 September 2023

Sunak's net zero rethink: good politics?

Without the slightest doubt, every nation will be forced to rein back its 'net zero' plans - because with the technology available right now, they are infeasible, never mind costly.  That's even before we factor in the eventual but inevitable electoral unpopularity of the 'politics of compulsion'.

The questions, therefore, are of timing and tactics.  Sunak has decided to make it a General Election dividing line.  The ULEZ fiasco speaks in favour of this judgement, but as Chris Dillow is wont to say - but, but, but ...

The greens have obviously been out in force from the moment this broke - prematurely, of course and obviously leaked maliciously by Someone (the candidates for having done this are legion).  Right now it looks like a tsunami of "international condemnation" is being orchestrated.  Starmer, for sure, has absolutely no desire to be tarred with anything here, including becoming the Green Champion; so he'll just snipe judiciously and try to restrain Ed Miliband & other rank liars who'd love to promise to reinstate every crazy scheme, and more.  We know this of Starmer: he has form, including specifically on 'green' issues of which ULEZ is but one.  But there will definitely be some free hits available to him here, and he may not be put on the "OK-so-what-would-you-do?" spot very much at all.

So Sunak has gone for the 'up-front partial-truth-telling' approach, which is looking a bit, errr, courageous right now.  He should at the very minimum have come up with a Cummings-style Very Good Slogan: "more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic" is not it !

What other strategies are available to governments wishing to back-pedal, as they all must?  Here are some:

  • say nothing, but simply miss all targets as they come along, as will inevitably be the case, and deal piecemeal with whatever opprobrium arises, as and when.  Hope it's the other lot that will have to break the Bad News.  (Even Sunak is still doing a bit of this - viz retention of the NZ 2050 target.)
  • wait until after an election
  • quietly but positively engineer delays in costly net zero measures (easily done) so that, perhaps imperceptibly to observers, the actual costs being incurred are materially reduced
  • build consensus before back-pedaling, via a careful campaign of softening up pubic opinion
  • wait for an absolute crisis which clearly derails their net zero plans, so that nobody demurs (actually, we just had one of those and it was only partially exploited thus)
  • come up with a quid-pro-quo that the electorate finds rather attractive, e.g. - enough of the crazy heat pumps, but we are going to insulate all your homes
UPDATE: spurred by Matt's comment BTL, there is another consideration - the crazy aspect of having targets "legally binding".  Well, Parliament can do whatever it likes but in jurisprudence terms, this is a real nonsense and, as we've seen, leads to endless fatuous court cases, in the UK and other countries.  As I've written before, there will logically come a point where either (a) the courts tire of this, and rule in such a way as to neuter it, and/or (b) governments tire of it, and legislate it away.  Another item for the strategy list.   

What do we reckon on all this?  Maybe Sunak reckons he has to take risks like this if there's to be any hope at the next GE.  Has he judged the politics of this correctly, or has he been just too candid for his own good?



Anonymous said...

Well this was always going to hit the buffers.

IIRC Boris' idiotic reforms are still officially in power - that from 2025 onwards ALL new-builds should have heat pump central heating, and that in around another 5 years I won't be able to buy a new oil boiler for my (solid walls 1840-vintage damp-plagued) house.

ATM pretty much 100% of bulk new-build is gas-fired. Have HMG been training lots of heat pump engineers? Do we have a serious domestic heat-pump manufacturing industry? Are the drilling rigs and geologists in place (with today's tiny gardens the only way is down or better still deep on the farmer's land next door, which has the bonus (for buyer) of stopping it being built on). Are architects designing for the massive radiators upstairs and 100% leakproof underfloor heating downstairs?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps ND knows why no politician seems able to point out that our emissions are < 1% of world emissions, and that China is at 30% plus while building coal plants as fast as they can dig the stuff.

Or that coal, far from being the distant past, had record amounts burned in 2022? And that oil will probably have record amounts burned in 2023?

Nick Drew said...

