Sally-Ann Hart: We need to turbo-charge Mother Nature’s power

11 Sep

Sally-Ann Hart is the MP for Hastings and Rye, and was a councillor in Rother.

Following this summer’s flooding, drought and fire events across Europe, it is hard to understand why some people remain unconvinced about climate change.

The recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the world is warming faster than previously anticipated, and climate change is already affecting every single region of our planet.

I very much welcome the UK’s lead in tackling climate change; the UK was the first G7 country to legislate to achieve net zero by 2050, and we are decarbonising faster than any other G20 country.

The Government has already made huge strides in policy-making to protect and enhance our environment:

  • The Prime Minister’s 10-point Plan lays the foundations for the UK to lead the Green Industrial Revolution, and accelerate our path to net-zero;
  • The Agriculture Act, which changes the way farmers are supported, centres funding support around incentivising sustainable farming practices, creating habitats for nature recovery and supporting the establishment of ecosystems, such as new woodland;
  • and the landmark Environment Bill, which puts our environment at the heart of all government policymaking.

I wholeheartedly support the Government aims as regards our environment and reducing carbon emissions. Restoring nature is a central theme, with initiatives such as Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund, aimed at driving private investment in nature-based solutions to climate change, or the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, which has backed projects which not only boost nature recovery, but also support and create jobs.

But we need to ask whether all these policies will be enough. Nature recovery is being increasingly acknowledged to be fundamental in fighting against climate change, but we need to unleash the full potential of nature as she can do much more; we need to ramp up action in relation to nature-based solutions, especially ahead of COP26 and the publication of the Government’s comprehensive net zero strategy later this year.

Natural habitats in oceans and on land can store vast quantities of carbon. To quote Socrates, ‘He is the richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature’, and nature provides us with a wealth of solutions to combat climate change.

G20 finance ministers have recognised that nature-based solutions are the most cost-effective, and represent more effective and sustainable investment to protect and revive the planet – to store and capture carbon. But it is also recognised that nature-based solutions receive a very small percentage, around 2.5%, of public climate mitigating funding.

As a Conservative Environment Network Nature-Based Solutions Champion, I have been championing the cause of nature-based solutions to reduce our carbon emissions, and whilst the UK Government has already invested in nature-based solutions, including tree planting, there are many ways we can use the natural environments to do this.

Take our humble, traditional English hedgerows as an example, which are some of the most accessible wildlife habitats along roads, footpaths, fields, gardens and railways. Thousands of hedgerows have gone; removed for increasing farming productivity in the mid-20th century. Many remaining hedgerows have been left un-managed, over-trimmed or affected by agricultural chemicals.

Hedgerows are not only important for wildlife, but also for nature recovery and biodiversity. There has been a growing consensus that hedgerows are also vital to the climate in making a real, tangible contribution to reducing carbon emissions by storing carbon.

As a ‘Hedgerow Hero’, I welcome the new CPRE report (‘Hedge Fund: investing in hedgerows for climate, nature and the economy’ September 2021) which reveals how our humble hedgerows could become champions of climate action and nature recovery, while contributing thousands of jobs to local communities.

The Government has set clear targets to increase tree planting, for example, but it has not set a target for hedgerows, which are a vital tool to sequester carbon, aid nature’s recovery and even protect against flooding.

In its May 2019 report, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) advocated increasing our hedgerows by 40% by 2050, alongside other methods of carbon capture.

New research conducted by the Organic Research Centre, on behalf of CPRE, has found that the benefits of setting and achieving this target would not only be for the climate and nature, but also for employment, with 40% more hedgerows resulting in over 25,000 more jobs in hedgerow planting and maintenance in both rural and urban areas. Furthermore, research shows that for every £1 invested in hedgerow planting, as much as £3.92 is generated in the wider economy.

Our Earth has been a very giving, even forgiving planet, providing us with everything that we need to survive and thrive. But now we need to support – turbo-charge – Mother Nature’s power, and allow her to do her job to ensure our survival for future generations.

Craig Mackinlay: The Government is fooling itself if it thinks it can go down the Net Zero path without electoral damage

16 Jul

Craig Mackinlay MP is the MP for South Thanet.

