Richard North, 09/02/2020  

In 2014, Booker ran a piece in his column headed: "Forget your gas cooker – we're headed for 'zero carbon' Britain".

The standfirst asked: "How many people realise what the government is up to with its energy policy", with Booker going on to warn that the government was planning to phase out all use of gas for cooking or heating our homes by 2050.

This was all set out in a DECC report running to 252 pages, published four years earlier in 2010 with a foreword by Chris Huhne, then Secretary of State for energy and climate change in the coalition government.

Entitled, "2050 Pathways Analysis", it spared no detail as to how the UK's climate change policy would require "decarbonisation" of the energy supply which would necessitate the close-down of the domestic gas supply, forcing us all to use electricity for hot water, central heating and cooking.

At the time, Booker had already reported on this issue, two months previously, but he felt he hadn't done it justice. "It's one", he wrote, "that, when the penny finally drops, will be blazoned in shocked headlines across every newspaper in the land".

And now, six years later, Booker's former newspaper seems finally to have woken up to the story that it had ignored in its own pages (as it so often did when Booker was writing).

In what they call an "exclusive", they have the "headline" blaring: "Gas boilers could be banned from all homes to ensure the UK meets carbon neutral target by 2050". Even then, though, the story doesn't make the front page, evidently of less importance than the vital news that doctors have launched a campaign to "spare NHS patients" the "humiliation of backless gowns".

Thus, Booker's prediction hasn't quite come to pass – yet. Nonetheless, by ferreting around in the inside pages, we learn that the government is preparing to publish a White Paper later this year which will set out the "bigger decisions" that the UK has to make to meet their carbon neutral target by 2050.

Despite this having already been set out in the 2010 report, Lord Duncan of Springbank, the current Climate Change minister has said that the white paper "will consider whether the government should ban gas central heating altogether from all homes".

The thing is that Tory voters can hardly complain about this. Meeting the 2050 target was a prominent part of Johnson's election manifesto, which promised that: "We will lead the global fight against climate change by delivering on our world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as advised by the independent Committee on Climate Change".

And, in this respect, if the Johnson fan club is expecting any great advances in Tory policy under their new leader, they might recall that this builds on David Cameron's initiative of January 2009, when he published an opposition Green Paper of the "low carbon economy".

At that point, Cameron was merely pushing the idea of a massive hike in the production of biogas – methane produced from the anaerobic digestion of farm and food wastes. This, he argued, would replace up to half of our residential gas heating. But now, with the advent of Johnson, we are going the full Monty, taking gas out of the equation altogether.

On top of this, of course, Johnson has already brought forward the timetable to 2035 to phase out internal combustion engines in motor cars, as well as banning hybrids, requiring motorists to acquire electric cars.

Assuming current rates of mobility, charging these vehicles would require a doubling of the UK's electricity generation capacity. Decarbonising homes would add significantly to this requirement, with estimated costs of at least £1.3 trillion.

However, the Sunday Telegraph remarks that it is not clear if homeowners will have to pay for this new strategy – as if there was any other option. Even if the government paid the costs out of taxation, we would still have to pay – on top of which domestic electricity bills are bound to increase.

Lord Duncan at least seems to recognise this, saying that the government will "need to address fuel poverty head on". He adds: "There is no point in decarbonising while making people cold and sick. We need to make sure we go hand-in-hand with that just transition for all the people".

I am not sure which planet this man is on but it isn't planet Earth if he thinks that the government can massively increase heating costs without triggering an epidemic of fuel poverty, especially when there is no evidence that the problem is even now being addressed.

But then this man is also talking of putting hydrogen into the grid, either in a hybrid or pure form, the latter being impossible without a massive upgrade in the system – if indeed it could be achieved. Even in "hybrid" form, though, it would massively increase energy bills.

The irony of this, though – as I pointed out last month - was that the greatest saving in regulation costs to be achieved from Brexit would be to cut out EU-mandated climate change measures. Yet here we have Johnson basically wiping out any gains that might have been made.

But that, as they say, isn't the half of it. In the unlikely event that this government actually cuts back on climate change measures, it could find the EU retaliating, by imposing tariffs on energy-intensive goods such as steel, cement and aluminium.

This tax is in the planning stage, aimed at targeting those countries which imposed lower carbon levies than the EU norm. As it stands, though, the UK remains committed to the principle of carbon pricing. Any future system, the government says, "will be at least as ambitious as the EU ETS".

Furthermore, leaving the EU will not affect our statutory commitments under the UK's Climate Change Act, which is domestic legislation. The UK will also remain a Party to international climate change agreements, including the Paris Agreement. Its commitment to them, we are informed, "will remain as strong as ever and will be unaffected by leaving the EU".

In effect, therefore, "climate change" is another of those "double coffin lid" issues where, even with EU legislation removed, we are still bound by international agreements.

On the other hand, it is generally the case that the UK is one of the leaders of the pack, going further and faster than most other nations in pursuit of what many believe is economic suicide.

Yet, for all that, some of the greatest supporters of Brexit have been those, like Owen Paterson, who are most opposed to climate change measures. There certainly appears to be a correlation between what is termed "climate denial" and enthusiasm for Brexit.

Since Johnson, in deed if not word, is actively pursuing the long-established UK climate change agenda, he may yet prove something of a disappointment to his supporters. And for the rest of us, it remains to be seen whether we can afford his version of Brexit on top of what are unaffordable costs of "decarbonisation".

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