BIRMINGHAM, UK – A senior figure at a free market think tank close to Prime Minister Liz Truss has called for the UK’s 2050 net zero target to be scrapped.
Andy Mayer, chief operating officer and energy analyst at the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), called the legally binding target “nonsense” adding that the energy crisis shows that energy security and “affordability” are more important.
“Get rid of it. Have a more sensible, aspirational, optimistic approach to tackling climate change and net zero,” Mayer told an IEA-run panel titled: “Energy Crisis: Can the UK Afford Net Zero?” at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham today.
“The question with net zero, and the problem with the government’s position, is that it has adopted this very hard Left, socialist, central-planning model of tackling an environmental challenge,” Mayer said.
The IEA is holding several high-profile conference events with ministers. They include one with chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng today and another with Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg tomorrow.
The IEA’s influence on Truss’s month-old government has come under growing scrutiny since Kwarteng unveiled his “mini-budget” on September 23, sending financial markets into turmoil and crashing the value of the pound. The IEA’s director Mark Littlewood and other figures from the think tank have since defended the government’s approach.
The IEA has a record of opposing climate policies, and a 2018 investigation by Greenpeace Unearthed revealed that the IEA had received funding from oil giant BP every year since 1967. To date, BP and the IEA have declined to say whether this funding relationship continues when asked by DeSmog.
Mayer is also speaking at an event in Birmingham today to discuss fracking titled “Unlocking the potential of UK shale gas”. The event, which is not part of the Tory conference, is being run by Net Zero Watch, the campaign arm of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s main climate science denial group.
Steve Baker and IEA Panel
The IEA’s net zero event at the Tory conference was held in a large “thinktent” area shared with the Taxpayers’ Alliance pressure group. Upon becoming prime minister, Truss appointed senior advisors – Ruth Porter and Matthew Sinclair – who formerly held positions at these groups, and who have also been critical of climate policies.
Mayer appeared on the IEA panel alongside Steve Baker MP, Truss’s Northern Ireland minister and a former GWPF trustee, who until last month ran the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) caucus in parliament.
Baker answered the event’s question about whether the UK can afford net zero by saying: “In the short run, when you look at this winter and the energy costs that we face, no. But in the longer run it’s water under the bridge, we’re going towards net zero.”
Baker went on to recommend policies from a Net Zero Watch report on the energy crisis, which he said included “suspending net zero commitments for this winter” and “reduc[ing] the value of renewable obligations to close to zero”.
The report, published in March, falsely blames renewable power for high energy bills, and calls for wind and solar power to be “wound down completely”. Baker also said he was “not challenging the science” on climate change, but claimed that the worst scenarios were unlikely to happen.
When quizzed by Guardian reporter Helena Horton, Baker said he was not lobbying ministers to scrap the UK’s net zero target, but revealed that he is still administrator of the NZSG’s whatsapp group.
The panel, which was chaired by IEA head of media Emily Carver, included MPs Greg Smith and Bim Afolami, along with Soumaya Keynes, Britain Editor of the Economist magazine, who defended the need for climate policies, likening the crisis to an approaching asteroid requiring an expensive spaceship to destroy it. After Keynes’s remarks, Carver went to Baker for a response, and he dismissed the analogy.
Truss, who assumed office as prime minister on September 6, has a long association with the IEA. Its director, Littlewood, recently said that Truss had spoken at more IEA events “than any other politician over the past 12 years”.