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The good side | BusinessGreen blog post

It is, as they say, hope that kills.

There are obviously good reasons for green businesses to feel discouraged right now. The UK is facing the darkest economic winters, the new Prime Minister’s historic engagement on climate and environmental issues has been negligible at best, and she has just handed an avowed climate skeptic responsibility for energy policy and climatic.

And yet, a more optimistic counter-narrative is available and worth considering. The new Cabinet is perhaps one of the most right-wing and inexperienced in modern history, defined by libertarian instincts who would love to turn the British economy into a giant petri dish for their ideas of tax cuts and red tape reduction, but it’s not inherently anti-climate action – far from it.

Simon Clarke, the new secretary of Leveling Up, led the backbench campaign for the UK to adopt a legally binding net zero target and was a vocal leader for green infrastructure investment for years. Likewise, Graham Stuart, the new Climate Minister who will also attend Cabinet, has a long history of lobbying for bolder climate action and will be on hand to put his new boss at the Department for Business, Energy and Health. Industrial strategy the next day. times he tries to mistakenly blame net zero for skyrocketing energy bills.

Perhaps most important of all, Kwasi Kwarteng is now Chancellor and as such is in charge of the department which thwarted his plans earlier this year for more investment in energy efficiency programs and renewables. Kwarteng has served as energy minister and business secretary and is far too smart not to fully understand the critical economic importance of the transition to net zero.

Furthermore, if the energy price freeze which is due to be announced today is also announced, then a Treasury which will shortly subsidize gas suppliers to the tune of over £100billion suddenly has a huge tax incentive in the short term to do everything in its power to curb gas demand.

Early indications from Number 10 are that he will seek to accommodate opposing camps in Cabinet and Party by pursuing an “all of the above” energy strategy that incorporates new fracking and fossil fuel development, as well as a general deterioration in climate rhetoric. , along with continued development of renewables and nuclear, and perhaps even long-awaited progress in energy efficiency.

Such an approach would undoubtedly jeopardize progress towards net zero and lead to increased emissions, but it need not be disastrous if the investment in clean technologies is ambitious enough. New investments in fossil fuel infrastructure simply risk becoming stranded assets as they are overtaken by the increasing deployment of renewable energy, electric vehicles and other forms of clean technology. Truss’ strategy could eventually boost gas and oil supply, but it could still, in conjunction with global cleantech trends, help erase demand for fossil fuels.

This optimistic stance is reinforced by the enormous public and political pressure on the Truss administration to double down on the transition to net zero. The breadth and depth of consensus on the need for efficiency, renewables and clean technologies to be the priority response to the energy security crisis is remarkable. This is because the best course of action is so obvious that it hardly needs to be said. If gas is expensive and imports are limited, it probably makes sense to do the things that can most quickly ensure that you are less dependent on gas, which means energy savings, heat pumps and terrestrial renewable energies. There is no need to complicate this.

The public understands this simple reality, just as they understand that climate impacts are serious and intensifying. Hence the massive and sustained public support for clean technologies and net zero. Sensible political advisers will already point out to the new Prime Minister that the Australian Liberal Party has just lost an election after a long term in office that has hosted several leaders, largely because they were seen as opposed to climate action. The anti-net zero strategy espoused by the likes of Lord Frost is a sure fire path to the opposition – a point of which dozens of Tory MPs in marginal seats will be painfully aware.

Inevitably, this optimistic assessment could quickly turn out to be naïvely optimistic. The new Prime Minister is closer, both ideologically and instinctively, to the anti-net zero Tufton Street libertarian wing of the Party than he is to his fellow Green Conservatives. This morning’s decision to highlight fracking and oil and gas drilling as central to the government’s new energy strategy is a political mistake that will provoke massive public row and shake confidence in energy markets. cleaner that could help improve energy efficiency much faster. a new dash for gas. Moreover, the scale of the economic and energy crisis facing the UK is by far the worst since the 1970s. And the situation has been much worse than necessary thanks to economic mismanagement and policy mistakes. energy of a party that has been in power for 12 years and is now waiting for the fourth Prime Minister to promise that he can fix the mess left by their predecessor. There is little reason to think that this time will be really very different.

And yet, the macro trends in favor of an acceleration of the net zero transition are more robust than ever. Soaring energy costs have dramatically shortened the payback period for investments in energy efficiency and clean technologies. The geopolitical imperative to get off the fossil fuel hook has become horribly obvious. The heat waves and droughts plaguing major food producers have made the “just adapting” climate-skeptic crowd more out of touch than ever.

It’s hope that kills, but there are reasons to hope.

This article first appeared as part of BusinessGreen’s overnight information email, which is available to all BusinessGreen members.

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