The media have been gorging themselves on COP26 all this week despite the obvious, which is that as ever with conferences of this kind, there will be lots of hot air and promises and very little action will follow.
I’m in danger of coming over all Greta Thunberg but she’s right that talk is cheap. When neither China, India nor Russia are taking global warming half as seriously as we are, one has to ask what on earth the government was expecting. The likely outcome is that we will make commitments that are mindbogglingly expensive and if they are implemented will inevitably result in higher taxes and a higher cost of living.
Nobody seriously doubts that global warming is happening. If any doubts remain, the way our weather patterns across the world are changing should surely remove them. Countries like the Maldives and the Marshall Islands really are going to disappear by the end of the century along with Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands, and countries like Bangladesh have to face losing land on which close to a billion people currently eke out an existence.
Nor is this a third-world problem. Cities in the developed world, such as Venice, Miami, Jakarta, Bangkok and Rotterdam, are hugely at risk and of course here in the UK, the current Thames barrier is rapidly becoming inadequate while thousands of acres around our coasts are disappearing in front of our eyes.
Banning gas boilers by as early as 2025 looks plain daft and lousy value for money
Extremes of weather will cause urban flooding, forest fires, massive damage to transport networks and so on. Whether all this change is man-made is frankly irrelevant. It may all be down to the industrial revolution or part of centuries-old natural change. What matters now is what steps we can take to mitigate the damage consistent with what we can afford in both the near and long term.
There is lots we can do that is sensible and tolerably affordable to lower the Earth’s temperature as much as possible to pre-industrial levels. We will drive cleaner, almost certainly electric cars. Our trucks, refuse vehicles and heavy plant will use hydrogen because batteries are too heavy. Aviation will move to green hydrogen. New homes will use solar tiles; all homes will be better insulated and built closer to Passivhaus standard. All very sensible. Banning gas boilers by as early as 2025, however, looks plain daft and lousy value for money.
On closer inspection, air and ground-source heat pumps have little to commend them and again have very questionable cost-benefit analyses. We need more nuclear power, which all three major political parties support, and we should be investing in nuclear fusion as the real answer to limitless energy.
While we’re at it we should overturn the ludicrous ban on fracking, which has the potential in the UK to deliver millions of litres of gas, rather than paying to import it from Russia and thus put us at the mercy of its capricious dictator. We should also allow the development of the Cumbria mine because it will produce coking coal, which we need to make steel. If we don’t, we will buy our coking coal from Poland. Go figure.
And we should be much more serious about carbon capture and either use or storage. We keep hearing about this technology but have little by way of practical examples to go on.
The tension in the current government between traditional low-tax, low-spend Tories represented by chancellor Sunak and the Johnsonites whose new paradigm rejects austerity and believes in higher spending even if accompanied by higher taxes is very real. Top of the list of disputes is the current attitude in No 10 toward climate change.
But isn’t it obvious that we should simply do what is affordable, straightforward and effective? Not to do so now, this day, would be the real betrayal of those future generations who will have to live with the consequences.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and Future-Built