COP26 and Political Priorities | The Honest Liberal
COP26 in Glasgow last week was pitched as a huge moment to prevent the worst effects of climate change, the last best chance for the world to turn the corner. But these pledges are financially eye-watering, and more than that, they will change the lives of those in the West beyond recognition if they are not pushed against. The proposed cure may well be far worse than the disease.
Climate Change is real and humanity has had a huge impact through burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees. However, the Conservative government in the UK and reasonable governments across the globe need to fix this problem through conservative principles.
We cannot switch off from gas and oil overnight, we cannot have one priority to override all others and we should not commit to revolution. We must evolve gradually, innovate through the free market, and take balanced measures to prevent climate change.
Politics is about priorities, and conservative politics is about driving forward multiple priorities, often competing, and making sure they are allowed to bloom in parallel. However, the new religion of green purity has taken hold, and it calls for all priorities to be sacrificed on the altar of climate catastrophization. This is what the most radical activists call for, and they must be ignored for several reasons.
First, the UK is doing incredibly well at reducing its carbon emissions. Mainly because of capitalism, alongside the right subsidies from the government, solar and wind power have become incredibly cheap, and renewable energy made up a record 43% of total energy production between 2019 and 2020. We are on the right trajectory, which is a curve (not a straight line) caused by incremental improvements in energy efficiency, better technology, and ever cheaper prices for photovoltaics and wind turbines. The gloomsters are wrong, because we are lowering our carbon emissions quite rapidly, whilst keeping prosperity in sharp focus.
The second is that prosperity and energy security must rank above climate goals in our priorities. Poor people and poor nations are not grasped by climate change, they have more immediate needs to fulfill, and even if they wanted to act they do not have the money to do so. For the nation and the government, energy security and prosperity are, and should be considered, far more important. We can’t pay for wind turbines and hire engineers to install them if we are not a rich nation.
Energy security, meaning a secure supply of energy from home and/or abroad at affordable prices, is a critical part of that prosperity. If we can’t keep the lights on or our cars running, the economy will collapse, and again, no money would then be available to pursue our aims to become greener. Buying Gas and Oil from Russia hands them significant leverage over us – if the Russian President has the ability to turn off the lights, they will have power over government ministers who are fearful of that eventuality coming to pass.
In 2018, two Russian GRU agents poisoned the Skripals in Salisbury. The Prime Minister at the time, Theresa May, coordinated a NATO wide response following that attempted assassination. Could we have put such pressure on Russia if they had the keys to our energy grid? We need to have a more robust energy system, with coal and oil in our back pocket at all times, should the wind not blow or the sun not shine. This will also allow us to pursue our political goals independently of any improper leverage.
We should not rely on nations that have proved themselves time and again to be our adversaries. Indeed, even our allies in the EU might not be relied upon if they have their own energy crisis, considering it’s actions in early 2021 over vaccine deliveries. The UK must have capacity at home to ensure that the lights stay on, and carbon producing energy sources are the most reliable.
Thirdly, the young activists who have been given so much airtime by the media are not experts. They are not democratically elected leaders, they are protestors. They are often unfamiliar with political philosophy, and don’t have the perspective that longevity allows. Their catastrophizing and oversimplification sadly debases the debate to ‘who can promise the most’, rather than who can deliver solutions which integrate multiple priorities. Their proposed solutions are myopic and they see climate change as a question of right and wrong, which it is not. The question of reducing carbon emissions to net zero, is a technocratic question and a political one.
The questions are these: Do we have the technical solution to the problem? Not entirely but technology and the market have made huge inroads, and we will get those solutions over time. Is there the political will to get to net zero in the UK and other major nations? In the West, certainly. If it is done in a gradual and sensible manner, taking into account other priorities.
Fourth and finally, the world’s poorest will be hurt most if we prevent them from using oil and coal to achieve rapid economic growth that the West has benefited from – much like socialist politicians who want to shut down private schools having sent their own children to Eton.
Hamstringing this growth, which allows poor nations to escape from poverty and deprivation, would be both immoral and harmful to our own economy. Economic growth and free trade enrich the poorest the most by providing cheaper goods and better paid jobs, and the fact is, once a nation becomes rich enough they begin to care about preventing environmental damage. Malnourished children won’t refuse to eat meat for environmental reasons, and their parents won’t refuse to use their diesel cars to get to work to earn over a dollar a day for the first time. That is not a reasonable request to make of the poorest nations in the world.
Some rapidly growing economies like India and China have been called upon to leapfrog coal and oil. I’m afraid that won’t be possible unless British and American politicians want to hurl hundreds of billions of pounds/dollars to green their competitors’ economies before their own – I think not. They will achieve more rapid green industrial revolutions than we have, because the West has already done the hard work to find the answers: to grow the companies who make green tech and to research the climate science that has pointed us in this direction in the first place. But developing nations will need to burn coal and use petrol in their cars alongside a green energy boom.
Net Zero will be achieved, but governments are not single issue interest groups. They have to deal with defence, prosperity, education, COVID-19, climate change and more. Responsible governments believe in evolution, not revolution, to achieve multiple aims in parallel, whilst bringing the nation along with them.