The Government has launched its “greenprint” Transport Decarbonisation plan and adds to what has been trailed before with an extension of the ICE ban to new heavy goods vehicles by 2040, the decarbonisation of public transport and the goal of net zero aviation by 2050.

The ambition to ban the sale of traditional petrol and diesel cars by 2030 remains but there’s no detail as to how the small matter of the £34 billion currently levied on ICE vehicle users will be filled. This is the biggest and most costly undertaking of the British state in history and a strange throwback to the command and control regimes of old – when producing a definitive figure for the annual number of tractors to be built and so many tonnes of grain was all the rage.

We’re yet to hear more as to how the banning of domestic gas boilers will be achieved. Make no mistake, this requires a radical transformation of every part of the economy and our freedoms. Yet no one questions the enormity or cost of the project, and there are no answers to the obvious question – who pays?

Surely we cannot simply be obliged to pay any cost, however high and however painful? Other ambitions in the document, particularly regarding heavy goods vehicles have already been derided by The Road Haulage Association “So this is blue-sky aspiration ahead of real-life reality”. Quite.

While there is no draft legislation on the table to enforce these bans, just warm words, ambitions and glossy documents, there’ll doubtless be more to come as the Government plays a game of Top Trumps with international partners at COP26 this October.

The only estimates available for the cost of Net Zero come from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which is supposed to provide rigorous, independent advice to parliament – and yet its output always recommends further and faster.

The CCC is a significant player in the political debate around Net Zero, often explicitly directing Government policy, while being totally unelected and unaccountable. Mainstream media regurgitates its words sagely with little space offered to those who question its assumptions.

More recently, it has come up with a new estimate for the cost of Net Zero that details £1.4 trillion of capital spending that will be required to meet it. The committee was keen not to publicise this mind-boggling number (over half of UK annual GDP or 35 times the annual defence budget for context), and so discounted it with a range of speculative benefits that may or may not materialise.

The £1.4 trillion figure has finally been brought to public attention after the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) recycled the CCC figures for its fiscal risks report. The revelation that households are each facing a £50,000 bill over the next 30 years has caused, rightly, an awakening in the press. I am worried that the true cost could be much higher still.

The shift to retro-fitted air source heat pumps, additional insulation and larger radiators to make up for their poor heat output brings with it huge cost and significant risks. An independent report put the cost of decarbonising the UK’s social housing sector alone at £103 billion, or £20,000 per household. If such costs are replicated across the entire housing stock, we are looking north of £500 billion just for residential decarbonisation.

There’s no obvious technology to elegantly replace the gas boiler and I’m yet to find a constituent who assented to pay out £20,000 just to be both colder and poorer.

The pain doesn’t stop there. The use of electric cars, which are much more expensive than their ICE equivalents and have obvious limitations of range and charging, are made more expensive if electricity prices rise to accommodate huge demand requirements and upscaling of additional offshore wind, or expanded reliance on interconnectors from the continent supplying coal produced electricity. The taxation black hole will doubtless be filled by new taxes or hairbrained road charging schemes.

There is little government planning to provide the millions of charging points, no thought as to the security or availability of supply of rare metals often mined under unspeakable conditions of human misery to make the batteries and even less thought as to the true CO2 cost of ore extraction, manufacture of the new cars, new batteries nor the nationwide upgrade to the electricity grid to supply them.

The batteries are largely unrecyclable without huge energy input and use of toxic solvents to break down the near impenetrable resins. The safety of these batteries, that can burn uncontrollably releasing a variety of noxious substances, has not been fully investigated and yet the prospect is for many square miles of grid level batteries to smooth notoriously unreliable renewable electricity supply.

This dash for electric cars has also perversely condemned the country, and particularly our congested cities, to more particulate pollution, not less. No engine manufacturer will invest further in the design and production of a better internal combustion engine offering enhanced power, better consumption, cleaner-burning and lower particulates.

The 2019 engine is as good as it’s ever going to get, which is a shame, as the 2030 engine would have been so much better across all measures. Natural market-driven technological improvements have been stopped for reasons that nobody can quantify, explain or justify.

