Evolving a net-zero plan

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

What seems likely to come to be seen as the most significant policy decision of recent times was not enacted by a vote in parliament after a considered debate, but was taken by means of a statutory instrument.  This is an extension of the medieval governance mechanism (orders in council) which is loved by governments of all stripes as detailed specific actions can be taken without the tiresome bother of parliamentary scrutiny once enabling legislation has been passed to make this possible.  Many covid rules cum laws were promulgated in this fashion.

I am not referring here to the decision to abandon the manifold advantages of belonging to the EU (or escape its imperial embrace if you prefer), momentous though that was, but the decision by the May government, seeking a legacy in its last tottering days, to mandate a shift to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Prior to this, the policy was to achieve an 80% carbon reduction by that date.  It's likely that we shall still be talking about this decision as the clock ticks down to midnight on December 31st 2049.  Well, I don't suppose I shall, but my great-grandchildren may well be.

The May government did not have the first clue how to achieve this goal, or, indeed, know whether it was achievable in a way that is consistent with the public's acceptance of the price (both financially and in other ways) that's likely to have to be paid.  The current government doesn't either, not has the official opposition.  And the crucial phrase in the last sentence is: "consistent with the public's acceptance of the price".  In a democracy, this is always the case despite the short-term attractions of statutory instruments.  Outfits like XR can promote their draconian, illiberal alternatives confident that they will never be trusted to have to implement them.

None of the above, let me stay, is an attack on the inadequacy of politicians.  Rather, I want to say that it would be unreasonable at this stage to expect fully worked out plans.  These, along with the technology, and our own thinking about what is acceptable and desirable, will evolve over time.  What we do have a right to expect, however, is a means to enable us all (and not just government) to evolve a meaningful and effective way forward; a means whereby we can all contribute to society's deliberations about what needs to happen, when and how.  Muddling through (again) is surely not enough of a policy stance.

This is at the heart of what the young people who influence Teach the Future and Students Organising for Sustainability are demanding happens in schools, and one of the reasons why the DfE is scared witless about enabling it.

Dominic Lawson, writing in yesterday's Sunday Times, notes that the government was, this last week, due to publish a Heat and Buildings plan, setting out how gas boilers are to be replaced by much dearer heat pumps, and a Decarbonising Transport policy document doing the same for the transport sector.  Both have been delayed.  It would be nice to think that this is because they are still working out how to involve the public in these momentous decisions, but I doubt that this is the case.   More likely that the Treasury has objected to the significant tax rises that these will entail.

One of the main points made by Lord Jim Knight in the introduction to his (inevitably doomed) Bill last Friday was that young people in schools are motivated by these issue, want to act on them, and could influence parents, grandparents and whole communities not just on waste and recycling but on transport, food, energy, etc.  All the more reason, he said, for such issues to be discussed in schools.

Indeed, and in the wider society as well.  I have made this point myself – endlessly it seems.  The last time was back in May.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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