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Net zero is a positive to embrace, not a problem to solve

03 August 2023

We need to do more to bring the public along on the journey to net zero, writes Andrew Jones MP. 

Net zero is a positive to embrace, not a problem to solve
Commentators attributed the narrow Conservative by-election victory in Uxbridge to public opposition to a proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) expansion. Image credit: Shutterstock

Recently, the ICE and All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) welcomed the Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP – the author of January’s independent Mission Zero review – to a roundtable discussion on net zero progress in the UK.

Focusing on public behaviour change, the high-profile event marked the beginning of a new ICE/APPGI joint programme of work that will take place this year.

There’s a certain irony in tech issues delaying the start of a discussion that would strongly focus on technology’s role in a better future.

But our audience stayed with us, demonstrating not only patience (for which we’re grateful) but also how interested they were to hear from our guest.

The whole session is available above, but I urge those under time pressures to at least view the first ten minutes, during which Chris gave an impressively clear and concise overview of his net zero review.

A positive to embrace, rather than a problem to solve

Underlying Chris’s points was that we must lean into net zero, making it a positive to embrace rather than a problem to solve.

This way, we will better demonstrate the benefits net zero can realise in our communities and the economy.

The role of local government and harnessing individual action

The “we” above refers to the UK government.

But the reality of Chris’s review is that local government will have to do a lot of heavy lifting too – and individual actions are critical.

We recently had three by-elections in the UK.

The result that attracted the most political discussion was the Conservatives’ narrow win in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which went against expectations of a Labour victory.

Many interpreted the result as opposition to the expansion of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

This is despite research suggesting most people in the UK are prepared to accept radical change to protect the environment.

So, what happened?

Too far, too fast?

There’s now a political debate about whether the UK is going too far, too fast on net zero. There’s a danger that we’ll learn the wrong lessons.

The wrong lesson would be to stop our net zero work. The right lesson is to do more to bring the public with us in doing the right things.

In the case of Uxbridge, the suggestion is that an outer London tax for a mainly inner London problem, where public transport is more readily available, is a revenue grab under a different name.

There’s a cost to tackling climate change. We need honesty about what the cost is and who will pay it.

The Skidmore Review emphasised the economic benefits that can flow from action, and how they can be spread across the country.

Winning arguments requires using both head and heart. In the review, that principle was evident.

Communicating ensures we learn the right lessons

Our meeting was positive, practical, and, as ever, full of expertise from those who joined us.

There’s much to discuss because some of the tasks ahead are very difficult.

One of those is making our homes energy efficient. This will require much more effort than we’ve seen so far to bring people on the journey to a better environmental future.

It’s where the lessons from the current debate must be learned at pace.

The first of the main recommendations in the Skidmore Review was to use infrastructure to unlock net zero. Those who follow the APPGI’s work will have heard this before.

Learning the wrong lessons would set us back. Sessions such as this can help clarify and inform the debate.

It’s lucky that the topic of our meeting chimed with the debate of the moment.

We’re usually thinking further ahead than that – but it’s good when it happens.

With the support of the ICE, the APPGI highlights parliamentarians, government, and industry the importance of economic infrastructure in the UK.

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  • Andrew Jones MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI)