Rachael Finch: Net Zero and energy security. If we go too fast for the first, we won’t get the second. Indeed, we may get neither.

4 Mar

Rachael Finch is a former British Army Officer and works in the defence sector. She is currently a Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation West Midlands.

When Russia is negotiating with Western countries over the crisis in Ukraine, it is doing so knowing it is in control of 41 per cent of the EU’s gas supply. Having also built up its foreign currency reserves to defend itself from Western sanctions, and with no Western political appetite to commit troops to the crisis, Moscow is in a strong position.

In the long-term, Henry Smith, writing for this website, is likely right: Net Zero, by reducing dependence on natural gas, will weaken Russia’s position.

However, in the short-to-medium-term, the transition to Net Zero will transform geopolitics before a world powered by green energy can take shape. When we consider that almost 60 per cent of Russia’s exports comprise petroleum or coal products, it’s hardly surprising that Vladimir Putin is not the world’s most vocal environmental campaigner.

Consequently, the UK Government needs to look beyond the long-term environmental challenges of global warming, and address the nearer-term geopolitical risks that are present. Geopolitical risks create uncertainty in energy markets as reliability is questioned, pushing up prices for consumers and creating resistance to Net Zero goals.

The move away from oil and gas as sources of power will not happen overnight, and during this period, petrostates will continue to profit from their exports of fossil fuels. However, the combination of pressure on investors to divest from carbon-based fuels and the uncertainty about the future of fossil fuels may result in declining investment in oil and gas.

If oil supplies fall faster than oil demand as a consequence, fuel shortages and higher and more volatile oil prices will be here to stay for a while. Notably, the current increase in UK gas prices is due to a drop in gas supply at the same time as an increase in demand.

Higher oil prices result in higher revenues for petrostates such as Russia, or Saudi Arabia. In addition, as the transition to so-called clean energy develops, the overall reduction in the demand for oil combined with the need to keep costs as low as possible may result in higher-cost producers, such as Canada, being priced out of the market. This leaves room for states that produce cheaper oil, such as Saudi Arabia, to fill the gap increasing their geopolitical clout.

The same logic applies to gas markets. And for Europe, this means an increasing dependence on Russian gas: Russia’s importance to Europe will increase in the short-to-medium term if the Nord Stream 2 pipeline eventually comes online. If Putin wants to push back against the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe, now is a good time for him to do it.

However, it’s not only fossil fuel exports that could increase Moscow’s geopolitical clout. According to the International Energy Authority, global nuclear energy generation will need to double between now and 2050 if the world is to achieve net zero emissions by the same date.

Many of the nuclear reactors planned or under construction outside Russia are being built by Russian companies. China is also a relatively large investor in nuclear power, meaning that both Moscow and Beijing will increasingly be able to influence industry norms and impose global standards in their favour.

China also controls many inputs required for clean energy technology, dominating both mining and the processing and refining of critical minerals, such as copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel and rare earth metals. An increase in the demand for clean technology will further increase China’s geopolitical influence. China has previously shown its ability to (mis)use this influence when it blocked the export of critical minerals to Japan in 2010 over the disagreement about the East China Sea. It could do so again.

It may seem as though localising supply chains is a way to fix these tensions. Despite the Green Party’s utopic advocacy for reducing emissions in the UK’s imports to zero, the reality is a net-zero global economy will need large supply chains for components, products and global trade in low-carbon fuels and minerals.

Global competition is needed to encourage innovation and to develop new markets, reducing prices for consumers. But, increasing electrification, be it for vehicles or heating, will likely result in more local production due to the difficulties with transporting electricity over long distances. Although local supply chains can be beneficial for security and employment reasons, too much localisation reduces diversification, creates vulnerabilities and raises prices for UK consumers.

Moreover, China’s recent increased use of ‘home-grown’ coal as an energy source is driven in part by the shortage of gas on global markets and the need for more energy security. Germany has also found itself in a similar position after its ban on nuclear power. Localising power supply chains doesn’t necessarily result in a reduction of carbon emissions.

Decarbonisation also poses problems for developing countries. The COP26 highlighted this with lower-income countries calling for developed nations to pay for historical damage allegedly caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether you agree with this statement or not, developed and developing nations have diverging future goals which will increase tensions. The latter need growth to raise their populations out of poverty in the most economically efficient way. The former, by trying to stop the use of fossil fuels to deal with global warming, are preventing this happening. When the reality of life is a diesel-generator backed power grid that keeps blacking out, an electric car is not a sought after item.

For many developing countries, the way out of poverty may involve extracting hydrocarbon resources. However, developed nations are putting pressure on financial institutions not to support extractive projects, but by not assisting with an alternative, the tensions will grow.

China, on the other hand, is providing finance to countries like Cote d’Ivoire, helping to develop their extractive industries and by doing so is feeding internal Chinese demand for raw materials. As far as many developing countries are concerned, rolling back globalisation could do far more damage in relieving poverty and living standards than continued global warming.

The transition to a world powered by clean energy is radical and it will be messy. If, on the way to achieving Net Zero, national energy security conflicts with responses to global warming, there is a real risk of friction on the road to a green planet.

International climate leadership needs to mitigate the national security implications of a transition to green energy, in addition to making promises and signing agreements. Nuclear power and continuing investment in oil and gas reserves are essential tools in dealing with energy market volatility and the inevitable periods of disconnect between supply and demand of fuels; it’s good to see the government beginning to recognise this.

Supply chains need to be diversified to reduce reliance on one main provider – competitive markets are essential in this regard, as well as keeping prices lower for the UK consumer. And there will be a need to support communities dependent on fossil fuels, both domestically and internationally.

New green technologies will solve technical problems, but they will also encourage states to maximise their own interests and policymakers would be naive not to recognise this. However, perhaps the greatest risk of Net Zero is that if the conflict between global warming and national security is ignored, that the transition to a greener planet won’t take place at all.

Sanjoy Sen: Our current energy problems have been a long time in the making. It’s time for a rethink.

16 Feb

Sanjoy Sen is a chemical engineer. He contested Alyn & Deeside in the 2019 general election.

Energy is complex. Policymakers constantly wrestle with a trilemma of how to keep prices low, reduce emissions and maintain security of supply. All whilst demand soars (rising population, improved living standards) and new challenges emerge (electric vehicles, environmental legislation). It’s never going to be perfect.

But when the Chancellor has to sub you two hundred quid to keep the lights on, it might be time for a bit of a re-think. Our current energy problems have been a long time in the making and clearly can’t be fixed overnight.

But we do need to start by recognising what is and isn’t working. And coming up with some alternatives, both short- and long-term. The public needs this urgently – and our electoral fortunes depend on it.

Keeping prices low

By 2017, the concept of a price cap had morphed from Milibandian Marxist madness into sound conservatism – and my concern was that we weren’t levelling with the public. Generating energy and distributing it to every single home is an expensive business. Yet we were determined to keep daily utility costs cheaper than a take-out coffee – even whilst factoring in green levies.

The first consequence of promising to drive prices ever downwards was that there could never be a price point which the public would consider acceptable. Meanwhile, attempts to introduce apparent competition ended predictably: the numerous defunct businesses weren’t increasing our energy supply, they were simply buying others’ output and selling it on. Any market shock was always going to leave them exposed. And the price cap that drove them out of business is now meaningless to voters.

Tackling emissions

The most cost-effective means of delivering the low carbon power needed to meet Net Zero remains large-scale nuclear. (In fact, it’s also the best option even if you don’t much fancy Net Zero, as it delivers big, steady outputs without dependence on imported gas.) Sadly, the much-delayed, over-budget Hinkley Point C is fast becoming a textbook example of how not deliver it. The technology remains unsurprisingly problematic and its delivery lies in the hands of France and China, countries with whom we now enjoy dismal relations.

And as nuclear has faltered, our dependence on alternatives has increased. Renewables clearly have a vital role to play and it is encouraging that the UK is world number one in offshore wind capacity with more to follow. But we need to reflect on whether such heavy reliance on intermittent sources is the most cost-effective and reliable solution, especially when energy storage and the hydrogen economy are still under development.

Security of supply

As I noted after COP26, Narendra Modi recognises the consequences for India of ditching cheap, domestic energy: unemployment and rising prices that disproportionately hit the poorest. Plus the political ramifications of over-dependence on imports. Would that EU leaders felt the same. Proudly shuttering their own generating capacity, their citizens’ energy supply has never been more precarious. Germany is conspicuously silent with Vladimir Putin’s hands on the NordStream gas taps as he surveys Ukraine.

Here in the UK, we might have been in a stronger position thanks to our domestic assets. But we needed to back the giant Cambo North Sea development when it came under fire. And closure of the Rough gas storage facility eliminated our ability to buffer against market spikes.

So, where next?

New policies require a change of mindset. The public have always prioritised the cost of living and job creation – even more so following recent price shocks and Covid. We need to get back to those priorities. And we need to remember where our support now is: banning a Cumbrian coal mine doesn’t gain us much in north London but approving it is likely to go down very well locally.

In the short term, we need to start backing domestic energy production again. The North Sea may be past its peak but viable reserves remain. Options for gas storage re-instatement should also be investigated. Critically, potential investors need to be reassured that the offshore sector enjoys unswerving government support. Far from a political liability, there is much to be gained here, especially with an SNP administration dependent upon Green support.

Longer term, we need to get big nuclear back on track quickly via a range of partners. Plans were shelved in Cumbria, Gloucestershire and Wales in 2019 but interest remains strong if government support exists – it’s time to get after these urgently. (But this time, let’s use some proven technology, please.) And looking further ahead, we need to keep backing Rolls-Royce in their development of Small Modular Reactors. If we’re going to do this, it’s going to need continued support, not a loss of heart if the first one doesn’t go exactly according to plan.

Just as we tackle our current problems, new ones will inevitably emerge. China dominates the battery supply chain, an increasing concern as transport becomes electrified. We already need to start thinking about sourcing domestic supplies (Cornish lithium) and the recycling of spent batteries to hedge against future supply issues. Energy policy doesn’t get any easier but we do need to keep re-assessing – and changing tack where necessary.

Liam Fox: Spurred by industry expertise, the Government is ready to unleash the power of Global Britain

11 Feb

The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP is former Defence and International Trade Secretary. He was the UK’s Nominee to be Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2020

When the Global Britain Commission was launched last October, its purpose was clear. Utilising the expertise of British business leaders, the Commission was designed to offer a dialogue between business and government about how a truly Global Britain can be achieved, supporting growth and providing the high value jobs on which our prosperity is dependent as a result.

Such a purpose encompasses working with the Government to define, shape, and make a reality of Global Britain, drawing on the experience, reach and expertise of the businesses involved to do so and thereby support the Government in creating a blueprint for making the most of global economic opportunities. After all, government does not create jobs or prosperity but can set the framework in which businesses can do so.

Fast-forward four months and, with the Commission releasing its first of three reports today, initial steps have been taken to achieve these aims. The report, focusing on what Global Britain means to business and what businesses understand by the idea, also reaffirms why this policy is so fundamental to the future of the UK, both on a domestic and global level.

Post-Brexit, there is a new trading reality, and British and global businesses can grasp these new opportunities to penetrate new markets to the benefit of the economy, business and workers. However, our future trading relationships, now that we have left the EU, will only succeed if business and the Government work together to deliver for British interests around the world. As the UK also recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, now is therefore the time to focus on our strengths and comparative advantages to ensure maximum returns for the UK in the future.

