A report from the Tufton Street group Civitas on the supposed cost of net zero was featured in several major newspapers today despite serious data errors.
Authored by management consultant Ewen Stewart, the report claimed that achieving net zero emissions will cost the UK £4.5 trillion, or £6,000 per household per year, by 2050.
The report was covered in the the Times, Daily Express, Daily Mail, the Spectator, and the influential conservative blog Guido Fawkes through both news reports and opinion pieces. The report was also shared by leading climate science denial groups, including Net Zero Watch, the campaign arm of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
However, the Civitas report has been criticised as inaccurate by several prominent climate academics and journalists. Simon Evans, senior policy editor at Carbon Brief, posted a thread on X (formerly Twitter) explaining the “embarrassingly wrong figures” published by Civitas and amplified by prominent media outlets.
Notably, the Civitas report confuses the electrical measurement units MW (megawatt) and MWh (megawatt-hour), according to Evans, therefore massively overestimating the cost of building new onshore wind turbines. The report suggests that new onshore wind turbines will cost £1.3 million in capital expenditure per MWh when, in reality, the cost is only a fraction of that amount, at £50-70 per MWh.
Civitas estimates that the total capital expenditure on onshore wind turbines will come to £810 billion. Even using the false MWh costs, this £810 billion figure is a miscalculation, according to Barnaby Wharton of Renewable UK.
Civitas has acknowledged these errors following a backlash on social media, though the report remains online. It has issued an update on its website saying: “There has been criticism on social media of two paragraphs on page 47 of this report, where capacity and output are confused. These paragraphs will be amended and updated. The author is happy to acknowledge this and correct the report… The fact remains that we are facing a huge bill for net zero that is many times more than official estimates”.
However, the Civitas report also contains multiple additional errors and omissions. It claims that the development of electric vehicles could cost 114,000 jobs, yet quoted a study that said the electric car market could support 246,000 jobs by 2040. Meanwhile, according to Evans it also failed to appreciate the potential fall in costs for renewable energies as technologies improve, or to factor in the existing costs of both subsidising fossil fuels and maintaining fossil fuel production.
This comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week announced several delays to the implementation of his government’s net zero policies. Sunak announced that a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be pushed back from 2030 to 2035, while he also watered down schemes to phase out gas boilers and scrapped new energy efficiency regulations on rented homes.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC), the government’s independent advisory body on net zero, has estimated that the cost of achieving net zero will be less than 1 percent of GDP, while the government independent spending watchdog – the Office for Budget Responsibility – has said that, “the costs of failing to get climate change under control would be much larger than those of bringing emissions down to net zero”.
Civitas declined to offer a further comment.
The Daily Express, Daily Mail, the Times and Guido Fawkes all carried sympathetic coverage of the Civitas report on Thursday 28 September, amplifying its main findings.
“Net zero to cost Britons an extra £6,000 a year despite Sunak watering down policies”, the Express headline stated.
The Express article also included an extended comment from Elliot Keck, head of campaigns at fellow Tufton Street group the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA). Keck claimed that the Civitas report showed how net zero “would cripple household budgets even if the true cost came in at half this level. All this in a country which only contributes around 1 percent to global emissions”.
The Express and the Daily Mail both quoted the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero as saying: “We simply do not accept these figures. The report fails to recognise the financial savings from lower fuel costs and technological advances – such as offshore wind costs falling by 70 per cent more than we projected in 2016”.
The Mail also quoted the renewable energy trade association RenewableUK as saying that the Civitas report was “inaccurate and unnecessarily alarmist”.
Clark’s piece did not quote the criticisms of the report from the government or experts, though it does say: “There is no reason to suppose that Civitas’ figures will turn out to be right; indeed, like most economic forecasts, they are a crude estimate which will almost certainly turn out to be wide of the mark. But they are an important contribution to a debate – the cost of net zero – which until now has been dominated by assertion and wishful thinking”.
An opinion article tied to the report was also published by The Times, written by Tim Knox, the former director of the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), a free market think tank also based on Tufton Street.
Knox said: “Those who wish to pursue net zero might want to tell us why the UK, which is doing more than almost any other country to reduce carbon emissions, should now embark on such massive capital expenditure without public debate and with extraordinarily optimistic assumptions about the cost and impact on the economy”.
He did not quote the criticisms of the report issued by the government or experts.
Civitas is based at 55 Tufton Street in Westminster. The address and surrounding area is home to a number of pro-Brexit, opaquely funded, free market think tanks that are critical of regulation and climate action.
Registered as an educational charity, Civitas claims to “stand apart from party politics and transitory intellectual fashions” through “independent research, reasoned argument, lucid explanation and open discussion”.
The cost of net zero report was written by Ewen Stewart, the sole director of management consultancy Walbrook Economics and director of Global Britain, a Eurosceptic think tank created in 1997. Stewart also sits on the board of the Growth Commission, a new group convened by former prime minister Liz Truss.
DeSmog has previously reported that Civitas is opposed to green regulations, legislation designed to reduce climate change, and a greater reliance on renewable energy.
A 2013 report by Civitas, written by the director of the pro-fossil fuel Renewable Energy Foundation, argued that a shift to renewables would mean “more people would be working for lower wages in the energy sector, energy costs would rise, the economy would stagnate, and there would be a significant decline in the standard of living”. The government dismissed his report at the time as “a manifesto for locking the British economy into excessive reliance on imported gas”.
A 2017 letter signed by Civitas, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the GWPF, and the TPA – all of which are part of the Tufton Street network – called the 2008 Climate Change Act the “principal culprit” of high energy prices and called for the removal of all renewable energy subsidies by 2020.
OpenDemocracy’s think tank transparency project, Whofundsyou, gives Civitas an ‘E’ – the lowest rating – for its funding transparency, alongside all its Tufton Street counterparts.
According to the Civitas website, the group encourages donations “from a wide variety of sources so that we are not unduly reliant on any one donor”. In addition, publications are “not sponsored… So that authors can write without fear or favour”.
The organisation has a major focus on educating “children falling behind at school”, and claims to have published a “knowledge-rich primary school curriculum designed to enable children of all abilities to share in the intellectual heritage of Western civilisation”.
Additional reporting by Phoebe Cooke and Adam Barnett