Anon @ 10:20 - it is pretty obvious that the only conceivable logic for a 1-percenter like us doing anything much (apart from genuinely economic stuff, of which there definitely is some), is "moral leadership"

like, er, Russia / China / india / Saudi / USA gives a flying f**k

on second thoughts, I suppose there just might also be some Keynsian logic for some 'green' stuff: clearly, there's a lot of enthusiasm in the UK civil engineering sector for digging enormous holes, which carries political weight & leads us to Hinkley Point C, Sizewell B etc etc

Matt said...

@ ND

None of these strategies will work as a way to weasel out of doing something.


Because it's legally binding courtesy of the Climate Change Act and so open to woke judicial interference.

Nick Drew said...

Very good point, Matt - I have written about that before and had intended to cover it here. Will update the post - thanks

patently said...

@ND - the "moral leadership" argument is only effective if your stance is "we will do this stuff if you do, too". Otherwise, China, Russia etc can just express their gratitude and carry on - leaving us with nothing to offer.

The problem here is that Sunak was part of the government that introduced these things in the first place, at a time when the problems with the promise were just as apparent as they are now. So either he is sensible now but was an idiot then, or vice-versa. Neither is especially appealing.

The net effect, of course, is that the original rules have forced people & businesses to divert investment and change their plans. So they have maximised the detrimental impact on UK plc and minimised the environmental benefit. Not a great start to a "please re-elect us" campaign.

Anomalous Cowshed said...

There's (possibly) another dynamic in play - arising out of Brexit.

So, the sovereignty argument for leaving the EU - as the Commission gathers more capacity to itself, then the range of policy options available to national governments narrows, or the Overton window shrinks. So does the ability of voters to select between options. An increasing amount of stuff is pre-agreed between political actors, in a pretty opaque way, and the resulting decision is completely off the table as far as the electorate is concerned.

COPxx works the same way. Taking UKIP as a model, it's possible we'd get an anti-Green single issue party arising at some point, maybe fairly soon.

The 2050 date is only vaguely mentioned once in the 2017 Conservative manifesto - seems to be the first mention of "industrial strategy" as well. After COP21 (there's a fluke of timing here). The target comes forward following COP24, and COP25 takes place at almost exactly the same time as the 2019 GE, when the 2050 number is promoted to page one of the manifesto. And there's a whole page on climate change. Right at the back.

None of this is couched in terms of banning stuff. Or making demands of the voters.

Sunak is simply being pragmatic here, attempting some relief of the future costs of banning gas boilers and what-have-you falling upon households fairly soon, but also in that the world has changed post-SARS-CoV2, supply chains are changing, China and Russia are kicking off in their own ways, and interest rates shot up (still negative in real terms though).

Prior to that, the targets might have just about been do-able. After lockdown, probably not. Starmer might not have that much room for manoeuvre.

jim said...

A result for m'learned friends, a nice earner on its way. Otherwise fairly sensible? given that the technology is not there or too expensive. So, into line with everyone else.

But why announce now? What calculation is in Sunak's (or Tory HQ's) mind? Why not do as Nick's little list suggests. As suggested this may become an election dividing line - which begs the question why do it now, when does Sunak think the next election will be.

My guess is May 2024 if only because I can't see things getting any better for the Tories and the longer they hang on the more chance some 'event' or internal treachery will bite them on the bum.

As Nick says, none of Russia / China / India / Saudi / USA gives a flying f**k. What we do is negligible, sooner or later we will all end up paddling in water and queuing up for a bread ration. Malthus will be breathing down our necks ably assisted by a better informed bunch of virologists. Except for the political elites who will have grabbed all the high ground. But all that is a few elections away yet.

Nick Drew said...

Sorry to be pedantic* Mr Cowshed, but I think you are wrong abt timing. T.May introduced the 2050 legislation as just about her last Act on this earth. It was law before the 2019 GE.

Didn't save her, though ...
*well, no, actually it's my hobby

Anomalous Cowshed said...

Sorry Nick, I think you may mis-read my comment; the 2050 target was mentioned (only once, almost only in passing) in the 2017 Manifesto. By the time 2019 rolls around, the 2050 date is more prominent, along with far more stuff to go along with it, given it's a continuance of what May began, and Boris inherited. Between '17 and '19, we get a couple more COPs squeezed in.

I probably wasn't clear on that, re-reading.

Pendant away tho'.

dearieme said...

You chaps are overlooking the simple way to resolve these difficulties. Machine-gunners.

Diogenes said...

Can't see how business can plan in the face of these U-turns. Unlike Thatcher, this current bunch of politicians go into reverse at the first sign of a critical headline in the media.

Another nail in the coffin of UK plc despite the grandstanding on being world leaders in [insert the latest fad here]

Useless, useless crowd.

Anonymous said...

jim - "the political elites who will have grabbed all the high ground"

You said "a few elections yet" - when Obama sells his Martha's Vineyard place, and houses on Sandbanks or in Mousehole and Abersoch become unsellable - THEN I might worry about sea level rise. Our elites at the moment - if house prices and restaurants in Padstow are any guide - aren't putting their money where their mouths are.

Nick Drew said...

Diogenes - Can't see how business can plan in the face of these U-turns.

In my business career of many decades, I have made it a rule only to engage in companies the business model of which has a cast-iron, intrinsic commercial logic, and does not depend upon government subsidy, scheme or other mercurial incentive

my track record is as follows:

- 4 successful start-ups, all brought to healthy profit & good exits
- 1 looking like a success, but still 3-4 years away from IPO (so I suspend judgement)
- 1 outright failure: a misjudgment on a new technology


- 1 outright failure: based on one of Gordon Brown's wretched incentive schemes of which the rules were retrospectively changed - so, having thus once been bitten my resolve is absolute ...

... never depend on government subsidies or fancy schemes, or 'forced customer switching' etc etc.

(Incidentally, there's another rule: make sure you have either executive power, or at least active hands-on influence on management.)

dearieme said...

"moral leadership" is a undeniably racist trope.

E-K said...

Well. Sunak's finally got word that even big name Tories are going to lose their seats at the next General Election.

Rather like Israel, they cannot afford to lose a single war. They will be destroyed forever by votes for under 16s and generations to come will be indoctrinated that the Tory Party were the Disaster Party.

Having been a Tory voter for most of my life I have been advising my kids that the Conservatives are not the party for them - not that they needed telling. I suspect this is being repeated in Blue homes up and down the land.

Matt said...

@ E-K

The Tory party deserves to be destroyed. They have enacted the most wretched policies during a period when they had a large enough majority to have made significant meaningful changes. Primary problem is that the wets are so utterly hopeless they wouldn't look out of place in the LibDem party and the infighting caused paralysis.

The best they can offer is that they are not Labour. Trouble is, no one is convinced by that anymore seeing as we've had a government more left wing than 80s Labour.

Elby the Beserk said...

The untold cost of NetZero

(apart from - it will make NO difference whatsoever, whilst China and India pump CO2 into the atmosphere and build new coal power stations. Other than crashing the economy and further impoverishing us, which now seems to be the Conservative's core policy)

"Devastating risks of transitioning to 'green' energy: Mining for electric-powering minerals has left 23 million people exposed to toxic waste, 500,000km of rivers polluted and 16 million acres of farmland ruined
Toxic byproducts of metals mining also pollute 10.7 million acres of flood plains
Researchers estimate the pollution also impacts 5.72 million livestock worldwide"

jim said...

By accident I came across this piece by Mr Cummings '#4 The Startup Party' - free on his Substack. Not on my usual journey round the Web.

Maybe if you have 17 minutes of your life going spare you might take a look. On first glance I thought it was the ravings of a lunatic, I took another look but will reserve my opinion.

Anyway, time to dig over the veg patch.

Jeremy Poynton said...

1. I'm with dearieme on this one. Indeed, I see a massive rise in general non-compliance with this nonsense as the way ahead. As per the ULEZ cameras.

