Parliament Must Consider The Impact Of Net-Zero Policies On People's Lifestyles
Shale gas could be a "significant opportunity" for the UK, says Craig Mackinlay
Being an early mover into new green technologies could come with wasteful costs and plenty of regrets.
The Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which I chair, has prompted much speculation about who we are, what we believe in, and what we want to achieve. We are a group of MPs who support the government’s objective to get emissions down and for wider environmental improvements, but believe that equally important is that decarbonisation shouldn’t leave the British people poorer and colder.
Conservatism is about expanding freedoms, not closing them down. It really is that simple, and I’m confident that most of my parliamentary colleagues share this basic position. We have set five criteria as we assess net-zero proposals: do they enhance energy security; are they affordable; are they practical; do they protect the vulnerable; and is there a better way?
Nevertheless, there are some who have sought to portray a conflict between us and other groups in the Conservative parliamentary party. It is quite amusing to me to read of a supposed battle for members between us and the Conservative Environment Network, when I know there to be a number of MPs who are in both, such as the brilliant Mark Jenkinson, who recently explained eloquently in The Times why he was a member of both groups. This is the kind of constructive approach we need to see; there would be more that unites us than divides us.
The rapidly rising cost of energy, made worse by Russia’s shameful war in Ukraine, means we must work together to develop realistic and effective solutions to get bills down and restore energy security.
One really significant opportunity could be shale gas. This is a technology that has the potential to bring tens of thousands of high-skilled, well-paid jobs to the north of England, huge tax receipts and billions of pounds of investment. All the while, improving our balance of payments and lowering the price of gas. We consider natural gas to be the right “transition fuel” until nuclear can be expanded and new technologies prove themselves.
Parliament also needs to properly recognise the seriousness and scope of the changes it is asking people to make on the road to net-zero. This would come under the “practicality” assessment, whether that’s the prospective petrol and diesel car ban or the proposed ban on gas boilers and the lifestyle changes that will be required.
Being an early mover into new technologies usually comes with wasteful costs and plenty of regrets. Far better, in my view, to examine whether the same environmental progress could be achieved as quickly, perhaps quicker, using a market-friendly approach based on consumer choice.
Why did the Blackberry or Nokia phones fall from grace? Because the smartphone offering of Apple and Samsung were superior and reflected consumer demand. Newer low-carbon technologies must do the same.
Recent polling has revealed that affordability and national security both rank more highly than meeting net-zero in the public’s list of priorities, so it is important that Parliament reflects those priorities lest we forget who put us here and why.
I had no doubt when I set up this group that it would be controversial: I intended it to spark a national discussion but it is a sad reflection of how polarised the debate has become, with anyone questioning the plan deemed a “climate change denier”. This is just lazy and couldn’t be further from the truth, but it is this intolerance which has led to a Westminster groupthink and not enough scrutiny of net-zero.
To its credit, the government is giving the Net Zero Scrutiny Group a fair hearing on the back of the reality of an energy crisis 25 years in, and of largely our own making.
Craig Mackinley is the Conservative MP for South Thanet and chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group
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