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Policy report: how to accelerate the green transition

The government must do more to drive the switch to electric cars
December 19, 2020

Governments are paying more attention to the climate crisis. Donald Trump, a man who has described climate change as “mythical,” will leave the White House in January. His replacement, Joe Biden, has pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement and enact legislation to reduce emissions—aiming, among other things, to make US electricity production carbon free by 2035.

Closer to home, the UK finally hosts the rescheduled COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November after a year-long delay caused by the pandemic. (The danger of the immediate crisis distracting from the climate emergency is summed up in the temporary repurposing of the planned venue, the SEC, as an NHS hospital.) World leaders are expected to make significant commitments; the UK government has just unveiled a ten-point plan to bring about a “green recovery,” create up to 250,000 jobs and achieve its net-zero carbon goal by 2050.

Yet more is still needed to get us there. Conservative Richard Graham believes the answer lies in harnessing marine power, and highlights projects that have the potential to generate sorely-needed jobs in a recession. But Lib Dem Sarah Olney has distinctly muted praise for the “green shoots” in the government’s new plan, arguing that offshore wind remains key to achieving our carbon-neutral ambitions. She is surely right, too, to argue that the government’s programme to insulate homes is still woefully underfunded.

One difficulty—touched on by Graham—is that the government is yet to truly confront the obstacles to a wholesale switch to electric cars. While ramping up wind and wave power will make a meaningful difference, if we cannot wean drivers off petrol and diesel, we will face a near-impossible task.