The Tories should go to war on net zero excess

Rishi Sunak with The Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistar Jack and the Secretary of State for Energy and Net Zero, Claire Countinho
Rishi Sunak with The Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistar Jack and the Secretary of State for Energy and Net Zero, Claire Countinho

It is a favourite argument of green campaigners: Britain should go further and faster than other countries in the race to net zero to show climate “leadership”. This has always been dubious. Why would India, China, or any other developing economy deny its people improved living standards just because the UK was doing so?

But now even Western countries are starting to turn against the worst excesses of the green movement. The new Dutch coalition has released its programme for government, and at the heart of it are a swathe of pro-consumer, pro-energy security policies, reversing some of the bizarre environmental schemes introduced by its predecessors.

Among them was a programme to compulsorily purchase farms to meet EU climate targets. The result was a farmers’ revolt and a new insurgent political party. The coalition agreement tears up rules forcing homeowners to buy heat pumps, and scraps an obligation that the Netherlands should pursue a “more ambitious environment policy” than the rest of Europe.

A false conclusion drawn from the recent local and mayoral elections in the UK is that there is no market for politicians who promise to unwind burdensome environmental policies. The failure of Susan Hall – who campaigned on scrapping the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone – to win in the city has been taken by some as a vindication of Sadiq Khan’s costly green agenda. It has also been described as a warning to the Tories to shift to the “centre” on net zero.

But Ms Hall significantly outperformed the Conservatives’ national vote share, in a city that is widely considered to be a Labour stronghold. The real lesson of her campaign is that a clear, compelling pledge on a policy that imposes considerable costs on many households galvanised support behind the Conservatives at a time when their national popularity had plummeted.

Rishi Sunak has to some extent recognised this, with his decision to push back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035. But it was only a half-measure, since the Government has kept strict quotas on the proportion of electric cars that manufacturers must sell, which threaten to drive up the price of petrol vehicles. There could be similar issues with the sale of boilers: ministers have only delayed the introduction of a boiler tax, which is meant to encourage the adoption of heat pumps.

The Dutch government, as an EU member, will have to fight tooth and nail to see many of its new policies enacted because of bloc-wide climate targets. The UK has no such restriction on its freedom for manoeuvre. While Labour persists in the delusion that rapid decarbonisation can be achieved, before the requisite technology is ready, without being extraordinarily costly, the Conservatives should stand up for prosperity and the consumer.