‘Unhelpful’ and ‘Inaccurate’: Experts fact check Nigel Farage’s Net Zero claims

“The public already voted for net-zero,” says Jim Watson, director of the UCL institute for Sustainable Resources.

Saphora Smith
Tuesday 08 March 2022 12:25
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<p>Nigel Farage speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida. </p>

Nigel Farage speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida.

Nigel Farage has launched a campaign for a referendum on the government’s pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In an article written in the Mail on Sunday, Farage spelled out his rationale making a series of bold claims. Experts helped The Independent fact check some of those assertions.

Here are the claims, followed by what the experts said:

Net Zero could cost £1 trillion

Farage cites former Chancellor Philip Hammond as saying the scheme could cost £1 trillion.

This is based on reporting by The Financial Times in 2019 in which the paper said it had seen a letter by Hammond warning then Prime Minister Theresa May of the potential costs of her plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

At the time, Downing Street shot down the claims saying building a net zero carbon economy would cost no more than the UK’s existing plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, however, the Public Accounts Committee said the government has “no reliable estimate” of what net zero is likely to cost British consumers, households, businesses or the government itself.

The UK’s independent Climate Change Committee says low carbon investment must scale up to £50 billion each year from 2030-2050 to deliver net zero. However, it says this investment generates substantial fuel savings and in time these cancel out the investment costs entirely.

Neil Grant, a postgraduate at the Grantham Institute — Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, said the estimate that the transition to net zero could cost £1 trillion an “unhelpful” and “inaccurate claim.”

While net zero will require large-scale investment to install low-carbon technologies, retrofit buildings and build a green industrial base, that investment will provide jobs and stimulate the economy, creating new tax revenue, he said.

“This means that achieving net zero could actually boost economic activity compared to not taking action,” he said. “There’s no economic rationale to slow down on climate action.”

“It is far more environmentally friendly to use our own shale gas than to import natural gas from abroad”

Farage says there are reserves of shale gas in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and yet even as gas prices rise, the government prefers to import natural gas instead. Importing gas in tankers creates substantially more C02, he adds.

Rob Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, a consortium of 20 universities across the UK, said it was true moving gas around in liquefied form on tankers probably uses more energy than fracking.

However, he said most of the gas that we use in the UK comes through pipelines from the North Sea, either from Norway or our own reserves. Liquefied Natural Gas imports made up around 20 percent of gas supply to the UK in 2020.

“So that’s not a particularly helpful comparison to be making,” he said.

There are also wider local environmental impacts of fracking, he added.

“This shale treasure under our feet is owned by us all, with a value of trillions of pounds. We can slash our energy bills and create a sovereign wealth fund for future generations.”

Whether or not we could extract enough shale gas to make a material impact on our gas supplies is open to question, said Gross, who is also a professor of energy policy at Imperial College.

“It’s not really a question of geology but a question of competing land use,” he said, adding that the U.S., where there has been a lot of investment in fracking, has less than 100 people per square mile compared to the UK that has more than 700.

Furthermore, he said it is unlikely extracting shale gas would drive down gas prices because they’re set through international markets.

“The shale gas that we’d produced in this country wouldn’t be gas that we could just keep,” he said. “It would make no sense to produce shale gas and then not sell it at the going market price.”

“The UK must become energy self-sufficient. Not only is this achievable with Britain’s own resources, it will provide tens of thousands of well-paid jobs in the North of England.”

Gross said it is not realistic or necessarily attractive for the UK to be energy independent.

“The key question is how we can ensure that the system is resilient,” he said. “Boosting domestic supplies are one way to do this, but so is a diverse range of supplies from other countries and perhaps more focus on long-run contracts to provide it.”

Developing offshore wind also has the potential to reduce our reliance on imports and to create well-paid jobs in the north of England, he added.

Many people can’t afford to buy electric cars, and heat pumps which represent “an idealistic dream” that bears no relation to the hard realities of life for the majority

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Institute, said it was true that the upfront costs of electric vehicles and heat pumps can be more expensive than their fossil fuel equivalent at the moment, and said the government should be helping to bridge the gap, particularly for those on lower incomes.

However, he said electric vehicles and heat pumps are much more efficient than their fossil fuel equivalents, meaning households usually save money over the longer term, particularly with the very high price of natural gas and petrol at the moment

“The prices of electric vehicles and heat pumps are falling as these industries ramp up and benefit from economies of scale,” he said.

“Under Net Zero the elderly will die colder, poorer and sooner. It is not fair that the young will be burdened with higher costs, fewer jobs and less money.”

Grant, the postgraduate researcher, said this was also an “inaccurate” claim.

“As we reach net zero by insulating homes and installing renewables, we will be able to lift people out of fuel poverty,” he said.

“If we’d kept installing renewables and insulating homes at the pace we were doing pre-2013, energy bills would be [nearly] £2.5bn lower today than they are,” he added. “Elderly people who are fuel poor could have warmer homes and cheaper bills in an energy efficient and renewable future.”

At the same time, net zero has the potential to create millions of new jobs, creating huge opportunities for young people who want to contribute to a greener future, he said.

“It’s abandoning net zero that would burden young people with costs – the costs of climate breakdown, which vastly outweigh the effort required to reduce our emissions.”

UK citizens should get a vote on net zero

Finally, Jim Watson, director of the UCL institute for Sustainable Resources, points out that the public already voted for net zero.

Implementing a net-zero target for 2050 was prominent in the Conservative Party manifesto for the last election, and was one of six key pledges.

The Independent has contacted Farage for comment.

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