As ever, it will be the poor who suffer most from these elite delusions. Fuel poverty, the reality of heat or eat”, is the dilemma we are going to put them in, and yet there is somehow an overwhelming Westminster consensus that this is the right thing to do. The lack of almost any interest in the cost of these policies to ordinary people is palpable.

The Government is fooling itself if it thinks we can go down the Net Zero path without electoral damage. We will look, quite rightly, like the privileged few taking the poor back to the lifestyles of the early 20th century. The optics of jetting from one international climate conference to the next to tell other people they should not be flying, driving and eating meat, is not one that will be sustainable when these policies really start to bite.

The growth economies of China, India and Indonesia alone have more coal powered plants planned over the next ten years than the entire output of the current US electrical grid. The current UK output of global CO2, no more than a rounding error in the scheme of things at a mere one per cent, will be reduced to ½ per cent as coal powered growth proliferates globally.

I was never Theresa May’s greatest fan politically, but I’ll conclude with a statement she made on January 11 2018: “In our election manifesto last year we made an important pledge: to make ours the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it.”

I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. There is much to be done in protecting habitats and our oceans and weaning the planet off of the scourge of plastic waste. These ambitions are achievable and rooted in common sense while this path to Net Zero is muddled, costly and impractical.

We should pause for breath, inject some rational thinking and consider the alternatives before it’s too late. I am actively discussing these issues with colleagues as we simply cannot watch a financial, societal and political disaster unfold before us.

Benedict McAleenan: We have to go negative to beat climate change

8 Jul

Benedict McAleenan is Senior Adviser, Energy & Environment at Policy Exchange.

I’m sorry to bring you bad news, but we’re about to completely blow the budget. We had planned to stay within no more than 1.5°C of global warming by the end of this century, but we’re about to hit that mark in 2040, if we don’t use all the tools available.

When we go beyond 1.5°C, things really get out of control. Permafrost thaws, releasing methane that worsens the rate of change (this has already begun). Polar ice caps lose their ability to reflect energy back into space, so things speed up again (also already underway). Greater evaporation causes a more humid atmosphere, again raising the heat.

If this was an asteroid heading for earth, we would be pouring resources into a hundred possible solutions, from simple nudges right through to high-tech warheads. But on climate we have so far not used an important secret weapon, and it’s time to get moving.

According to a report last week by McKinsey launching a new ‘Coalition for Negative Emissions’, we need to start deploying ‘Negative Emissions Technologies’ at scale. This are systems that can suck carbon dioxide out of the air and store it away. They include some very old techniques and some very new ones. Some can be used now at low cost (like tree planting), but other more technological solutions need investment now so we can use them before 2030 at megaton scale.

Restoring peatland and planting trees are the most obvious and least technical options, capturing carbon in tree trunks and sphagnum mosses for decades or hundreds of years – including, of course, in sustainably harvested timber. We need to start now, because these options take decades to deliver, though they are also the lowest cost in this range.

Moving up the technological scale, there’s ‘enhanced weathering’, where rocks are crushed to encourage them to absorb carbon from the air through chemical processes. They’re then spread over fields and beaches or ploughed into soil. Soil carbonation is also at the heart of another negative emissions technique: using waste to generate gas also creates a carbon byproduct known as ‘biochar’. The gas goes to heat homes or generate electricity, the carbon biochar is ploughed into soil, storing the carbon and boosting soil fertility.

Finally, there are the industrial players of negative emissions. Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS) and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) both suck carbon out of the atmosphere and either store it away or use it – although only the former is strictly negative emissions.

DACCS uses huge fans and filters to capture the carbon from the air, and the firm Carbon Engineering already has plans to build a DACCS plant in Scotland. BECCS lets trees and plants do the carbon capturing naturally, but then uses parts of those plants for energy production, capturing the emissions before they escape.

These are not uncontroversial solutions. Greta Thunberg calls them “unproven technologies”, and she casts such doubt because she thinks they are a fig leaf for oil companies. If we just suck the carbon out of the atmosphere, her thinking goes, then there will be less pressure to stop putting it there in the first place. Her solution is something called ‘Absolute Zero’, as opposed to ‘Net Zero’.

Net Zero means accepting that we can’t stop absolutely all carbon emissions by 2050 and using negative emissions to address the shortfall. Greta’s Absolute Zero means no aeroplanes if they’re not zero-carbon, no steel if it’s not zero-carbon, no exceptions for myriad fiddly details that are the reality of life.

Not only that, but this ‘unproven technology’ line is bizarrely luddite. If we accepted its logic, then we would be tying our hands behind our own backs. In climate terms, we’d have no wind turbines beyond those featured in the art of Monet. In pandemic terms, mRNA vaccines were unproven less than 30 years ago. Climate change is urgent enough for us to try the options available.

Yet the UK is a very small player in global GDP and in carbon emissions. Why should we invest in such moon-shot technologies as BECCS, DACCS and enhanced weathering? Why not leave it to the US and China, who both pollute far more than us? There are three special reasons for the UK to lead on negative emissions.

Firstly, this is a massive opportunity in a high-growth sector with the potential to sell our solutions around the world. As the saying in Silicon Valley goes, “the best way to make a billion dollars is to solve a problem for a billion people.” Countries around the world are signed up to targets for emissions reductions and they want solutions including electric cars, wind turbines and, yes, negative emissions. As Andrea Leadsom and Amber Rudd have pointed out for Policy Exchange’s COP26 programme, we have excellence in engineering solutions that we can sell to the world.

Secondly, as Policy Exchange’s Future of the North Sea report noted, we have some legacy assets that make us very well placed to do that. We have an oil and gas industry with world-leading expertise in transporting gases to and from geological storage sites, and it’s currently looking for a new role to play in the world. Not only that, but we’ve spent forty years emptying gas and oil from such storage sites in the North Sea and we can refill them with our unwanted carbon. That’s a facility we can also sell to others, creating jobs along the North Sea littoral.

Finally, we, as a nation, made a big contribution to climate change, even if it has been the by-product of huge contributions to global prosperity and progress. They’ve been two sides of the same coin, so it’s logical that we take the lead again in solving the next part of the problem.

We need negative emissions technologies to stave off climate change, that much is known. The Climate Change Committee has supported that view and Ministers have followed suit. They should stay the course by investing in a suite of these emerging technologies, but also support much greater deployment through market solutions, such as a market for negative emissions, which can eventually work within the UK’s new Emissions Trading System. Without these ‘unproven technologies’, the carbon budget will be blown and the targets of the Paris Agreement will be a pipe dream

Does the Climate Change Committee have too much power?

7 Jul

Last month, it was reported that “Ministers ‘should urge public to eat less meat’’. Such is the view of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) – which has advised people to consume less dairy and meat in order to help the UK meet its environmental targets.

For many Brits, the very existence of the CCC will come as a surprise – never mind that it is now offering guidance on what to eat. But the public is likely to become much more aware of it, and its recommendations, because of the Government’s desire to meet its Net Zero targets (set by the CCC), and the publicity about their costs

The CCC has also had some high profile critics, such as Nigel Lawson. In a letter to Parliament in 2019, he claimed that the CCC’s recommendations were not accurate and reliable and, furthermore, that “it is essential that Parliament has time to scrutinise new laws that are likely to result in astronomical costs.” Did he have a point?

First of all, it’s worth explaining the CCC – and its history. The body was established under the Climate Change Act 2008, which legally binds the Government to reducing UK carbon dioxide emission “by at least 80 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels”.

It stipulates that the Government must create a committee in order to achieve this – hence the CCC. The CCC website says it’s an “independent, statutory body” that aims to “report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change.”

As of 2017, Lord Deben has been Chair of the CCC. He was previously the Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal and now holds a series of roles, such as Chairman for Sancroft International (a sustainability consultancy) and Valpak (a leading provider of environmental compliance).

Other Committee members include a behavioural scientist, Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate and an environmental economist. One member has recently had to step down because of a potential conflict of interest (more here).

While the CCC has kept quite a low profile, it has provoked mixed reactions – with some sharing Lawson’s cynicism about its role. Ben Pile is the author of the Climate Resistance blog and sceptical about the costs of Net Zero.

He tells me that in the era the CCC was created, “there was a tendency towards technocracies (such as Tony Blair’s decision to grant the Bank of England independence) and to push important decisions to those.” He calls this “the post-democratic model of politics”.

