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Inside politics

Bye-bye Net Zero?

Rishi Sunak at COP26 in 2021. Christopher Furlong/Getty

It’s hard to imagine now, says Janan Ganesh in the FT, but Britain will look back on last month’s “seemingly banal” by-election in Uxbridge as a historic juncture. Why? Because Labour’s defeat over the Ulez expansion marks “the beginning of the end” for Net Zero. After the Tories’ success in west London, Rishi Sunak and his successors will make a simple argument: Britain is a “medium-sized, post-industrial nation” that accounts for just 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So Net Zero will hit people’s wallets while neither materially resolving the problem nor influencing the thinking of the countries that do matter, such as China and India. How could Labour possibly respond? “Allow itself to contest election after election as the expensive but righteous party?”

In fairness, the Net Zero consensus was always “paper thin”. Last month, 70% of adults told YouGov they supported the policy; when they were told that “ordinary people” would have to shoulder some of the financial burden, that support sank to just over a quarter. The only thing holding Net Zero together now is the “stigma” attached to opposing it, but that won’t last. It was the same with the Europe question. Until well into this century, wanting Britain to leave the EU altogether “marked one out as somewhat farouche”. Over time, “that taboo crumbled”, and lots of people realised that the only thing stopping them from expressing their “true preference” was social respectability. For Net Zero sceptics, the past couple of weeks will no doubt have had “the same liberating effect”.