Net-Zero or Do-Zero, What Are You Doing?

The truth is, we have known about climate change for a long while. Now we have the oil and gas corporates being raided, as the tobacco sector was previously, about what it knew and when. But look in the mirror before being outraged.

An investigation into ExxonMobil has shown that the oil giant was aware of the effects of fossil fuels on our climate since at least the 1970s. That’s 50 years ago. Imagine how far along we could be in implementing net-zero solutions if the dangers of fossil fuels had been acknowledged instead of just swept under the rug.

The oil giant even went so far as to spread anti-environmentalist propaganda, with an internal paper being sent out claiming that ExxonMobil’s position was to ‘emphasise the uncertainty’ regarding the greenhouse effect. The company seemed perfectly happy to sit on this information that could have helped us radically decrease our carbon output decades in advance, for the sake of their profit margins.

But ExxonMobil is just one entity, one company. How are our world governments faring with the climate crisis? Let’s face some facts here, the UK government will make around £45Bn just this year in petrol duties, corporate taxes on the fossil fuel companies, windfall taxes and VAT. The motivation to dump this vast tax gift can’t be overwhelming.

It seems that nearly every country across the globe is currently falling short of their net-zero targets (if they even had any to begin with). Even when governments are outspoken on their commitments on halting climate change, their words speak far louder than their actions. One of these countries relying on false promises instead of concrete action is our own, the UK.

This was confirmed when Conservative MP Chris Skidmore released a damning report claiming that the UK is rapidly falling behind on green targets. In the report, Skidmore claims that the UK’s net-zero solutions needs to be overhauled and suggests 25 initiatives to get things moving. These include things like eco-labelling, scrapping planning rules for solar panel projects, and bringing forward the phase-out of gas boilers from 2035 to 2033.

Currently, the UK has pledged to achieve net-zero by 2050, a target which is legally binding. However, Skidmore’s report suggests that what we are doing now is nowhere near enough to reach that target. The UK has reached a tipping point, where the risks of not implementing net-zero solutions far outweigh those of implementing them.

He’s not the only one who thinks this, Labour’s Ed Miliband has stated that the government’s lack of urgency when it comes to these matters is depriving the UK of the economic opportunities that climate action offers. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas takes it a step further, stating that even Skidmore’s review is not urgent enough and is shying away from the ‘transformative’ measures needed.

We don’t have to take Skidmore’s word for it either, there is tangible proof that the UK is falling behind the rest of its European counterparts in the fight for climate action. Britain has some of the leakiest and energy inefficient buildings in all of Europe, with 80% of UK homes still being connected to individual gas boilers. According to research by Nesta, the average UK gas boiler emits approximately 2.2 tonnes of CO2 annually, a figure equivalent to taking 7 transatlantic flights, yes you read that right. When nearly every household in the country is emitting these amounts, it becomes easier to see why the UK’s net-zero targets are appearing further and further out of reach.

One solution is replacing gas boilers with electric heat pumps. Air-source heat pumps, which extract air from the outside to heat buildings and their water, can drastically reduce carbon, emitting 70% less CO2 than electric systems. In May 2022, the UK government unveiled a scheme to aid households and businesses by offering £5000 off the installation cost of heat pumps. The scheme is set to run for three years.  

Perhaps the biggest problem the UK is facing, however, is the government’s apparent lack of commitment to the climate crisis. This translates directly to a lack of funding. For years, the private sector has been investing in green solutions based on the expectation that the government would rapidly be fulfilling their net-zero promises. These promises are seeming emptier by the day. There is a great uncertainty on where current PM Rishi Sunak stands on the net-zero debate, and it is making investors and climate activists alike concerned, he had strong words in the leadership debates, but more is needed urgently.

In some cases, we’re even headed backwards. A controversial new coalmine in Whitehaven, Cumbria was approved back in December, even after it was found it would emit 17,500 tonnes of methane a year. Methane has a warming effect 80 times that of CO2, although it does break down in the atmosphere much faster. Those against the mine state that its opening goes directly against the precedent that the UK has set as a supposed green leader. Votes for politicians seem more important than doing the right thing, again. It’s an issue that requires all parties to drop their bi-partisan stances and act unilaterally.

It didn’t always used to be this way, and it doesn’t have to stay like it either. Emissions have been reduced by 44% since 1990 in the UK with coal powered stations shut, and 68,000 new green jobs have been supported since late 2020. However, the truth is that we are not moving fast enough. A 44% drop may have been massive in the 90s or early 00s, but now it’s not cutting it. All governments have to step up, stop making empty promises, and take action to stop our emissions spiralling out of control. Once we cross over the tipping point, there’s no going back.

ExxonMobil knew about the dangers of fossil fuel consumption back in the 1970s. Their excuse for keeping it a secret was greed – now each of us is fully aware of our impacts, so will our excuse be the same?

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