2. WTF is up with Captcha? I now get them randomly whilst writing. Uh?

3. It is worth noting that we are now SO incompetent at infrastructure projects
- Hinkley C, HS2 that even were we all compliant, there is no way they can actually implement what is required to do this. EVER. Any pretence of being pro-active is completely gone. How will they round all of us up who refuse heat pumps, refuse to insulate our homes, refuse to do what we are told?

4. Ben Pile, long time articulate opponent of the Green Blob has an excellent article here.

Meanwhile, Captcha has gone mad. I am now being asked to verify whatever in mid post, three or four times. Have had this elsewhere. It also stops you typing as well. Please turn it off. It's bloody useless.

dearieme said...

"Please turn it off. It's bloody useless."

Captcha = ConservAtive ParTy CHiefly Arseholes.

And Labour will be even worse, perhaps in coalition with the Scotnaz.

Caeser Hēméra said...

It's poor politics, and a sign of desperation sinking in.

ULEZ was an immediate issues, and gave the electorate a chance to give Labour a swift kick in the Khans. The whole Net Zero plan is thoroughly nebulous, and the electorate assume that, whoever is in charge when it becomes an immediate issue, will do whatever necessary to save their political skins.

Add in the bullet list of bullshit, and it rather looks like a spin intern came up with this.

So, doesn't do much to stop Labour rebuilding the Red Wall, manages to piss off the middle classes and succeeds in getting both Boris and May in alignment.

Although I guess I'm not seeing anything they could do, if everything is falling apart and you've been in charge for the last 13 years, there's only so many "dog ate homework" excuses you can trot out.

Maybe something that sounded good and tied Labour into doing it - I mean, if we're going to be using electric arc furnaces, parking a snazzy new nuclear reactor next door to help power it might sound like job making in poorer areas. And it's not like it'd be delivered any time soon, but a few jobs in those areas for the preliminaries is the kind of political bung places can get behind.

Anonymous said...

"if we're going to be using electric arc furnaces, parking a snazzy new nuclear reactor next door to help power it might sound like job making in poorer areas"

We should have worked out how the thing would be powered ten years BEFORE announcing huge electric arc subsidies, and meanwhile we should keep them going using coking coal, dug up in Cumberland within sight of the Coast to Coast path. And we should probably have kept Redcar open too.

When someone (as it may be Tata) announces the closure of a steel plant, HMG should compulsorily purchase the business at scrap value and assuming no building permission on the land. Then they should keep the plant open.

"British Steel" could be the company name, it has a ring to it.

Anonymous said...

OT but the contrast between the Guardian's coverage of Russell Brand and its coverage of former star columnist Nick Cohen is remarkable.

OK, I know the one was a handsome Heathcliff-clone who's attracted thousands of women* and had half a dozen complaints max, and the other's a caricature accused of groping junior staff at the copy machine. But nonetheless the discrepancy, given that neither sub judice, is remarkable.

* can't stand the guy, btw. Jealous? Moi?

hovis said...

Still Sunak has only postponed, not changes net zero which remains disasterous. He remains a disgusting globalist WEF loving c*nt; As are most of our useless joke parliament.

Btw Anon 5.40 why the hell are members of the Govt demanding an individual be de facto punished for a non crime he has not been convicted of, Utterly disgusting, wondering what it is a smokescreen for - perhaps the execrable energy bill that attempt to give powers of forced entry to your house to fit meters. Sunak and his cronies can go fuck himself with a rusty knife.

Bill Quango MP said...

Record broken.
Formerly held by Teen daughter.
“Can you pick me up from Cardiff, please dad.”
5 hour round trip with the roadworks.

Teen son.
“ can you pick me up from Penzance please dad.”
8 hour round trip with the roadworks.

Luckily, my electric hybrid isn’t a hybrid at all. Battery Just powers the seats or something to get round the regs.
An all electric wouldn’t have made one half of that journey.

Plus car was almost completely empty of fuel on both occasions when I set off.


Jeremy Poynton said...


Captcha is Google spawn. No surprises then. I've had to complete three just to start writing this

NICK! Please turn it OFF. Oh there's another. FFS

Jeremy Poynton said...

