Who are the Net Zero Scrutiny Group?

By Charlie Wilson

The Net Zero Scrutiny Group, of 19 Conservative MPs – who are broadcast in the media as though they were the most significant voice in the Gas price crisis, with their perverse argument that the rise in gas prices means that we “can’t afford” to transition to cheaper renewable alternatives – mainly act to project a “project fear” about the costs of Net Zero, ignoring the savings involved in a transition which effectively pays for itself.

  • The Office for Budget Responsibility July ‘Fiscal risks report’ pointed out that the ‘Balanced Net Zero Pathway’ would cost £1,312 billion in investment costs, spread over 30 years between 2020 and 2050. But that these would be offset by significant and growing savings, largely from not having to purchase fossil fuels – as, once the wind farms and solar panels are installed, the wind and sun come free. These savings amount to £991 billion in the same period.
  • That leaves a net cost of £321 billion over 30 years, an annual investment cost of £10.7 billion. This is just 1% of the projected £1,053 billion that the government expects to spend in 2021-2.
  • By 2050 the £16 billion needed at that point would be outweighed by yearly savings of £19 billion. So, it would be completely balanced out before then and, from that point on, we’d be quids in.

As many of the same people did in the Brexit referendum, they like to present themselves as the voice of the ordinary person against the “woke elite”. Summed up by Andrew Neil’s characteristically patronising comment in the Daily Mail in October 2021 that people “will not tolerate a green strategy that involves posh folk telling plain folk what to do.” