Putin’s laughing now

Delaying net zero will not only increase costs, but keep us vulnerable to Putin & Co.’s every whim

By Sepi Golzari-Munro

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Delaying net zero will not only increase costs, but keep us vulnerable to Putin & Co.’s every whim

We have all seen tweets where we’ve winced and thought ‘that’s not going to age well.’ That was my first reaction to one, only a couple of weeks ago, by the Global Warming Policy Forum – an outfit wholly owned by the Global Warming Policy Foundation – known to disseminate misleading and inaccurate information on climate change.

Betting against British innovation and energy security

These organisations and their friends have spent a large part of their existence undermining climate science. When that failed, they began claiming climate change would actually be of benefit to us. Now that’s failed, they’re scratching their chins and wondering where to go next; the trend of ‘failing well’, while en vogue in the self-help industry, is likely to be cold comfort in these circles.

And so, from one failure to another, it is perhaps little wonder they are desperate to claim at least some success: “Our first big win,” they pant gleefully, “Ministers delay Net Zero heating plans…”.

Here, they are celebrating the delay to publication of the Heat and Building Strategy; what is essentially the UK’s plan to gently wean the nation off of gas and therefore free us from the clutches of Putin and other, let’s say, unfriendly regimes.

Climate-delayers keep us vulnerable to Putin for longer

This week, we get a bitter taste of what this skewed view of ‘winning’ looks like. Ofgem – the UK’s energy market regulator – is set to raise the price cap for how much energy companies can charge consumers by up to £150.

Their hand has been forced; wholesale gas prices are hitting record highs.

A major cause? Putin’s state-owned gas company Gazprom has, as it is perfectly entitled to do, chosen to restrict supplies into Europe. For the third month running to June, Gazprom bucked convention and declined to supply extra capacity into Europe through the Ukraine, which hosts one of the major pipelines into Europe.

After an extended period of cold weather, stockpiles of gas have been depleted. This move effectively prevents European countries from replenishing supplies in the run up to winter, pushing prices up. It also turns the screw on the EU to approve the controversial Nord Stream 2 project, to be completed in a matter of weeks following the removal of US sanctions.

But it’s not just Putin we’re vulnerable to. Gas markets continue to be oil indexed. And it appears that Russia is collaborating with Saudi Arabia to suppress oil supply too, despite growth in demand as the global economy recovers following the pandemic. The result? Oil prices go up which means gas prices go up.

This would not be the first time Putin has weaponised energy flows (he’s previously cut off gas supplies to and through the Ukraine during bitterly cold winters) and it is unlikely to be the last.

Confecting domestic problems leaves Britain open to further price shocks

It is in this context that our deniers-turned-delayers are celebrating. After failing in their denial of climate science, then in peddling climate change ‘benefits’ they have turned primarily to alarmism over costs.

But what their “win” in slowing the transition away from gas means is simply this: that we in Britain remain vulnerable to the whims of Putin & Co. for longer. Not because we rely on Russia for gas, but because Russia’s dominance in the gas market means they control a large share of global supply; their choices impact on prices.

Needless to say, that is far from an outcome to be lauded or pursued. Just last year our Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee released its Russia report. Of particular concern to the committee? “The fusion between state, business, and serious and organised crime provides further weight and leverage: Russia is able to pose an all-encompassing security threat – which is fuelled by paranoia about the West and a desire to be seen as a resurgent great power.”

It seems Putin’s fusion of state and business interests extends to Gazproms hegemony in the gas market. For those who may retort that we should simply pump more from our own fields, it’s worth remembering that “homegrown” these days, could just mean Chinese owned.

Reading the ISC report, I am reminded of what Fiona Hill, peerless Russia analyst and former White House adviser, spoke of recently when examining the polarisation amongst the American political class and the dangers it poses: “where their domestic problems become a national security risk, you lose your competitive edge and ability to push back”.

Fuelling fear over fact is against our national interest

These attempts to confect a domestic problem by seeking to polarise – and indeed frighten – MPs and Government on net zero with doom mongering about costs and an apparent lack of public mandate are not only wrong but, as this example clearly illustrates, play against our national interest.

Undeterred by evidence to the contrary - the latest OBR fiscal risks report showed that investment in net zero by 2050 means waiting a mere four months to reach the same levels of wealth as we would otherwise, while delaying the net zero transition by 10 years would actually double overall costs - Steve Baker MP (GWPF Trustee) and Craig Mackinlay MP have announced the creation of an as-yet illusory group of parliamentarians to challenge the government on the cost and speed of net zero.

There will apparently be “a few dozen MPs” joining this group. Before they do, however, they may wish to reflect carefully on whose interests they could truly – if unwittingly – be serving.

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