Pile adds that parliament, unsure of how to reach its own environmental targets, “essentially gave all of its power in this domain to the CCC”. The problem with this, however, is that “when there are debates about climate change and targets, no one votes against anything.” He adds that “they might as well not have a debate”, even when discussing trillions of pounds, and pushing an agenda that the “public just aren’t interested in.”

Andrew Montford is Deputy Director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, an all-party and non-party think tank, “which, while open-minded on the contested science of global warming, is deeply concerned about the costs and other implications of many of the policies currently being advocated.”

I ask Montford if the CCC has become too powerful, but he says it’s more about influence. “Their word is in the UK taken as gospel, and if they say we need to move faster, then the Government tends to just say, well we need to do something,” he says. “They are in a position where they can bully governments into moving faster than perhaps governments would like.”

He agrees that there is “very little democratic oversight of what they do” and “they have pushed very hard on renewables… and there are other views”. Furthermore, Montford says “The committee’s got to be much more balanced… The whole thing is built around the idea that the general public’s interests revolve around the climate in 2050, and actually people have more immediate concerns, and those angles aren’t really addressed.”

Sam Hall, Director of the Conservative Environment Network, on the other hand, is more positive about the CCC. For starters, he says that David Cameron was an initial supporter of the Climate Change Act, which led to its inception, and that “as Conservatives, we should feel some ownership over this framework”.

He adds that “the fact that it’s expert, independent-advised” should mean “that targets can be less politicised” and that the Government doesn’t have to follow the CCC. “The Committee on Climate Change is there to provide that expert independent advice to inform policy-making, but ultimately it doesn’t make those decisions, so it wouldn’t have a veto on any changes to our climate targets.”

It strikes me that the closest thing to the CCC it is the Electoral Commission, but Hall points out that the EC has stronger powers (“to fine and take people to court”). The Office for Budget Responsibility might be a closer comparison. Montford thinks it is more like SAGE. (“politicians find it very hard to stand up to scientists… because then you’re anti-scientist, aren’t you.”)

Has the CCC become too powerful in politics? Although not exactly akin to the EC, you could conclude that, like it, it is part of the quangocracy legacy of the 2000s.

Its website certainly seems impressive and objective, as do its reports. However the biggest issue going forward may be one of public awareness. Frankly, I’m not sure many people are alert to the inner operations of the CCC, nor how big the bill for its recommendations are going to be.

It seems to me that such big decisions need – at the very least – more public votes, and attempts to keep the country’s environmental transformation committee-led, however sophisticated the committee is, will come back to bite.

Sam Hall: How to help poorer people meet the costs of net zero

6 Jul

Sam Hall is the Director of the Conservative Environment Network.

Last week marked two years since MPs unanimously put into law a target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Since then, the target has been reaffirmed in the Conservatives’ election-winning manifesto, a raft of carbon-cutting, job-creating policy measures have been implemented, and many other large economies have followed the UK’s lead in setting net zero targets.

Our main challenge now is not the overall cost of the target, which is both affordable and dwarfed by the many benefits, but ensuring fairness in how costs are allocated.

While it is certainly true that net zero will require significant new investment in clean infrastructure and technologies, these investments will bring wide economic benefits, notably a net increase in employment, and will cost less as a share of GDP than the damage caused by unchecked climate change.

As we accelerate emission cuts over the next few years to achieve the UK’s more stringent targets for 2030, this will trigger additional investment in building retrofits, renewable energy, and transport infrastructure, which will ease post-Covid unemployment.

Thanks to the ingenuity of British scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs in developing new technologies and making existing technologies better and cheaper, the overall costs of net zero are being revised downwards all the time. And since clean technologies like electric cars and heat pumps are much more energy efficient than the fossil fuelled equivalents, there are likely to be significant fuel savings for consumers in the long term.

More important than the overall costs is how they will be distributed across society and the economy. Many of net zero’s critics highlight the impact of net zero on the poorest as one of their chief concerns. They are right to make this a priority, although fortunately so far negative distributional effects have been minimal. According to the Climate Change Committee, household energy bills have remained flat since the passage of the 2008 Climate Change Act. But we need to ensure that forthcoming technology changes aren’t regressive either.

