Climate change: Tony Blair's pragmatic approach to reduce carbon emission is more likely to succeed than Greens' barmy plans – John McLellan

Lorna and Patrick’s barmy army are on their way to power. Who knew that the route to ministerial office was to come fourth in an election with eight per cent of the vote on an anti-growth ticket?

A new paper from Tony Blair's think tank tries to show that the road to net-zero carbon emissions need not be paved with confrontation (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

Not Tony Blair, whose adherence to the traditional route of embracing wealth creation landed three UK election victories.

The question of whether hard left-wingers like the Scottish Greens despise Tony Blair is up there along with which faith Pope Francis follows or if bears prefer forested areas for defecation.

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Having challenged deeply-held party principles to turn Labour away from unelectable hard socialism to a winning social democratic machine, the Iraq War and the tragic consequences with which we are still living has cast him into the wilderness from which he struggles to re-emerge.

Now the ex-Prime Minister is taking on the orthodoxy of climate change campaigners with a new paper from his think tank which tries to show the road to net-zero carbon need not be paved with confrontation.

For someone largely responsible for the modern age of soundbite-driven political communication, Mr Blair might have asked his team to come up with something snappier than “Planes, Homes and Automobiles: The Role of Behaviour Change in Delivering Net Zero”. “In Place of Fear” perhaps, because its core message is that delivering net-zero carbon needn’t be as painful as some make out at a time when the calls for action are becoming increasingly shrill.

Take the confrontation of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Govanhill Carnival by climate activists demanding she stop the development of the Cambo oil-and-gas field off Shetland.

“I’m terrified of when I’m going to lose my friends and loved ones to wildfires and floods,” said one. Not if, but when. While there is no doubting the activist’s sincerity, the question of whether making Scotland more reliant on imported fossil fuels on which thousands of Scots depend for heating and cooking is one which Ms Sturgeon sensibly dodged.

Now the Scottish Greens hold ministerial power, such demands for drastic action will not just grow in the lead-up to November’s Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow, but become policy.

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National and local politicians, including the UK government, are on a virtue trip to declare the most ambitious but unachievable targets, like Edinburgh Council’s net zero by 2030 goal. “This is 15 years before Scotland's national net-zero target,” boasts the council’s website, as if its administration has the answers for which the rest of the world is searching.

Apart from a platform at November’s green jamboree for its founder, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change is trying to find a palatable route to net zero with more broader appeal than hysteria.

Co-authored by the former director of clean growth at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Tim Lord, it argues a small number of changes to individual behaviour are needed to achieve net zero by 2050, such as cutting car use by just four per cent and reducing meat and dairy consumption by a fifth.

Say it quickly and it sounds easy; it’s not hard to see people buying in to a less aggressive programme which understands that most people are small-c conservatives more likely to do their bit if the necessary actions are straightforward, affordable and their lives are not turned upside down.

That’s where it all begins to come apart. The four per cent car use cut relies on at least 60 per cent of vehicles being electric, and even if they were available and affordable, the charging infrastructure doesn’t exist. OK, so the Blair target is 2035, so that might be achievable in 14 years as the second-hand market swells, but as the Scottish target is five years earlier, what’s the chance of 60 per cent of vehicles on Scottish roads being electric by 2029?

“A simple way to forecast the future is to look at what rich people have today,” said Google’s chief economist Hal Varian. “Middle-income people will have something equivalent in ten years, and poor people will have it in an additional decade.” A sign of the so-called Varian Rule is a few more Tesla cars in Edinburgh than a couple of years ago when they cost over £40,000. Friends of mine bought one, but they also bought a Morgan.

Domestic residences produce a fifth of all UK greenhouse gasses, an estimated 30 million of which need either new heating systems or insulation or both. The 2019 Scottish government house condition survey showed that just under a third of Scottish homes, around 750,000, are pre-1945 and most will need enormously costly alterations to hit net-zero standard.

Even if they can all afford £2,500 a pop on double-glazing Victorian sash-and-case windows or up to £15,000 on a heat-pump system, availability of reliable heating engineers is limited. The chances of hitting the Blair target of 40 per cent of homes on low-carbon heating by 2035 at an estimated cost of up to £25bn are slim. Edinburgh’s 2030 net-zero aim is pie in the sky.

The Blair paper recognises achieving net zero relies on behaviour change, and while that might be good for advertising agencies devising the campaigns, in the absence of affordable solutions the rest of us face less carrot and more stick, like Thursday’s Edinburgh’s transport committee where seven of nine reports involved road disruptions or parking levies designed to make car use less attractive. The carrot is a sense of virtue and vague promises of health benefits.

A UK parliamentary report in March estimated £55bn of investment in home energy efficiency was needed to hit the 2050 net-zero target, but this excluded half of older solid-wall homes and anything in a conservation area and the total bill was said to be closer to £250bn, with Leeds Council alone putting the total cost to its residents at around £7bn. The Green stick is only going to get bigger.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor in Edinburgh

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