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  • Lord Copper

Sanity prevails at last

Well, who would have believed it? We finally have a UK politician taking a serious look at the implications of the 2030 date for the death of internal combustion engines, gas boilers and the other ungreen elements of our environment, and being honest about the unlikelihood of that target being met. It’s worth just looking back, for a moment. That 2030 target date was effectively plucked out of the air by Boris Johnson, in one of his boosterish phases, to outdo the majority of other European countries. It never had explicit within it any plans or even suggestions of plans as to how it might be met - Johnson was notorious for making the bold statement, without considering the implications. Those implications include some uncomfortable truths, mainly about the cost of this project for the general citizenry of the country. Those costs centre principally around generating sufficient power and distributing it, replacing domestic fossil fuel consuming heating systems with electric heat pumps and replacing ICE vehicles with electric ones; those at least are the major points as far as domestic issues are concerned; on top of those concerns, though, come a variety of more opaque points - shipping and freight, apparently the consumption of meat and dairy products and various other arcane issues about which I am not really in a position to comment.

What Rishi Sunak has now said is not - as some of the more screechy voices would suggest - that we are going to burn fossil fuels for ever, choke everybody on the planet to death and then go out in a blazing firestorm as the temperature explodes upwards. It is rather the rational view - which has needed to be articulated by someone in power for a long while - that desire, technology and cost have all got to march in step to achieve a greener world. There is no point in making grandiose statements which cannot reasonably be achieved, simply because they sound good.

What Sunak has done in the statement he made is to introduce an element of reality. The objective - to reduce carbon emissions - is still there. However, it is very difficult to make a rational case that we will not be burning fossil fuels for some time to come. Yes, wind and solar are going to continue to be a sector of essential growth, but oil and gas, and nuclear, are still needed to take some of the strain for the foreseeable future. And within that, drilling them from the North Sea must clearly be a better solution than importing them on diesel powered ocean vessels (shipping is one of the major pollutant industries, and it’s very difficult to envisage that changing for some long while to come). The national grid needs serious overhaul and boosting substantially in its carrying capacity; the planning system needs to be adapted to prioritise major projects over minor ones; electric vehicle charging points need to be installed far more quickly than so far achieved- the desire is for 300000 by 2030, but so far there are 44000 in the UK, and - tellingly - only 3870 were installed in the three months to July this year. These are the kind of realities that have been largely swept under the carpet by politicians keen to present the image they desire; what Sunak has now acknowledged is that these facts have to be faced and dealt with intelligently. Let’s hope the public are ready to hear this, rather than the fairy tales of a perfect tomorrow peddled by the likes of Milliband and Davey.


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