Dieter Helm in Bath

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Net zero - what it really means

This is the title of Dieter Helm's I-SEE talk tomorrow: November 21st.   Helm is the Official Fellow in Economics at New College, Oxford and Professor of Economic Policy at the University.  He is Chair of the Natural Capital Committee and so well worth listening to

This is his abstract:

Nothing has been achieved since 1990: emission keep marching up relentlessly and the last 30 wasted years have been the great golden age of the fossil fuels. The reasons for this colossal failure are first that the pursuit of global agreements like Kyoto and Paris will not go very far; and second, that many of the policies that have been pursued have been badly designed, wasteful and some have been counterproductive.

It is not true, as the Committee on Climate Change claim, that when we meet net zero carbon production that we will no longer be causing climate change. We will. What matters is our carbon consumption, not where territorially, the goods and services are being produced.

Three things will achieve meaningful unilateral action:

  • a carbon price, universally applied to consumption and including a carbon border adjustment;
  • net zero carbon infrastructures; and
  • sequestration (especially natural carbon sequestration).

With these measures in place, polluters will have to pay, public goods will be provided, and net gain compensation will be applied. This is a solid basis for unilateral action, bottom up and not top down, and it encourages other countries to introduce carbon prices too, instead of paying the carbon border tax to the importing country’s government.

All of the above will impact on us, the selfish generation who are living beyond our environmental means. There will be a hit to our pockets and it will be substantial. But there will be benefits too: in diet, physical health, a better and green natural environmental, better air quality both indoor and in the streets, and less travel as digitalisation cuts away commuting. It simply delusional to imagine that a transformation on the scale required in the next 30 years is all possible whilst carrying on as we are.

Do all this and we can have a sustainable economic growth which is genuinely net zero. Carry on as we are for another 30 years, and in 2050 we will reap the consequences of unsustainable consumption, and this will make us worse off. We can choose to follow a sustainable path now, or face the consequences of damage it will cause.


Truly he is likely to tell us naught for our comfort, but much for our desire as the sky grows darker yet and the sea rises higher.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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