Moreover, there is space for British business to innovate and lead the world in particular industries. For example, with the Government viewing its business goals and its target of Net Zero by 2050 as intertwined, British businesses can be at the forefront of a Green Industrial Revolution, exporting its products globally and leading other countries in the battle against climate change (just as we did at COP26). Tom Samson, CEO of Rolls-Royce SMR, reaffirms this point in the report when he states that “the global decarbonisation challenge presents an unprecedented opportunity for the UK to bring leading new clean energy technologies to the world stage.”

The Global Britain policy is also vitally important because of the increased amount of debt caused by the pandemic, coupled with the recent rise in inflation. With costs rising faster than wages, inflation always hits the poorest in society the hardest. Naturally, one key way to combat this is to create more secure and better paid jobs, something that will be done through penetrating new and emerging markets for the export of British products. A key focus of the Commission – increasing British exports – will see tax receipts rise and debt decrease, ensuring we do not pass on this mounting problem to future generations.

Furthermore, the fact that global trade was shrinking before the pandemic should raise alarm bells; protectionism, especially among the wealthiest countries, does no favours for anyone. Thus, it must be tackled with a healthy dose of British free trade enthusiasm and the willingness to work with like-minded partners. If we are to enable developing countries to trade their way out of poverty, open markets with appropriate investment strategies by government and business will again be crucial.

The Government therefore needs the very best advice from leaders in British industry which, in turn, will combine their unrivalled knowledge of the UK and global business to establish how best to harness and deliver a more resilient economy that creates jobs and levels up Britain. In the most part, this will involve turbocharging British exports, with the Global Britain Commission focused on how we as a country can maximise the exports of the products and services that we excel in, how we turn the UK’s ability to make products into selling and making money for the UK, and how we put political might behind British business and products to champion both at home and abroad.

To businesses, Global Britain means all these points and more. Fundamentally, it is about openness, international connectivity, encouraging greater investment into the UK, promoting innovation, productivity and skills, and creating opportunity equally throughout the nation.

Were all this to be achieved, the benefits to Britain would be clear. Raising per capita exports of goods and services to the level of Germany, for example, would generate an additional £474 billion of UK exports annually. This £474 billion export boost could then create up to 5.5 million export-supporting jobs, of which are seven per cent higher paying than the UK average.

Backed by business leaders and this data, the Global Britain policy therefore represents a real opportunity to do things better, more efficiently, more strategically, and to tailor our economy to our strengths as a nation as well as ensuring that we create prosperity across the UK, especially for those who need it most.

Working with the Government, the right focus on a truly global Britain can thus reap huge economic benefits for everyone in the UK.

You can read the full report on the Global Britain Commission website here.

Robert Halfon: I’m as disappointed as anyone about parties in Number Ten. But it’s not the sole reason for our polling woes.

26 Jan

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Without a doubt, all of us feel disappointed, dismayed and let down by all the Downing Street parties that took place during the lockdowns. Whatever the Sue Gray inquiry says, nothing will change that.

But, to change a Government in the midst of a pandemic would be folly. The public would not respect us for this bloodletting. Especially as we are not yet over Covid. There is a cost of living crisis and Russia is on the verge of invading Ukraine.

I am not quite sure who the King Alfred the Great figure is that will step in to dramatically change our fortunes in the polls. Our problems are much deeper than just “partygate”.

But, what may make a difference is what the Government chooses to do next.

I call it the three rs: Response, Responsibility and Reset. How it responds to the anguish of the public, how it takes responsibility for what has gone on, but above all how it will reset to focus on the things that really matter to working people.

Instead of “operation red meat” there should be “operation cut the cost of living”, “operation affordable housing”, and “operation social justice”.

The last few months have sometimes seen the Conservatives acting in a Notting Hill sequel, with prioritisation focused on COP26, windmills and solar power rather than the issues affecting citizens much closer to home. It seems that on occasion the Government is more concerned with cycle lanes than looking after the white-van men and women who represent millions of small businesses and are the lifeblood of our local economies.

People across the country are worrying about feeding and clothing their families. We are seeing the price of petrol at an all-time high of £1.45 per litre, energy bills are rising by £200 per month and the cost of living has increased by 5.4 per cent. Is it any wonder the public are losing faith in us?

As a first step, the Chancellor should reduce or get rid of the green levies which amount to 25 per cent of our energy costs as well as get rid of VAT on fuel. As Fair Fuel UK has demanded, there should be a pump watch regulator to stop greedy oil companies ripping off motorists at the petrol pumps – by failing to reduce pump prices, even when the international oil price falls.

Next, Michael Gove should face down the selfish Nimbies and build, build, build. We need a housing revolution. Over a million people live in overcrowded accommodation and young people are paying sky-high rents and can’t afford to buy a home. The Conservative Party has always been at its best when it promotes affordable housing and homeownership.

On Operation Social Justice, for Nadhim Zahawi, the emphasis must be on education and skills.

Why is it that white working-class boys and girls on free school meals underperform at all stages of the education system, compared to almost every other ethnic group? Or that disadvantaged pupils are 18 months behind their better-off peers by the time they reach 16? Or even that families with children with special educational needs wade through a treacle of unkind bureaucracy to try and get the right support they need?

The Education Secretary should set out a long-term plan for education with a secure funding settlement. Moreover, why not transform our offering to young people, by offering an apprenticeship to every person who wants one, provided they have the right qualifications.

Rather than speaking for the Notting Hill intelligentsia, with some imagination and vision, the Government could get back on track with the people’s priorities – and stand up for workers up and down the country, beginning by dramatically cutting the cost of living.

Perhaps then we will feel less let down.

