Despite sceptics’ claims, net zero is a fundamentally conservative endeavour. Achieving it will not only preserve our planet for future generations but deliver economic prosperity. While the cost of living crisis has led to a resurgence of criticism in the UK, we only have to look around the world to see that UK Conservatives are not alone in delivering positive environmental action.
Critics are wrong to see net zero as a left-wing policy. Conservatives have been at the forefront of environmental solutions for decades, growing the economy while decarbonising and reducing pollution, because we genuinely believe in protecting our natural environment for our children. And we have been doing it in our own way, using markets, encouraging innovation and finding solutions that lead to greater prosperity as well as a better climate. This is why most people support net zero, including most Conservative voters.
However, if we listen to sceptics and falter in our commitment to net zero, we will surrender this critical issue to the left. While carbon neutrality is compatible with economic growth, the left’s approach is not. Too often, socialists see environmentalism as a way to end capitalism, introduce economic illiterate policies, and force people to put on hair shirts to keep warm.
That’s why we cannot ignore climate change or delay the solution. Instead of ignoring this argument we should aim to win it. To do so, we must look to the many successes we’ve already had. Take the UK, where over the last twelve years, Conservative governments have enacted a slew of measures which have shown that environmentalism is absolutely compatible with innovative, free market policies.
One example of this is how we have managed to decarbonise our power system using Contracts for Difference, which have encouraged investment in the renewable energy market by awarding fixed price contracts per unit of electricity. The contracts are awarded to the cheapest producer who pays back into consumers energy bills whenever the wholesale electricity price is higher than the fixed price. This has been largely responsible for the huge uptake in renewable energy over the last ten years, despite naysayers casting doubt on whether large-scale renewables, particularly offshore wind, could ever be a reliable source of electricity.
However, it is not just the UK which has made significant progress with environmental policies. Centre-right governments around the world have introduced bold policies to reduce their emissions and proven that net zero does not mean degrowth and despair. Iceland’s successes with carbon capture and storage are providing hope for the decarbonisation of heavy industry. India’s International Solar Alliance initiative is helping to identify sites for solar farms across the world. Norway is leading the switch to electric vehicles with private sector investment with market-led policies like auctioning charging rights on roads. There are powerful examples from across the world, which are pro-market and pro-growth policies that don’t rely on regressive taxation or coercive state control.
As part of the Conservative Environment Network’s (CEN) work in 2022 we will be compiling positive examples from around the globe to show how conservatives are tackling climate change in line with their values. If you would like to contribute an example or case study, please get in touch. We’re looking for examples from across the world, so long as the policy was an effective free market solution implemented by a centre-right government.
This is not just to prove to those on the left that there are conservative answers. There is an increasing number of people on the right who argue that net zero is too expensive, too disruptive and will leave the poorest behind. We want to make clear that there is a way to avoid this, that climate policies do not have to sacrifice economic growth and that these ideas are feasible and effective. After all, many of the voices on the right casting doubt on net zero now were the same voices casting doubt on renewable energy ten years ago in the UK. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.
It is still worth considering how fast and how far our ambition has changed. Two years ago, less than a third of the world’s economy was covered by net zero targets. Now, after the UK hosted COP26, over 90 per cent of global GDP is committed to carbon neutrality. This global transition is happening at speed because governments have seen the economic reward offered by net zero. Embracing new clean industries and technologies to decarbonise will not only avoid the worst consequences of climate change but deliver economic prosperity.
We are beginning to see net zero’s economic reward in the UK already. Look at the 8000 jobs forecast from the new British gigavolt factory in Blyth from making electric car batteries. The 500 apprenticeships given out by wind turbine manufacturers Siemens Gamesa in the north east of England. And we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation, while leading the G7 in national income growth. These are as much Conservative wins as they are net zero success stories and we should not be afraid to claim them.
Net zero is an idea that is not going away. Instead of retreating and letting the left control the narrative, we should instead prove to them that there is a conservative approach and we should talk about the conservative solutions that already exist. That’s why, in 2022, CEN will be championing the positive environmental change delivered by centre-right governments across the world. We hope you join us.