Just posted the above, and got asked for Captcha AGAIN after doing that. It's run amuck. Being reported all over the interweb, it seems, driving people nuts.

Anonymous said...

BQ - one of the pleasures of fatherhood - my record is Fort William. Admittedly he was arriving by boat from the Faroes!

Anonymous said...

The decline of Britain, part 639

In mitigation Mr Desmond’s defence counsel Philip Evans KC said the dog had been “startled” before the attacks possibly by the noise of a sliding van door and his client had accepted “full responsibility” over his dog’s actions. He added: “He (Mr Desmond) is a man of thoroughly good character"

Anonymous said...

They may as well do nuclear strike scenarios, if Westminster is underwater we'll have bigger problems than bank capitalisation

Elby the Beserk said...

Anonymous said...

They may as well do nuclear strike scenarios, if Westminster is underwater we'll have bigger problems than bank capitalisation
10:32 am

"if Westminster is underwater "

Sing Hallellujah...

E-K said...

Original question "Good politics ?"

Ditching a policy for election time and then reinstating it afterwards ?

No. That's just c***ishness.

Diogenes said...

That's just c***ishness.

What's behind all this c***ishness.

* Filling the airwaves with 'noise' during the other parties' conferences

* Flying kites for the 2030 election as they know they're f**ked for the next one.

* Ministers looking for new jobs by pandering to sections of industry

Despite having a huge majority, they are leaving it to the last moment to make all these changes and without the parliamentary time to be able to get the laws through Parliament.

And what about all the other stuff promised and part way through Parliament? They seem to be dropping or gutting the legislation to appeal to certain sections of the party.

I can foresee an early GE when something stupid comes along in the next few months and exposes the divisions in the party and the p**s poor leadership of Sunak and the idiots he has inherited along the way. Braverman is simply another Truss.

Anonymous said...

Another Net Zero disaster about to hit us. We closed all the bad old coal power stations, and propose one day to close all the bad old gas ones, but the national grid was built to take their output, not to take electricity from offshore wind farms (which, btw, would be horribly vulnerable in hostilities, you could perhaps ring a power station with missile defence, but an offshore wind farm?).

"Net zero involves doubling the UK’s use of electricity, which plainly requires more kit, but not everybody wants to live near a new high-voltage transmission line suspended on 50-metre stilts. It is hard to see how the government’s target of decarbonising the power network by 2035 (a target that survived last week’s bonfire of deadlines) can be met without upsetting a few local interests."

Now we could double the use of electricity by building our snazzy thorium-fuelled molten salt reactors, which need no cooling water, on the sites of the old power stations - after all, we are the world leaders /sarc

So stand by for vast numbers of new pylons...

Let me get this quite clear btw... we are planning to double our electricity consumption simultaneously with closing vast numbers of power stations ... AND building a whole new grid for offshore wind .... OK!!

And this will reduce world greenhouse emissions by less than half of one percent not counting the greenhouse costs of the build .... OK !!!

Anonymous said...

@Anon above sort of sums it up. We're now having to face up to the reality of the various vacuous promises made. As an old Power & Distribution hand, there is no way the infrastructure can be built in the timescales stated. Assembling pylons and stringing wires between them is not much of a challenge but getting planning through is.

This is HS2 2.0. You're going to have plenty of nimbys up in arms when a HV line comes near them. Some will argue for buried HV lines but the cost will be prohibitive.

We've had endless promises that do not meet the reality test but still these promises come. If Sunak had stated that his change of heart was due to reality and not voters' wishes, he'd have more credibility - but he is clearly just pandering to whatever headline the spinners want next.

Anonymous said...

And just for fun, having put vast scars through what remains of the countryside immediately north of Brum, and vast bridges over the M6, looks like HS2 will stop at Brum!

HS2 was a stupid idea in the beginning, mind, but how much have they spent on it? They could have done so much to improve existing public transport ...

Anonymous said...

Tens? Hundreds? of billions spent to make New Street - Euston ten minutes quicker.