This is the draft for an imagined speech I would like to see the Prime Minister give. I hold absolutely zero confidence that this will happen. Thus I suppose the need to put it forward.
Her Majesty’s government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is announcing today a permanent moratorium on fossil fuel exploration and new extraction within our sovereign territories. Existing extraction facilities will be permitted to continue for the present, but this move marks a step towards enacting our commitments, agreed, signed and ratified in the Paris Climate Accord. As the human community have agreed, if we are to leave a healthy earth, supporting human habitation as it does today to our children’s children, presently discovered fossil fuel reserves cannot be completely extracted and burned. Nowhere near. We must keep large proportions of them in the ground. This commitment must start at home.
Scientific enquiry must be sceptical by nature, and continually ask of itself whether its assumptions are valid and measuring instruments correctly calibrated. During the ’90s and 2000s there may have been cause to ask for more data and more models of earth warming. We can hold no grudges towards those that questioned the orthodoxy. They led to improvements, they made the science more accurate. But we can say clearly that such denial is no longer valid.
The climate is changing to a degree completely unprecedented during human civilisation. About 10,000 years ago the earth came out of an ice age and human intelligence and ingenuity had advanced enough during the long, cold winter that they soon settled into fixed communities and began farming. This unusually warm period has been the cradle for all the lives we live now.
Prior to this, nomadic humans lived through periods much colder than our current climate, but homo sapiens have never lived on an earth this hot, and it’s going to get much hotter. I strongly recommend all of you to acquaint yourselves with the basic science of this phenomenon. It will not affect all parts of the globe in the same way, but be certain; without action, billions will have their standard of living reduced. Many will die. The migratory pressures on those parts of the globe relatively unaffected or positively affected will be intolerable.
The only explanation for this warming is human activity producing carbon-dioxide and methane. The burning of fossil fuels to power our cars, buses, trains, ships and aeroplanes. To power our homes, our schools, our hospitals, our computers and smart devices. The burning of vast swathes of rainforest, releasing the carbon once trapped in those trees and the use of that space to industrially farm hundreds of millions of cattle and superfluous cash crops like sugar and palm oil.
In the Paris Agreement, this government agreed to not allow the earth to warm more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and to attempt to keep them below 1.5°C. Global surface temperatures in February this year were at one point measured to be 2°C warmer. Preliminary data shows that the year as a whole was 1.2°C warmer. It is not an overstatement to say that it may already be too late. Many models show the earth beginning to increasingly warm itself after a 1.5°C rise. Polar ice caps are already turning greyer as they melt, so they reflect less heat from the sunlight and absorb more – melting more and more each year. By the time all these feedback mechanisms are triggered, cutting all carbon emissions may not be enough to prevent a rise to 2.5 or even 3 degrees. But the same models expect the earth to naturally cool back down after carbon emissions cease, so reducing our emissions cannot begin soon enough and will never be in vain.
Forward not Back
The modern world that human civilisation has created is a marvel. A British citizen born at the end of the 20th century who goes on to work for the minimum wage their entire life will have a better standard of living, will live longer and healthier than a Victorian aristocrat. They will have the opportunity to visit every other country on this planet, and eat meat every day, and instantly communicate with anyone else on earth, and even with a space station we have built that orbits our earth. If preventing climate change that threatens to end modern civilisation means giving up modern civilisation, then many may, justifiably ask, what is the point?
This is why, at the next budget, we will be announcing taxes, regulations and subsidies aimed at compelling as fast a transition away from the burning of fossil fuels in the areas where the technology already exists, while maintaining our privileged standard of living in those areas that, as yet, demand carbon emissions.
It is the official stance of this government that every miracle of the modern world can survive in a truly zero carbon future. However, we must accept the possibility that certain activities will always need to produce carbon emissions, such as farming animals for meat, shipping, air travel, central heating, the production of plastics and steel and space travel. With this in mind, it is even more imperative that those activities that clearly do not, such as cars and electricity generation, become fossil fuel free as soon as possible.