Remember our councillors and activists on the ground

Last Saturday, loads of Harlow Conservative activists were busy delivering local election leaflets all around the constituency. Around the country many hardworking Conservative activists or volunteers would have been doing the same.

Yet in Westminster, we are letting all our members and volunteers down. Our first hurdle will be to ensure that we do not destroy the chances of these hard working councillors and activists in the May local elections. If we do badly – it will be all of us in Westminster and Whitehall that is to blame and no one else.

One thing is for sure, if we all continue to wash our dirty linen in public, and act out some kind of Balkanised civil war, the public will not look at Conservatives too kindly.

Is this kicking in the polls good for us?

Many times in my columns for ConservativeHome, I have tried to warn Conservatives against complacency, given the – albeit slow – upward trajectory of the Labour Party.

This may sound strange, but I am glad we are getting a kicking in the opinion polls – even if it is predominantly caused by all the shenanigans at Number 10. I hope our current poll ratings put to rest once and for all, any idea the next election is in the bag and that it will be a walkover.

Conservatives have a mountain to climb to regain the trust of the people and weaken the inevitable opposition cry of “time for a change”. 

Ryan Baldry: Our global security is at risk when we become distracted by events in Westminster

21 Jan

Ryan Baldry is the Communications Manager at the Coalition for Global Prosperity and former Parliamentary Staffer to a Government Minister.

When there’s political drama in Westminster, we are all guilty of being drawn in. It’s easy to think that the world stops while the events of SW1 unfold but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Those who wish to act against us or without us noticing, use these times of looking inward to act. And it’s these acts and global crises we must not lose sight of.

The international stage is as unpredictable now as it was in 2021 and the United Kingdom must not lose focus. There is incredible momentum for us to build on as a global force for good as we move forward following the successes of the UK Presidency of the G7 alongside the ongoing Presidency of COP until November.

The crises that we face are only mounting and the world’s most vulnerable and at-risk need the UK to be a leading player in the international community. A crisis overseas quickly can become a crisis at home. We’ve witnessed it first hand throughout the Covid pandemic and with a changing climate, regional instabilities and fragile democracies, this danger isn’t going away. A crisis can come out of the blue when we’re not paying attention so while all eyes are on Downing Street and counting letters, what could be coming our way over the next few weeks and months?

First, the situation in Ukraine is one that cannot be done justice in just one oped but is one we cannot afford to lose focus on. The FCDO and the MOD have both been unequivocal in their support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity but the UK must maintain the pressure.

With the UN Security Council a non-starter with Russia and China’s veto, the UK must continue to keep the pressure on the Russian President all year round to demonstrate that any further encroachment on Ukrainian soil would be unacceptable. If anything is to happen, it will be soon with tensions already at breaking point. If Russia sees any weakness or distraction from NATO, the UK or the USA, things could move incredibly quickly with Western states paralysed by domestic politics

The next challenge would be for the UK to continue applying pressure and leading wealthier nations to help vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable. We may be nearing the end of COVID as a pandemic in the UK but globally, this isn’t the case. New variants will emerge that can undermine vaccines and continue to destabilise already fragile health systems. The UK did excellent work of pushing this through Global Vaccine Summits and the G7 but we can’t stop now.

Alongside this, we have the situation in Afghanistan which only continues to deteriorate with each passing day and could quickly become a crisis we are forced to confront. We’re witnessing a humanitarian crisis with food shortages, human rights being pushed aside and a regime that nobody wanted to see in power.

The United Nations launched a $5 billion appeal – the largest in their history. But the cost of inaction will always outweigh the cost of action. If the UK does not lead or bring other governments along with us, we will continue to see mass migration with people heading to our own shores among many others. This then creates additional crises such as the deadly Channel crossings which we have seen cannot be stopped by strongly worded tweets or political desire alone.

They must be resolved at the source and this can only be achieved by utilising our international development budget to help invest in women and girls education, nutrition and health infrastructure. The UK must ensure that the progress made in Afghanistan and the wider region is not lost to a regime that doesn’t value human rights or democratic values.

Last and by no means least, we are always facing the crisis of foreign interference in our democracy. Only last week this was thrown into the spotlight when foreign interference in our own Parliament and politics was uncovered. We are often being warned about the threat that China faces to the UK in terms of cyber attacks, operation of critical infrastructure or their territorial ambitions.

But discovering that they were able to secure influence in the corridors of power should frighten us and also serve as a wake-up call to ensure that we focus on protecting and securing our democracy from those who wish to damage it. The UK must promote our cultural exports and soft power influence further around the world to show that the era of democracy is not coming to an end but is being strengthened. Again, if the UK looks away, this is when others will act against our interests.

Now more than ever, we need a strong and motivated Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. We’re rightly putting record sums into the Ministry of Defence but to compliment this, we need to properly invest in our diplomatic network and soft power.

The Chancellor’s recent commitment to return to spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on International Development is extremely welcome and a sign that the importance and leading role of UK soft power has been recognised. But to back this up we need to properly invest in our embassies and consulates. UK diplomats need to be on the ground and making the most of the incredible expertise that exists within FCDO.

By investing now, we can make sure that the UK is always around the table and that we continue to secure our role on the world stage as a leading force for good in a world where the shining light of democratic values is needed now more than ever.

Alexander Stafford: Levelling up and climate policy must go hand in hand

12 Jan

Alexander Stafford is the Member of Parliament for Rother Valley and provided a foreword to the Centre for Policy Studies’ recent report, Levelling Up and Zeroing In.

As an MP who managed to break into the Red Wall at the last election, one Government announcement I am more keenly awaiting than most will come early in the year. The Levelling Up White Paper should soon be published – setting out in detail the Government’s plan to restore civic pride and economic opportunities to parts of the country which have been neglected for decades.

