It is absurd to question whether we can afford to keep our planet liveable

(The Guardian, 6 Jun 2019) The chancellor has warned against cutting UK emissions to net zero. But failing to act will have dire consequences.

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, has written to the prime minister to warn against adopting the strict targets on greenhouse gas emissions recommended by the government’s advisers.

His intervention, first reported by the Financial Times (£), raises the important question of whether or not it makes economic sense to save the planet.

If the question sounds absurd, that’s because it is. If we fail to move to a low-carbon economy, the consequences will be dire. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of the world’s leading climate scientists convened by the UN, we must drastically reduce our emissions in the next decade to avoid a catastrophic situation in which droughts, floods, heatwaves and extreme weather across the globe devastate lives, destroy agriculture, lay waste to wildlife and force millions to flee.

Set against that, the costs – of £50bn a year in investment, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which set out the case last month for a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, or £70bn a year, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – of maintaining our current lifestyles and orderly existences are trivial. The UK’s economy is worth roughly £2tn a year at present, so Hammond’s estimate of a £1tn cumulative cost by 2050 amounts to less than half of one year’s GDP in three decades.

Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: “The Treasury is putting their ideology before our wellbeing, and trying to shape the public debate for political ends. If you want to know whether a policy is good, include the benefits as well as the costs. In this case, the benefits include an economy fit for the 21st century, cleaner air, warmer homes, and maximising the chances of civilisation surviving. If reality doesn’t fit with the Treasury models, it’s the models that need to change.”

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The Guardian, 6 Jun 2019: It is absurd to question whether we can afford to keep our planet liveable