Thanks for reading.
Last week we touched briefly on the emerging rearguard action against the government’s net zero target on cost grounds, and noted how the anti-net-zero squad are wilfully ignoring the terrible costs of inaction for future generations. We dive into the detail this week.
Chief Executive Fairness Foundation
PS: if you haven’t yet done so, please sign up to get Fair Comment in your inbox every Monday.
The climate backlash
There are moves afoot to use the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the cost of living scandal to backpedal on the UK’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Earlier this month, Nigel Farage announced (not for the first time) that he was launching a campaign to demand a referendum on net zero in response to ”Boris Johnson’s ruinous green agenda”.
While the British public strongly supports the net zero target, there is sufficient concern about the costs of the transition - and who will bear them - to be worried about the potential for a Brexit-style campaign from Farage and his allies in the Net Zero Scrutiny Group to undermine public support.
The transition to net zero must be rooted in fairness – not only because the poorest communities are least responsible for these crises and invariably the worst affected, but because unless action to restore nature and decarbonise the economy is rooted in social and economic justice, it simply won’t succeed. The public have a veto over the net zero transition and will stop it if it isn't fair and they see no benefits.
So fairness is key here, in two respects.
Firstly, the transition to net zero must be designed and implemented so that the costs are fairly shared. The Environmental Justice Commission has proposed the idea of a ‘fairness lock’ to guarantee that those on lower incomes are protected, among other things. Those with the broadest shoulders should make the biggest contribution. This is the same fairness principle that lies behind progressive taxation systems.
Secondly, we need to make a stronger case for intergenerational fairness. Farage’s line of argument ignores the impacts of his proposals - including fracking and a return to coal-mining - on future generations, who will bear the brunt of today’s failures to act on carbon emissions.
Winning this argument is not just about fairness. Just as previous generations made sacrifices to build a better world for us, we must exercise our responsibilities, as individuals and as a society, to future generations. We must do what is necessary to protect our children’s and grandchildren’s freedom, prosperity and security. We all need to make changes to our lifestyles. However, those who consume the most need to change the most. The freedom of a wealthy minority to act as they please is in direct conflict with the freedom of the majority to live a decent life on a healthy planet.
To maintain public support for building a fairer and greener economy and to increase support for the changes needed to achieve it, we urgently need to see a credible and ambitious plan from the government for a fair transition. We have a lot of catching up to do after decades of policy failures. And now that a European war is undermining energy security, we must seize this moment to double down on renewables, energy efficiency, nuclear and hydrogen, not to go back to fossil fuels. Kwasi Kwarteng argued as much in the Daily Mail recently, and increasing numbers of Tory MPs are backing him. This is the only way to ensure energy security in the short term and climate security in the long term, and if done fairly, it is also a solution to the worsening cost of living scandal.
We are at war - at least economically. So a wartime mobilisation is needed; the market must play its role, but the government must also take a firm lead, with an eye on the long game as well as the many crises that engulf us today.
Poll of the week
Are today’s crises an opportunity or a risk for climate action?
Do you think that the cost of living scandal and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are likely to help or hinder Britain’s progress towards net zero?
Last week we asked about your view of human nature. Most of you (56%) thought that people are fundamentally co-operative and pro-social, while 31% believed that it depends on the person and the situation. However, 13% said that there is just a veneer of civilisation on top of anarchy and chaos.
Reads of the week
Ben Zaranko from the Institute for Fiscal Studies outlines in The Conversation how increased defence spending could come at the cost of spending on social infrastructure.
Oliver Bullough in The Guardian provides the oligarch’s guide to getting round the UK’s economic crime bill (and is featured in a video touring London on the back of a van). Andrew Mitchell MP also covers the latest developments writing for The Times (paywall).
The BBC has announced the first of a series of ‘impartiality reviews’ aimed at raising editorial standards, which will look at the BBC’s coverage of fiscal policy, tax and public spending.
Aveek Bhattacharya and Amy Norman have produced a report for the Social Market Foundation on the future of the private rented sector.
Jack Monroe argues in The Guardian that the UK government is balancing its books on the backs of the poor.
Amanda Cole et al write for The Conversation about how linguistic prejudice perpetuates inequality.
Alexandra Topping outlines in The Guardian how the UK government rejected a request by thousands of women to examine childcare costs.
Fairness Foundation updates
Our next joint event with the KCL Policy Institute is on 31 March at 1pm on Zoom, discussing the social contract and what we owe each other, with Baroness Minouche Shafik, Director of LSE, and panellists.
If you haven’t yet done so, please sign up to be emailed Fair Comment every Monday.
Please suggest anything we should include in (or change about) Fair Comment.
You can read all of the previous editions of Fair Comment on our website.