The real truth about Net Zero? It will cost taxpayers billions - if not trillions of pounds

20 September 2023, 18:13

Net Zero is going to come with a hefty price tag, says Natasha Clark
Net Zero is going to come with a hefty price tag, says Natasha Clark. Picture: Alamy
Natasha Clark

By Natasha Clark

Rishi Sunak still can’t be honest with the public about the real cost of Net Zero.

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For all of today’s spiel about wanting to finally tell the truth about what going green really means, the PM was still unable to tell me, when I grilled him at the press conference, how much it will cost.

The truth, that he was unable to admit to the public tonight, is that Net Zero is going to be expensive.

The PM said he wants “a politics that is transparent, and the space for a better, more honest debate about how we secure the country’s long-term interest.”

He did promise to double grants for heat pumps to £7,500 – which will help more people to buy them.

Read more: PM's green 'U-turn' as he delays ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars - but there's a boost for boiler upgrades

Read more: Rishi Sunak's weakening of Net Zero policies is his 'stupidest intervention' to date, asserts James O'Brien

But the entire policy is still going to cost the taxpayer billions, if not trillions of pounds over the next few decades.

Theresa May failed to mention this when she put her Net Zero promise into law just before leaving office.

Boris Johnson wasn’t much better. We’ve had years of governments telling us we want to go green, but not how, and not what it will mean for us and our wallets.

No politician ever wants to be telling voters they will be worse off. It’s bad politics. It loses elections.

And in a cost of living crisis, it’s the last thing that any of us wants to hear.

Politicians and campaigners have long been telling the Government that people want to clean up the planet, they want to save it for our children and grandchildren.

That they agree with the idea of reducing our emissions and want to do more to leave the world in a better place.

But for a long time, when pollsters ask the public whether they are willing to dip into their own pockets to pay for it, they say “no thanks”.

Only the rich can currently afford pricey heat pumps and electric cars, though the costs will undoubtably come down, over time.

The PM tonight made it evidently clear that by putting off paying these costs for another few years, he is setting up a clear dividing line with Labour – urging them to say they would do so if they get into power.

He wants to force the Labour boss to admit that he would reverse these changes, which would hurt consumers even more, sooner.

Business can pick up some of these costs, and technology and innovation will take us some of the way to Net Zero, too.

And over time, the cost of going green is far less than the cost of inaction, green campaigners say.

However, even if people won’t have to make the swaps for their cars and boilers until 2035, in a decade’s time they could still be more expensive than their traditional alternatives.

Will the PM of the time have the guts to admit to people then, that it will be a price the government will ask them to pay, to meet a Net Zero law which was put into place many years ago?

Even if the gap is filled by more grants, more carrot and less stick, the cash will have to come from somewhere.

The Treasury will need to find money to put into going green over many decades – and it won’t be just a few billion quid we can find down the sofa.

Ex-Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested it could be as much as £1trillion.

That’s cash we can’t spend on schools, on defence, on our NHS. These are the difficult decisions the PM is going to have to make this year, and perhaps Sir Keir Starmer may be making next year.

While Sunak may say he wants change politics for the better, and be more straight with people, he’s still not prepared to give them the hard truths.