This document will cut across many different policy areas, but one where the overlap will be most apparent is with regards to the Government’s clean growth agenda.

Make no mistake, decarbonising the economy will pose certain challenges, with some of these felt most acutely in exactly the parts of the country where we need to be focusing our attention. Carbon intensive industries – from steelmaking to heavy manufacturing – make up a higher proportion of employment outside of the affluent South East, so are in theory at a greater risk from the need to cut our emissions to Net Zero by 2050.

But on the other side of the same coin, decarbonisation offers immense opportunities to revitalise our country’s industrial heartlands. As we seek to meet targets such as producing 40 gigawatts of power from offshore wind by 2030, money is already flooding into manufacturing hubs in Yorkshire and the North East. Meanwhile, demand for electric vehicles has ensured jobs in the automotive sector remain in parts of the Midlands and North West. The benefits of this fresh investment, employment, and growth accrue to precisely those communities the Government rightly wants to level up.

Let us not also forget that Britain is far from being the only country to embark on a Net Zero journey. Even before we hosted COP26 in Glasgow last year, fully 78 per cent of the global economy was signed up to reach Net Zero by the middle of this century. All of that ambition spells enormous opportunity for countries which specialise in clean goods and services – and Britain should be at the forefront of providing them.

Maintaining our position as a world leader in this endeavour won’t be easy. It will require careful and considered thought, especially if the shift to a Net Zero economy is to simultaneously bolster the levelling up agenda – as I firmly believe it will.

To that end, I was delighted to provide a foreword to a new report from the Centre for Policy Studies which offers a handful of ideas on how to do exactly that. The report’s authors correctly understand that by embracing a pro-enterprise, market-based approach to decarbonisation, the country can indeed meet its climate goals and level up opportunities across the board.

A key focus is placed on the role new and better technologies will play, which cut emissions without cutting living standards. This condition has always been important, and only more so given the cost-of-living pressures which we’re experiencing (thanks mainly to surging international fossil fuel prices). Some have suggested that, given rising prices, we cannot afford to drive ahead with decarbonisation policies – but the Net Zero agenda can solve, not exacerbate, those problems, by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

New green technologies will be integral to ensuring that the push for Net Zero ultimately puts downward pressure on the cost-of-living, instead of hiking it further. Ensuring that investment can flow into research and development of these will be essential, so the Government must maintain its support here, as well as examining how to leverage in more private finance in innovation.

The authors also look at the role our tax system could play in promoting decarbonisation and levelling up. As we shift to low-carbon production methods, new investment in equipment and factories will need to be made to replace their higher-carbon equivalents – and the last thing we want to be doing is penalising manufacturing and industrial businesses who want to take that step.

Last year, the Treasury unveiled the brilliant “super deduction”, which allows firms to write off such investments against their tax bill, but this is due to expire in 2023. It should be extended beyond this date at the reduced rate of 100 per cent – a policy known as “full expensing” – to ensure businesses are not disincentivised to invest in cleaner capital, while also serving as a shot in the arm for business competitiveness, levelling up, and Net Zero.

The Levelling Up White Paper will have significant consequences for numerous policy areas, especially decarbonisation. From what we’ve heard from the Government so far, I’m confident it will recognise how the two agendas are intrinsically linked. With the right policy choices, both levelling up and climate action can be mutually reinforcing ambitions which pay dividends for Red Wall constituencies like mine.

Sarah Ingham: No, Prime Minister, Britain does not need to atone for so-called ecocide

7 Jan

Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

“We were the first to knit the deadly tea cosy of CO2 that is now driving climate change.”

The Prime Minister’s speech at the 2021 Global Investment Summit at the Science Museum back in October was initially a zinging endorsement of the free-market capitalism which had delivered the Covid vaccine.

Conservative cheers could well have turned to bafflement when the PM warned that Britain must atone for being a world-leading scientific and engineering pioneer more than two centuries ago. As the first nation to industrialise, sending up plumes of smoke from the Midlands, “We have a responsibility to set an example – and we are.”

Two weeks later at COP26, that gathering of private jets on Clydeside, Boris Johnson was at it again. The Industrial Revolution, one of the most seminal shifts in human history, was painted as a historic eco-crime for which Britain must make reparation. It is “one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock” of climate change. That clock had begun to tick 250 years ago in Glasgow where “James Watt came up with a machine that was powered by steam that was produced by burning coal”. Consequently, nations like Britain have a “duty” and “special responsibility” to divvy up $100 billion a year to support developing countries finance green alternatives.

The Prime Minister is not alone trying to establish a narrative that the apparent threat of looming ecocide demands that today’s Britain must pay for yesterday’s wrongs. In February 2020 Michael Gove told the Green Alliance that, as the first country in the world to industrialise, the UK must acknowledge “our debt to the planet and our debt to others”. As the earliest adopter we now have a “moral responsibility” to lead a green revolution – and to make Britain’s voters pay through the nose.

The agenda-setting Committee for Climate Change (CCC) might well have encouraged the Government into following this line of argument. Back in May 2019, it stated Britain should “bear more of the costs of transition to a low-carbon economy”, not least as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Apparently, in the past we have made a “large” per person contribution to man-made global warming. (p.106 of Net Zero: The UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming, should interest be, er, ignited).

How large is large? It seems that since the start of the 19th century, a whopping two to three per cent of global warming attributable to greenhouse gas emissions has come from the UK, according to the CCC, whose members don’t seem too troubled by that other large 97-98 per cent coming from elsewhere. This of course raises the question of whether, over the past 200 years, we in Britain have indeed knitted a deadly tea cosy, or even crocheted a lethal egg-warmer.

Preoccupied in the last decade or so by the impact of a global financial crash, Brexit, a pandemic and matters woke, we have all been in a comparative slumber as the new green orthodoxy embedded itself in public policy, spurred on by the 2008 Climate Change Act. Hands up if you were paying much attention in June 2019 – during the Conservative leadership contest – when the Act was amended by Statutory Instrument, ushering in the target of Carbon Net Zero by 2050.

Created by the 2008 Act, the CCC wields the sort of influence enjoyed by SAGE, whose previously off-the-radar members have been gracing the airwaves seemingly non-stop for the past two years. Like SAGE, the CCC includes a behavioural scientist. (Why?) Unlike SAGE’s pandemic priesthood, an economist sits on the CCC. This is just as well, because like a drowsy giant, the public is beginning to awaken to the impact of green taxes and Net Zero on their pockets.

Rainforests of paper can be sacrificed by government agencies and quangos in an effort to push their pet policies, but nothing cuts through like hitting taxpayers where it hurts. In November, The Financial Times reported that getting to Net Zero by 2050 will cost £1.4 trillion – or the equivalent of £1,700 per average household per year.

Green taxes are now on the media agenda, with reports this week that they might account for a quarter of the cost of rocketing fuel bills. Poll tax, anyone? One MP has recognised the thin political ice. On Wednesday, the Education Committee chairman Robert Halfon called for the suspension of green levies.

Just as SAGE seems to lack any lockdown-sceptical scientist, it must be wondered whether the CCC has ever included a member who might not sign up to its doomsday world view. Perhaps Lord Deben’s successor as Committee Chairman could be self-styled sceptical environmentalist, Bjorn Lomborg. He argues that trillions of dollars set to be allocated to the impact of climate change could be better spent. Think of it as levelling up, just on a global scale.

The rural poverty in the developing world today was last seen in Britain in the pre-industrial era. If late 18th and early 19th century life in Britain was indeed an Eden of artisan produce, hipster beards and charming cottage industry, why did so many flee to the new manufacturing towns?

The Industrial Revolution was precisely that, a revolution. A seismic, shattering upheaval. It wrought enormous change, enriching the country and its people. It was a force for global good and thank goodness for it. Life for one day today without electricity, piped water and a mobile phone is a glimpse of yesterday’s Hobbesian nightmare.

The United Kingdom is currently responsible for generating about one per cent of global greenhouse gases. However, that is too large according to our Net Zero-fixated government, which is deploying the past to justify present and future public policy.

By invoking a two centuries-old deadly tea cosy the Prime Minister unwittingly raised questions about collective moral responsibility, usually best left to theologians and lawyers. How far should any of us be punished for historic actions of others? What about considerations of intent and agency? Didn’t the prophet Ezekiel have something to say about children not being punished for the sins of their parents?

The Industrial Revolution-reparation narrative just won’t (green)wash: as an attempt to explain away ripping out 30 million gas boilers and justifying a surge in fuel poverty, it’s a tea cosy short of some stitches.

Like SAGE, the CCC needs far greater scrutiny over the quality of its advice to government. And Conservative ministers and MPs should be mindful that, like civil servants, quangocrats are never voted out.

Charlotte Gill’s Podcasts Review 7) Nick Robinson with Katharine Birbalsingh, Matt Chorley with Alok Sharma

22 Dec

Every fortnight, ConservativeHome will compile a handful of podcast recommendations – content that has been published in the weeks preceding – for its readers. Although these will mainly focus on podcasts for conservative listeners, we will try to include other options – should they be particularly interesting. Sometimes this feature will contain other types of media.

Title: Political Thinking with Nick Robinson
Host: Nick Robinson
Episode: The Katharine Birbalsingh One

Duration: 42:52 minutes
Published: December 17
Link: Here

What’s it about?

Readers of this podcast review may remember that Katharine Birbalsingh, the founder and headmistress of Michaela Community School, and more recently the Government’s new Social Mobility Commissioner, featured in my November round-up, when she was interviewed by Matt Chorley. So compelling is Birbalsingh that I must include a second conversation with her, during which she is interviewed by Nick Robinson. They cover a huge amount of ground, from whether she’s “the strictest head in Britain”, as the media once put it, to her upbringing and small-c conservative values.

Some teaser quotes:
  • On being strict – “It means immersing children in love.”
  • “In 2021, we as a people are letting ourselves down and letting our children down, because we’re not expecting enough of them.”
  • “I knew I was being naughty. I knew I was saying things you’re not meant to say.”
  • “I don’t want the limelight, but I have a duty… Somebody has to say something.”
Verdict

An excellent exchange, in which Robinson is never short on challenging questions for Birbalsingh. The most interesting one is around whether she can create consensus in her new governmental role.

Title: Planet Normal
Hosts: Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan
Episode: Penny Mordaunt on Omicron hysteria, Tory rebels and Brexit

Duration: 58:36 minutes
Published: December 16

What’s it about?

This episode of Planet Normal is split into different segments, with fun and engaging exchanges between its two hosts, Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan, and then an interview with Mordaunt sandwiched in the middle. During the course, Halligan asks Mordaunt about her progress pursuing FTAs with the United States, as well as what she thinks about Omicron and the Government’s “Plan B”.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “We are doing exceptionally well, and we have these huge and deep trading relationships and cross-investment interests… but I think we can do more – and a super deal with America would be fantastic.”
  • “The response we’ve had at state level has been incredible… people want to have obstacles removed from them doing more business with us.”
  • “Brexit is not an event to be mourned by the international community, nor is it an act of self-harm or an act that requires us to be punished in some way. It is a huge opportunity and we need to start to encourage to see people in that light.”
Verdict

An impressive discussion, which will fuel speculation about Mordaunt taking on an even higher role in government one day.

