Scaling back net-zero ambitions ‘positively irrational’ – minister

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The Government must “fight back” against the idea that there is a conflict between the economy and the environment, a senior minister has said.

Speaking a little more than 100 days after the end of Cop26, Treasury Chief Secretary Simon Clarke rejected claims from sections of his party that rising energy bills and the cost of living crisis means the Government’s net-zero ambitions should be reined in.

Mr Clarke told a meeting held by a cross-party group of MPs on Tuesday that net-zero should not become “seen as a hairshirt movement”.

He said: “We have to avoid that sense that all we are doing is increasing the costs and the challenges that already confront people in their daily lives and that this is just something which is a regrettable necessity.”

Responding to attempts by the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of around 20 Conservative MPs and peers to link the Government’s net-zero policies to the rising cost of living, Mr Clarke said scaling back the UK’s net-zero ambitions would be “positively irrational”.

Cabinet Meeting
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke addressed MPs on the issue (Aaron Chown/PA)

“That is a material win, frankly, in terms of keeping costs down and it is now the case that it’s cheaper to deliver new offshore wind farms than it is to build new gas-fired power stations.

“That’s the logic which now applies to investment decisions. Therefore, it would be positively irrational for us to resile from our net-zero commitments.”

While he said he understands the “genuine pain” constituents are feeling due to rising prices, he added: “There is no benefit either environmentally or economically to going backwards.

“Indeed, if anything we will only be able to really drive down costs further by being in the vanguard of the global move away from overdependence on hydrocarbons.”

During the meeting, held by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Environment, Mr Clarke also suggested the Treasury could look to overhaul the tax system to align it with the Government’s net-zero goals.

He said: “We do want to make sure that behaviour is incentivised in a way that the tax system can be very powerful in helping us to deliver.”

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