This distributional analysis is one of the main focuses of the Treasury’s net zero review, which is currently being finalised on Whitehall. But as well as identifying potential regressive effects, the Treasury must also provide policy solutions. To do this, they can look to a number of excellent recent centre-right think tank proposals on how to drive forward net zero in a way that both enhances fairness, and boosts jobs and the economy.

Take critical clean technologies like carbon capture or low-carbon hydrogen, which due to a lack of scale remain expensive, yet are a promising source of green jobs. When commercialising these nascent industries, we should follow Onward’s recommendation and avoid subsidising them through energy bills, since low-income households spend a greater share of their income on energy.

The government was right recently to cut subsidies for more expensive electric vehicles (EVs), lowering the cap for the Plug-in Car Grant so that vehicles with a sticker price of more than £35,000 were ineligible. Ministers should also consider Bright Blue’s recent call to subsidise second-hand EVs, so that low-income people can benefit from this government funding pot too, and access these cheaper-to-run vehicles.

Similarly, as more people switch to EVs and need affordable overnight charging, we should protect people without private driveaways from paying extortionate prices to use on-street charge points. Policy Exchange has proposed a system of price caps for charge point operators in receipt of public funding.

Fairness is particularly important in the drive to retrofit Britain’s homes for net zero, given the scale of investment required. As Bim Afolami has advocated on this site and Simon Clarke more recently, the Treasury should offer vouchers for the most expensive types of insulation, such as solid wall insulation, and heat pumps. Even though a home’s running costs will be lower after it’s been retrofitted, the upfront costs are often a barrier to people installing these home energy improvements.

Finally, if the Treasury does extend carbon pricing to more of the economy, as is rumoured, it should consider giving some of the money back, in the form of a carbon dividend, to low-income households, as the Centre for Policy Studies has argued.

Once these investments have been made and these technologies adopted, our society will be fairer. People on lower incomes who typically live by busy roads will be less exposed to harmful air pollution. The fuel poor, who live in draughty homes, will spend less on their energy bills each month, while avoiding cold-related ill-health.

And if we replace Fuel Duty with dynamic, congestion-sensitive road pricing, driving will be cheaper for people living in rural areas and towns, who after all have few alternative transport options compared to city dwellers. But to realise these benefits, the government needs to help people make the necessary investments.

If we were to pursue the alternative approach of not mitigating climate change, unfairnesses in society would be exacerbated. Low-income households, for example, are disproportionately exposed to flood risk and to the health impacts of heatwaves, according to the CCC, and due to a lack of savings, they are more financially vulnerable to climate-related hazards. Similarly workers in traditional fossil fuelled industries – concentrated in ‘red wall’ constituencies – would have less opportunity to transition into new green industries and could end up in ‘stranded jobs’ as other countries switch to clean energy.

Some will argue that, in the face of these challenges, we should just abandon net zero, but that would be economically foolish, diplomatically isolating, electorally damaging, and much more besides. Others will argue that it’s not the government’s job to intervene to tackle inequality. But since the government isn’t a passive observer of this technological change, it can and should make sure it doesn’t adversely affect the least well-off and instead reduces their cost of living and makes their lives more convenient.

Now that our climate targets are becoming embedded, net zero politics is entering a new phase. Now is the time to put fairness at the heart of our net zero strategy.

Sam Hall: Extinction Rebellion is completely wrong in its approach to climate change

15 Sep

Sam Hall is the Director of the Conservative Environment Network

As a Conservative environmentalist, I believe passionately in the need for stronger action on climate change. I initially regarded Extinction Rebellion as wrong, but well-meaning. I’ve now come to the conclusion they are not only wrong, but actively harmful to the cause they claim to champion.

During their first action in 2019, I was sympathetic to the urgency with which XR demanded action on climate change, and the importance they attached to the issue. I shared, to some extent, their frustration that it wasn’t given the prominence in political debates that its seriousness merits. And I admired their skill in triggering a national conversation on climate change.

However I now believe Extinction Rebellion have gone badly off course with their use of polarising tactics, and that their approach to fighting climate change is completely wrong.