Title: Red Box
Host: Matt Chorley
Episode: Alok Sharma talks about the climate

Duration: 40 minutes
Published: December 16
Linked: Here

What’s it about?

In this interview, Matt Chorley sits down with Alok Sharma, the COP26 President, to find out the ins and outs of how he created one of the most impressive deals in world history. They cover all sorts of interesting territory, from how Covid affected this year’s climate conference, to Sharma’s experience seeing the effects of climate change up close, to why he’ll now be “auditor in chief”, as well as “shepherd in chief”, on environmental progress.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “Just look at what’s happened this year. You’ve seen terrible flooding in China, you’ve seen that in central Europe, you’re seeing wild fires raging in America, in Australia; I mean, even in our own country. Talk to farmers; they will tell you the impact that climate change is having on the yields of their crops.”
  • “Well I can tell you that my nostrils took quite a battering.”
  • On the decision to delay COP26 – “Climate change didn’t take time off during that year.”
  • “We helped delegates in over 70 countries get vaccinated as well.”
  • On ensuring countries didn’t pull out of the COP26 deal – “It literally is like playing Jenga.”
Verdict

A comprehensive interview, which shows the huge amount of work that went on behind the scenes of COP26, as well as showing Sharma’s satisfaction with how it went.

Sarah Ingham: Under Johnson, the Marie Antoinette of our times, a Labour government is no longer unimaginable

10 Dec

Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

For someone who aspired to being world king, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has turned out to be more like France’s Louis XV, who predicted ‘Après moi, le deluge’.

“After me, the flood” has nothing to do with the Government’s obsession with carbon net zero. Let’s hope this fixation reached its zenith at last month’s preening eco-fest, COP26, also known as Davos on the Clyde. Instead, the failures of the reign of King Louis (1710-1774) paved the way for the French Revolution of 1789. Whether the monarch was anticipating or was indifferent to the chaos which would follow him is usually only of academic concern.

Close to the second anniversary of the 2019 election victory which delivered a landslide majority of 80, the Prime Minister’s own seeming indifference to the plight of the people of this country is only rivalled by that of Louis’ granddaughter-in-law, Marie Antoinette, to her subjects. Let them eat cake? Let their children, like 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, die alone. Let their frail elderly be unvisited in care homes. Let their weddings be postponed. Let their churches, temples, synagogues and mosques be closed.

Patterson, Peppa Pig, parties at No 10 and Plan B. During the past few weeks, Johnson has not so much crashed the car into a ditch as sent it over a cliff where it somersaults to the ground before exploding into a fireball. Never mind unforced, his errors appear so wilful, it has to be asked whether he is up to the job of being PM – or indeed even wants it.

“There is no Plan B” – you wish. On Wednesday, more Covid-related restrictions on daily life were unveiled. The timing was reminiscent of the United States’ 1998 bombing of a factory in Sudan, assumed to be Bill Clinton’s very own diversionary tactic to distract from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of business, enterprise and wise stewardship of the economy. The Institute of Economic Affairs suggests the latest Covid measures will cost Britain £4 billion a month. And the Government clearly views the hospitality sector as below the salt, despite contributing almost £60 billion in gross value added to the British economy in 2019. Hammering it in the run-up to Christmas for the second successive year could be the final straw for many weakened businesses. Let them go bust.

There should be no Plan B. Omicron might well be a live vaccine, bestowing natural immunity following a mild cold-like infection. Instead of viewing the variant as a possible blessing, we’re back to more masks, tests, vaccines passports and Working From Home. As ConservativeHome revealed earlier this week, WFH has turned out to be less than optimal for the Foreign Office or for desperate Afghans.

The Government’s response to Covid has been flawed from the get-go: disproportionate, panicked and heedless of collateral damage. It would have been better off consulting Mystic Meg than Professor Neil Ferguson and his ilk. SAGE should have been sacked long ago. Its advice has not only crashed the British economy but failed to prevent 146,000 Covid-related deaths.

The massive structural flaws within the state apparatus which the pandemic has revealed would have been a toxic inheritance for any leader. Post-Brexit Britain can no longer use Brussels as an excuse for mismanagement and burdensome red tape. The country needs a leader with the vision and drive to implement wholesale reform, not least of the Civil Service. We need another Thatcher to solve problems like the NHS: instead we get Johnson who ineffectively throws money at them, raising the tax burden to its highest and most unConservative level since the Second World War. Let them be poorer.

Anyone who has been out on the campaign trail with Johnson will testify to his charisma and the feel-good he conjures up among voters on the rainiest of days. However, his 2019 victory was not down to his celebrity or distinctive cartoon-like silhouette which fascinates small children or to his jokes.

Getting Brexit done was about more than Britain leaving the EU. By opting for Leave in 2016, voters signalled their demand for wholesale change within this country, only to be ignored and insulted by the Remainer political establishment – that includes you, Keir Starmer – who wanted to cling to the status quo. The Red Wall turned blue two years ago because Boris seemed to be on its voters’ side: instead of despising them, he got them.

Those voters are now asking where is Plan A. And whether it includes indulging the eco-loons of Insulate Britain, putting out the welcome mat for illegal migrants, ripping out gas boilers and imposing £1.4 trillion in costs to get the country to net zero. Where are Conservative principles in all this? Governing by focus group is not governing at all.

Blowing up voters’ goodwill, no Jeremy Corbyn to bash, Brexit done … MPs are surely weighing up whether Johnson is an asset or a liability. Next week’s result in North Shropshire should tell them.

The parties at No10 are the ultimate in toxic do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrisy. This is a different order of magnitude from Barnard Castle and the handsy Hancock trysts. Voters are not going to forget or forgive. For many, it’s too close to dancing on graves.

Johnson’s always shaky moral authority is ebbing away. There is already a suspicion that the PM and his wife stretched the rules (or was it the guidance?) last Christmas Day. Should they have stuck two fingers up at voters by going along to the knees-ups at the No10 frat house, it’s game over.

A three-week lockdown has turned into 21 months of state inference in our daily lives, with our hard-fought freedoms trashed by sub-prime officials and ministers. Liberty is the core Conservative value. It would be poetic justice if the Prime Minister were brought down by the statist rules he introduced.

The hubris, self-indulgence and lack of seriousness in Downing Street is typified by a melodrama over a makeover, involving the Electoral Commission in choices about wallpaper.

Thanks to the current chaotic regime, a Labour government is no longer unimaginable. Does Johnson care, or is he actually wanting to spend more time with his new family and with making Netflix documentaries? Après moi, le deluge.

Sanjoy Sen: Scottish nationalists’ new hardline stance on oil has presented the Conservatives with something of an open goal

10 Dec

Sanjoy Sen is a chemical engineer. He contested Alyn & Deeside in the 2019 general election.

“It’s Scotland’s Oil” was the rallying cry that put the SNP on the political map in the 1970s. And ahead of the 2014 referendum, the Yes campaign envisioned healthy offshore revenues feeding an ‘oil fund’ in an independent Scottish economy. Nicola Sturgeon even called on David Cameron to cut taxes to support the sector following a global price slump.

How things change. After 50 years of production, North Sea output is predictably in terminal decline (barely a third of the 1999 peak) with occasional new discoveries out-weighed by ageing fields dropping off their perch. But, more surprisingly, the SNP are no longer interested. Under pressure at COP26, Sturgeon finally relented, declaring her opposition to Cambo (a major development west of the Shetland Islands), casting doubt over the future over the entire sector.

In the ensuing media storm, Shell (a 30 per cent Cambo partner) announced its exit. Whilst environmentalists are naturally delighted, others fret over the consequences of an early end to North Sea oil. Industry and trades unions have warned of the impact on current jobs – and on the ability of businesses and workers to achieve the ‘just transition’ to clean energy opportunities. Even the SNP faithful are aghast, warning that the economic fallout could irreparably damage the independence campaign. A re-think appears unlikely, however, with Sturgeon now locked into a power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens.

But whilst the nationalists may have backed themselves into a corner, there’s no need for the Conservatives to do likewise. And there are sound reasons for doing so: key political, economic and environmental considerations all overlap.

What are the political implications?

Contrary to what we often hear, not everyone is fully signed up to the Thunbergian agenda. Experience from Cumbria shows that local support for new nuclear power and even coal mining can be strong as they create employment in areas where alternatives can be limited. Teesside battled in vain to save its steelworks whilst Coventry’s City of Culture celebrations paid tribute to its lost car industry. And Aberdeen remains proud of its status as the oil capital of Europe. Backing traditional industries is very far from the electoral liability that strategists fear.

With offshore oil and gas reserved to Westminster, the North Sea Transition Deal was signed earlier this year to support 40,000 (mostly Scottish) jobs. Sticking to the plan to safeguard production whilst supporting the shift to new opportunities now gives Scottish voters (especially around Aberdeen) a solid reason to get behind the Conservatives. Meanwhile, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie is already at odds with his SNP partners over further extraction and has stoked controversy amongst voters with his “hard right” depiction of oil supporters. Unionists should not be slow to capitalise: any split in nationalist support impacts the case for indyref2.

Strengthening energy economics

Early cessation of production brings forward offshore decommissioning activities, a headache for the Treasury which is on the hook for some £24 billion in tax relief. And, needless to say, writing big out cheques to big oil is a PR nightmare for a government committed to net zero. Extending production defers taxpayer costs and buys time for the UK decommissioning supply chain to prepare. It could also see certain liabilities converted into assets if technology developments allow pipelines and platforms to be re-purposed for carbon dioxide storagewindfarm support and hydrogen production.

More significantly, with so much of the discussion framed around the environment, energy security has received scant attention. And past decisions are now back to haunt us, especially the unworkable price cap in combination with the closure of offshore gas storage. (If it’s any consolation, things seem even worse in Europe with ever-growing reliance on Russia.) Until we establish viable alternatives, continued North Sea production reduces our import requirements – and limits our exposure to global instability.

Tackling environmental concerns

And find alternatives we must: we will never be self-sufficient in oil and gas again. So if we’re going to extend domestic production, let’s use the time it buys us wisely. Offshore wind power generation is increasing at pace but to harness its fluctuating output, we need to take big steps in energy storage. This could be via hydrogen which is deployable across electricity, heating and transportation sectors.

Or it could be in grid technology, harnessing the ever-growing combined battery capacity of electric vehicles. (EVs clearly have some way to go but recent progress has been swift and now account for 10 per cent of UK new car sales.) Nuclear, both large-scale and small modular, also needs to be accelerated – sadly, none of these opportunities will be coming to Scotland due to the SNP’s continued opposition.

In the meantime, shutting down our own fields doesn’t reduce emissions. Not unless we intend to sit at home in the dark in order to meet our climate commitments. In fact, shipping in refrigerated cargoes of liquefied natural gas from around the world is far more energy-intensive than pipelining our own supplies from the North Sea. And the Transition Deal backs further improvements by the electrification of UK platforms via new offshore windfarms and subsea interconnector cables, an increasingly common feature in the Norwegian sector.

A month ago, the UK government was in the bad books of the Scottish offshore sector, backing two English carbon-capture developments (Merseyside, Humber-Tees) ahead of the much-fancied Aberdeenshire Acorn project. Since then, the nationalists’ new hardline stance on oil has presented the Conservatives with something of an open goal. If we hold our nerve and back the North Sea, it might still help the UK in its present energy crisis whilst also tackling long-term emissions. Who knows, it might even help preserve the Union.