Net Zero ambitions at risk of anti-green policy pull

Coal plant chimneys emitting smoke

COP26, less than two years ago, felt like a pivotal time for climate action. Countries were lining-up to launch ambitious Net Zero plans and commitments. As of November last year, 140 countries had announced, or were considering, Net Zero commitments. This would cover 90% of global emissions. But government rhetoric and actions still don’t match up.

In 2022, fossil fuel subsidies reached a record high of US$1 trillion. In the US, where the Inflation Reduction Act has pump-primed the domestic green economy to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, President Biden is attracting criticism for simultaneously supporting fossil fuel projects. In the UK, the government justified approval of a new coalmine on the grounds it would be "Net Zero". It also announced new fossil fuel licences for the North Sea and floated plans to walk back measures to curb vehicle emissions. Elsewhere in Europe, the European Sustainability Reporting Standards have been watered down from original drafts.

The low-hanging fruit of climate policy has largely been picked. The decarbonisation of remaining sectors like agriculture and heavy industry will be challenging. But now is not the time for governments to walk back climate policies. Stalling climate action is not only cowardly, it also condemns the public to far greater pain down the line.

According to a recent report from the UK Climate Change Committee, the cost of addressing climate change doubles with every 10 years of action delayed. That is only the financial cost. Other consequences of runaway climate change are arguably worse and already happening, including extreme weather events, rising sea levels, widespread displacement of populations and more.

Business can deliver Net Zero if governments stop moving the goalposts. Long-term policy stability in countries like the UK has enabled industry to step up and develop the Net Zero solutions we need. Industries like car manufacturing are geared up to deliver the shift to EVs and have spoken out against proposed plans to walk back policies in this area.

Flip-flopping on policies to address one of the most serious threats society faces is not serious politics. Australian billionaire investor Andrew Forrest has dismissed the UK government’s move to roll back Net Zero policies as “clickbait”. Uncertainty or changes to established climate plans risk hurting the economy far more than unfounded concerns about climate targets.

Businesses want Net Zero, but so do voters. Voters are under short-term pressures, but they rightly expect governments to act on major, long-term threats. Polling consistently shows that people recognise the threat of uncontrolled climate change and expect governments to protect them.

This is the time for governments to be brave and stick to their commitments. Wavering now would threaten everything that has already been achieved on emissions reductions. The consequences thus far have already been dire for many, but will be nothing compared to the consequences of taking a free-wheeling approach to carbon and climate policy.