Opinion

Costing the Earth

By 23 April 2021 No Comments
Wind Farm

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled ambitious new targets to cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 78% by 2035. This brings the previous targets 15 years forward and puts the UK in a leading global position in terms of its stated commitment to tackling climate change. As businesses and individuals, we are all increasingly aware of our impact on the planet, and our collective responsibility to try and halt climate change. To achieve this new goal, it has been proposed that sweeping changes in our daily lives would have to be implemented: more electric cars, less meat and dairy, low carbon heating, and renewable electricity.

In principle, this all sounds like a good thing – yet the government’s flagship Green Homes Grant was scrapped after a mere six months. The £1.5 bn policy which offered households up to £10,000 to install greener insulation, had been troubled since its inception. Despite receiving over 123,000 applications, only 28,000 vouchers had been approved, and only 5,800 energy efficient measures had been actually completed. Red tape, a lack of clarity, and a dearth of contractors were all blamed for the scheme’s untimely and high-profile demise. If this relatively small-scale scheme could not be managed and implemented correctly, doubts are cast on the overall goal, with some opining that what is proposed is simply too ambitious.

This is depressingly in line with a governmental history of missing its stated targets – New Labour had promised to cut emissions by 20% by 2010, yet in reality only a 16% reduction was achieved. Likewise, New Labour had also forecast that by 2010 renewable energy would make up 10% of our energy needs, whereas in reality it made up just 6.9% by the stated date. As of 2020 however, renewable energy production outpaced fossil fuels, with an estimated 42% of the UK’s energy coming from wind, water, and wood while coal and gas accounted for 41%. Such a massive increase in a mere decade does give hope that radical change is achievable, but it also brings up the thorny issue of how much people are willing to pay to achieve these goals.

While many of the necessary measures will be incentive based and government driven in nature, such as grants for individuals and businesses to adopt green policies, undoubtedly taxation will feature to discourage activities which are considered polluting. Phasing out petrol cars, paying per mile driven, a tax on meat and dairy, and many more punitive measures may prove to be decidedly unpopular with the libertarian wing of the population at large. The Daily Mail painted a stark picture of how we may have to alter our lives to reach these radical new emissions targets: only three teaspoons of milk a day, £10,000 in green home upgrades, eating meat only twice a week, and flying once per year. The current cost of an average new electric car is estimated to be £44,000. Climate change advocates will naturally call such reporting hyperbole and scaremongering, but while the specifics can be debated, the underlining economic realities for ordinary taxpayers are hard to dismiss. Though it could be argued in the long-term green energy will generate jobs and power the economy, in the short term the public may only see inflationary measures.

As Extinction Rebellion activists break the windows of the HSBC building in Canary Wharf, and Sir David Attenborough delivers increasingly stark warnings on the future of the planet, the issue is not purely economic, but also emotive. The more cynically minded have pointed out that Boris’ commitment to these new targets comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s major climate summit and expected revision of United States’ emission targets this week, and that it is easy for the government to set such lofty goals when no current cabinet members will likely still be in office by 2035.

Climate change poses many questions, but simple answers are hard to come by. It is likely that a compromise will be needed to facilitate such goals, while not burdening consumers with exorbitant costs. One easy change to help the planet is to accept card payments. The drive towards electronic as opposed to cash payments is ultimately a good one for the environment, as printing paper or plastic notes as well as mining and distributing coins has a significant carbon footprint. The American Council of Science and Health estimates that hauling 372 billion US pennies across the country since 1980 has led to the emission of 107 million pounds of carbon dioxide. At UTP we are constantly assessing our business practices to be as environmentally friendly as we can be, which includes minimising paper statements. To view our great range of payment solutions, click here.