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