It has become apparent, for example, that they predominantly direct their protests against people and organisations on the right of British politics. Boris Johnson, the Centre for Policy Studies, and the Telegraph are some of their recent targets. But to address climate change effectively over multiple political cycles, we need the support of all political traditions – particularly Conservatives.

We need messages and messengers that will appeal to those groups among whom support for climate policies is lowest, not attacks on the political leaders and institutions they trust. We need to celebrate when once-sceptical Conservatives put forward good climate policies, not criticise their lack of purity.

Another problem is their uninspiring message of despair. Remember XR founder Roger Hallam’s claim that climate change will see billions of deaths, or children at school today will not survive to adulthood?

Of course, unmitigated climate change is incredibly dangerous, but fighting it requires us to be hopeful. We must believe that, if we act, we can succeed in stopping the most severe impacts. We shouldn’t dwell on apocalypse, but rather focus on solutions that create jobs and bring new industries to Britain, while making our towns and cities more prosperous, greener, and healthier places to live.

We also have to bring people with us. Yet by letting an all-powerful assembly, made up of a tiny unelected minority, decide our pathway to net zero, XR is attempting to short-circuit the democratic process.

We do need comprehensive public engagement on climate change, and there is certainly a useful role for assemblies in developing policy. But decisions should be taken by elected politicians that the voters can hold accountable and kick out of office if they choose.

Vital public consent for climate action would quickly be shredded by the pace of change they are demanding. Net zero by 2025 would be eye-wateringly expensive, and cause huge economic dislocation. Instead, we need a transition that is as quick as possible, but which gives people time to adjust, and companies the opportunity to invest for net zero as part of the normal business cycle.

Disagreeing with this 2025 target doesn’t mean you aren’t worried about climate change. Far from it. Environmental ambition should not – although frequently is – measured by the earliness of a target date or the scale of government spending. Truly ambitious policies must also be feasible, costed, and command the support of the public.

Nor is it about being ‘anti-science’. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change agrees that a 2050 net zero target meets our obligations under the Paris Agreement.

While I would be delighted if technological innovation meant we could reach net zero before 2050, it is the case that our 2050 net zero target has a much sounder basis in science than XR’s 2025 deadline.

Nor should we excuse their extreme actions as creating political space for moderate proposals on tackling climate change. For one thing, that is not what most XR campaigners are aiming to achieve. They do not accept compromise.

More broadly, the media and parliamentary debate around Extinction Rebellion is increasingly focused on policing and human rights issues. Note that the statement on XR in Parliament last week was given by the policing minister, not the climate change minister.

Even the climate discussion they provoke is unhelpful. In the media, sceptics of climate science who opportunistically elide XR with mainstream environmentalism, are pitched against left-wing climate activists. XR’s demands and tactics are inimical to a reasoned, evidence-based debate on climate.

But enough negativity. Here is my alternative approach. We need a credible, deliverable and affordable plan to reach net zero by 2050. One that creates millions of well-paid green jobs across the country, that revitalises our towns and cities with the clean industries of the future, and that harnesses the genius of our scientists and the creativity of our entrepreneurs. One that gives consumers freedom to choose between attractive and compelling solutions, and where private-sector competition and government support make them affordable for all.

We need to create the frameworks for businesses to invest in clean technologies, including an appropriate balance of fiscal incentives, regulation, and market signals. And the government needs to make it easier for people to make greener choices in their daily lives, to gain skills to work in clean industries, and to participate in community efforts to improve their local environment.

We have so much more to do to get on track to, and reach, net zero. We need major programmes to upgrade homes, restore nature, and build out renewable energy. We need to deploy new technologies such as green hydrogen, carbon capture storage, and heat pumps, and bring down their costs. In sectors like aviation and shipping, we need to develop and commercialise technologies that are still in their research phase. And we need to do all of this while bringing the public with us and keeping the UK economy competitive.

We have a great prize within our grasp – a clean, reindustrialised Britain, and nature restored to our beautiful landscapes – but we should be clear that achieving it will be hard work.

XR is making that vision even harder to achieve by alienating the public. I fear they are coarsening and toxifying our public discourse on climate change, and fuelling the extremes. For the sake of the climate, I hope they change course.