17 February 2020
, updated 18 February 2020
By Adam Vaughan
The UK government has refused a request to explain why its estimated cost of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is tens of billions of pounds more than its independent advisers found.
Last summer, shortly before the UK enshrined the net-zero target in law, a leaked letter from Phillip Hammond, the then chancellor, warned that the transition to a zero-carbon economy was likely to be “well in excess of a trillion pounds”.
Hammond’s letter cited analysis by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) that put the cost of meeting the 2050 goal at £70 billion a year. That was 40 per cent more than the £50 billion that the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) had arrived at. But unlike the CCC analysis, the letter supplied no evidence or methods to explain the significantly higher figure.
New Scientist attempted to use freedom of information legislation to obtain the evidence supporting the bigger net-zero price tag, but BEIS declined to release the information. Following an appeal, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office last week ruled in favour of BEIS withholding the explanation.
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BEIS told the ICO that releasing the evidence now could harm public understanding due to a lack of context. “There is real potential to distract the public debate away from the substantive environmental issue of climate change with cost estimates that are not properly contextualised,” the department said.
The refusal means Hammond’s £70 billion figure, provided without context, is the only information available to the public on the cost of the government hitting the net-zero target.
But it appears the ultimate cost could differ from the £70 billion figure, which Hammond had warned would mean less money being available for other areas of public spending. The ICO reported that BEIS is: “Currently completing and refining their analysis in the context of the new legislated target.”
“Setting a net zero target is the right thing to do and we agree with the rigorous and detailed analysis conducted by our independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change,” says a BEIS spokesperson.
“There are a number of other figures out there which do not factor in benefits or consider the costs of not doing this. In fact the costs of meeting this target are coming down. Since 2008, the projected cost has reduced dramatically because of advances in clean energy and green technology. We anticipate that these costs will continue to fall.”
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