Outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May has performed global service by committing the UK to “net-zero carbon emissions” by 2050.
To other countries contemplating similar counterassaults against climate change, the move will be instructive.
May, whose resignation becomes effective when the Conservative Party selects a new leader, introduced legislation on June 12 putting her country “on track to become the first G7 country to legislate for net-zero emissions, with other major economies expected to follow suit.”
But as other countries see what happens in the country claiming that it “already leads the world in tackling climate change,” as May says, followers might become scarce.
With some combination of tax breaks, production subsidies, or consumption mandates, Whitehall will have to stimulate construction of power stations fueled by renewable or nuclear energy and keep sponsors of solar and wind projects whole against misalignments of capacity, load, sunshine, and wind.
Through elevated electricity rates and taxes, British voters will have to pay for it all.
The government also will have to contrive ways to account for CO2 balances.
While gross emissions are readily measured, the same cannot be said for all methods of removing CO2 already in the atmosphere. Carbon capture and storage accommodates measurement, of course, but costs much.
Other options for CO2 removal, such as enhanced weatherization, ocean fertilization, and direct-air capture, as well as less exotic tactics such as tree-planting, vary in measurability. They’ll all need incentives, though.
As sponsors compete for public money, and as the government feels pressure to show progress toward net-zero emissions, political manipulation will shape estimates for how much CO2 these projects can purge.
May said that in 5 years the UK will check “to confirm that other countries are taking similarly ambitious action.”
That’s plenty of time for certain, immediate cost imposed against uncertain, long-term risk to provoke political backlash in the UK, as it has done, for example, in France, Australia, and several Canadian provinces.
Politically for May, of course, it won’t matter.