Tax and spending
To this end, carbon taxes on air travel will be scrapped. It goes without saying that all existing subsidies and tax breaks for oil and gas extraction in the UK will be ended. Taxes on petroleum will remain at the current level until there is more than one commercially available, all-electric car at each current size and price segment. After such a time they will rise dramatically, stimulating the nationwide adoption of electric vehicles. International shipping will not receive any new regulations or taxes.
All railway lines will be electrified. All new buses must be electric or hybrid. All new power plants must be renewable or capture 100% of the carbon they produce. Energy efficiency standards on consumer electronics will be strengthened further.
Rather than the current system where all electricity suppliers must pay a climate change levy, we will be looking to institute a full carbon tax on electricity generation. Electricity generated from renewable sources or captured carbon will avoid this tax and become cheaper, while electricity generated from fossil fuels will significantly rise in price. Ask your energy supplier how to switch to a green tariff.
A minimum price will be set that must be paid for each cow sent to slaughter. The government will not collect any tax from these sales. This is in order to make beef more expensive and reduce demand, but ensure that beef cattle farmers don’t lose any revenue. Beef must become a treat.
Palm oil is an unnecessary ingredient and can easily be substituted with a number of different oils and fats that both taste better, and don’t require the destruction of billions of acres of rainforest for their production. To this end, and now that the UK is free of EU trade rules, palm oil will incur a 100% import tariff. Encourage the manufacturers of your favourite foods to change the oil they use.
It is our sincere wish that oil and gas companies around the world, and particularly those headquartered in the UK, follow this government’s lead in ceasing new exploration and begin in earnest to research and develop renewable sources of energy. They have the resources and expertise to become world leaders in a better kind of energy, but unfortunately we have seen scant evidence of any willingness to change yet. As a result, the government has already divested its pensions and investments away from fossil fuels and universities and local councils were given ample encouragement and notice of our intention to announce this policy shift. Shareholders of these companies; demand they shift focus, for the good of your investments.
The United Kingdom subsidises the domestic arms industry, and even sells arms abroad to regimes that don’t always value human rights as highly as we do, because if there is ever a war, we need to have the skills and capacity to protect ourselves. Yet when it comes to energy security, the fuels we use every day and which underpin our whole society and economy, we are completely beholden to other powers. Russia controls our natural gas supply. Our oil comes primarily from the Middle East -unstable and ruled by autocratic regimes that are breeding terrorism. Our coal is shipped halfway around the globe from China and Australia.
For over a century we have just had to make do with this insecurity. During both world wars it crippled our capabilities, and in World War II we were very fortunate that local scarcity weakened the Axis powers even more. Stalingrad, the North African Campaign, the War in the Pacific – all for oil. The move away from fossil fuels is a move to finally bring energy security to our shores. With Russia and the Middle East looking more unstable and unreliable today than at any time since the end of the Cold War, for our national security we must cease all dependence on fossil fuels.
Certainly, our economy will undergo a major restructuring, and this will have costs. Shares in certain companies will fall. Prices for certain goods will rise. Some will lose professions they have worked in for decades.
However, it is unavoidable. We must move away from carbon.
By acting today, the British government is the first in the world to present a comprehensive plan of action against human induced climate change. This is a great opportunity for us to gain from this necessary change. We must not see preventing climate change only in negative terms; as an economic shock, as a destroyer of jobs and lifestyles. Instead, it can and will be an opportunity to regenerate our ailing infrastructure, for the entrepreneurial spirit in us all and for the UK to build today an investment that will pay back for decades to come.
All of the money raised from the new carbon taxes will be invested in research at our universities and businesses, in technologies to lead the world away from carbon. Companies and entrepreneurs from around the globe will be encouraged to set up businesses here through subsidies and access to our research facilities and skilled workforce. Millions of new, high quality jobs will be created for graduates, and companies will be encouraged through subsidies to train/retrain those without a degree for the jobs they need. Multiple studies from around the world have found that renewable energy generates ten times more jobs than the fossil fuel sector.
The intellectual property that will be created on this scepter’d isle will form a sovereign wealth fund. In the years to come we will earn back far more than the cost we must pay today from other countries, desperate to transform their economies, as fossil fuels grow scarce and the physical impacts of climate change are felt in earnest.
We will be at the forefront. This will be our new economy. Then we will sell it to the world. Green Britain.