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Reclaiming net-zero: the economic opportunities for decarbonisation

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Carbon Trust

3 min read

Former Chief Executive of the Climate Change Committee, Chris Stark, reiterates that the path to net-zero provides tremendous economic opportunities for the United Kingdom

Is net-zero a scientific goal or a slogan? In the last two years, it has increasingly seemed to be the latter. Rishi Sunak’s speech in September marked a shift in tone: people must be protected from the costs of net-zero. The positive framing of net-zero, as an opportunity for the UK, was seemingly retired. Net-zero reduced to an ‘agenda’.

This is a backwards step, but it is also a reminder that the practical challenges of achieving net-zero cannot easily be swept away. The extra investment required for net-zero will need capital funding from government within tight fiscal constraints. Household budgets will struggle with extra costs after the recent squeeze.

What to do? We will have to reach an accord with net-zero somehow. It is only when global CO2 emissions reach net-zero that the world will stop warming. Reclaiming the narrative of economic opportunity for decarbonisation is essential.

A sensible place to start would be with a UK industrial strategy that recognises that the move to decarbonised industries and low-carbon energy will increasingly be a fundamental driver of jobs and improved competitiveness.

The final prize of net-zero is a set of modern, highly productive industries powered by clean energy sources with no enduring fuel cost. Countries that move decisively will capture key new supply chains and export markets.

The focus in the UK to date has been cleaning up electricity generation. That job is not finished, but we must lift our eyes to the next set of opportunities or risk losing ground to our competitors.

China is the world’s largest polluter and also the world leader in clean technology. Both can be true at once – and low-carbon energy is winning. Wind, solar, electric vehicles and heat pumps are now being deployed at a pace and scale that dwarf the rest of the world. In response, the United States has implemented $370bn of support for energy security and clean technology through the Inflation Reduction Act. These are not environmental gestures. They are major industrial strategies to grow supply chains that are now key to the global economy. As the costs of key electrified technologies have plummeted, they are delivering substantial cost efficiencies over fossil-fuelled growth.

“The final prize of net-zero is a set of modern, highly productive industries powered by clean energy sources with no enduring fuel cost”

In this framing, net-zero technologies are fundamental to any competitive economy. The recent energy crisis showed us that we cannot rely on fossil fuels to deliver energy security or low prices. Low-cost renewables offer that prize. And here in the UK, offshore wind can eventually unlock cheaper electricity for consumers and a clear incentive to adopt electrical transport, heating and cooling solutions.

We have the capacity and capability to pull this off in the UK, but we are curiously shy about replicating our success in developing offshore wind. It is a playbook that can be reproduced in a host of other areas if we rediscover our swagger. This is the Parliament that will set the policies to achieve it.

The only net-zero ‘agenda’ is the profound economic benefit of these new industries to the UK economy and a cleaner, cheaper, more secure future for consumers. If that’s a ‘culture war’, it’s one worth fighting.

This article was originally published in The Path To Net Zero supplement circulated alongside The House magazine. To find out more visit The Path To Net Zero hub.

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