As if things were not clear enough already, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reminded us: the world is on the brink of surpassing the 1.5°C global warming threshold, which only rapid and extensive policy interventions can now avert. Beyond this point there would be irreversible and widespread damage. The report, the work of hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists, will be the last to be published by the IPCC before 2030, making it a crucial “final warning” to governments.
The British public appears to sense the urgency. Despite the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, tackling climate change remains a popular policy among the British population. According to the latest public attitudes tracker from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, which monitors public perceptions of climate change on a quarterly basis, 82 per cent of people remained “concerned” about climate change in winter 2022.
This was only a few percentage points below a high of 85 per cent in Autumn 2021, before the cost-of-living crisis hit in earnest, and just prior to the UK hosting the Cop26 UN climate summit.
The survey also reveals that support for climate action is not simply abstract: respondents were keen for more new renewable technologies to be built, even in their local area. Seventy per cent said that they would not mind if a wind farm were built in their area, and 81 per cent would not care if a solar farm was established. Yet the government has made the construction of new onshore wind farms difficult through planning restrictions, and continues to block the construction of solar plants on much farmland (despite the fact that solar panels do not have to preclude farming).
Progress towards reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions would also reduce the UK's reliance on expensive fossil fuels. Since extremely high energy costs have been driven by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, blocking natural gas exports to Europe since the invasion of Ukraine, decarbonisation will improve energy security and affordability, as the Tory MP Chris Skidmore has noted in his recent net-zero review.
Policy, however, is failing to live up to the UK's low-carbon ambitions. The latest Net Zero Policy Tracker report published by think tank the Green Alliance in March showed that government policies only cover 87 per cent of the emissions reductions that will be required up to 2032. And of that 87 per cent, only 28 per cent is actually confirmed policy.
Elsewhere, the latest insulation data published by the government shows that the number of UK homes getting loft or cavity wall insulation actually fell in 2022, by 42 per cent year-on-year. Annual insulation installations are now 98 per cent below the level seen in 2012, after which David Cameron “cut the green crap” from energy bills, in a misguided attempt to lower costs by cutting green levies. UK energy bills are billions of pounds higher in total than they would have been had the government not scrapped this green support.