David Cameron once railed against ‘green crap’. Now, this PM is finding that warning voters that they will have to rip out their gas boilers is a hard sell.
Earlier this year Paul Deighton, the chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the Olympics and a longstanding ally of Boris Johnson, picked up the phone to two old friends and asked for their help.
The Tory peer had been roped in by the prime minister at the height of the pandemic to solve the problems with PPE procurement.
Now Johnson had another job for him — helping to save the climate change conference that will be a centerpiece of his premiership later this year.
Deighton called Greg Nugent and Godric Smith, masterminds of the marketing and communications for the 2012 Games, to ask them to look at the plans for Cop26, the environmental conference in Glasgow in November.
More than 150 countries are supposed to come together to outline how they will reach the goal of producing net-zero emissions by 2050.
They advised that the government needed a full spectrum effort with central control, just as in 2012, to ensure the whole of Whitehall was singing from the same hymn sheet and reinforcing the goals of the conference. That meant opposing plans for a coal mine in Cumbria, which the local council had backed.
Since then large parts of the government have been working flat out on preparations for the event and on Britain’s strategy to reduce its own carbon emissions, to show the world that the UK is leading the way.
The only problem is that different parts of government and the Cop26 team are at daggers drawn over the details, with little of the spirit of 2012 in evidence.
With just 100 days to go, public awareness of the conference is minuscule and the policy solutions are mired in disagreements over funding.
The boiler strategy had been due to be published a month ago but is now delayed until September amid rows about how to pay for it. Plans to supply “green cheques” to people to switch are regarded as a “non-starter” by the Treasury and the business department.
Instead, work is continuing about how to help the least well-off transition to new technology, landing the middle classes with higher energy bills, estimated at an extra £170 a year.
The third report will be the biggest, the comprehensive net-zero strategy, which will tie together all the other strands and outline how the UK reaches the goal.
“The bottom line is that someone is going to end up paying for it, either as consumers or taxpayers,” an official said.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, who is Whitehall’s “net-zero enforcer” wants the strategy to be driven by market forces, with the government providing some initial capital for new industries and clear guidelines that force energy companies to develop new technologies and drive down prices.
A heat pump now costs £10,000 to £15,000 but ministers expect demand and technology to reduce the price to that of a boiler.
Kwarteng and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, have been examining the case for carbon border taxes, which would force polluting nations to pay for the transition here — with a carbon tax levied on Chinese goods unless they cut emissions.
But officials say that has been vetoed as a subject for discussion at Cop26 by Sharma, who thinks it is too provocative and would prevent a deal with the Chinese.
Sharma’s Cop26 unit is referred to as “the United Nations” or “the blue helmets” in Whitehall, for what is seen by some as a prim and proper attitude.
In turn, almost everyone has strained relations with Sunak, who some Tories say is keen to resist excessive spending on issues where many backbenchers think there are no votes to be won. […]
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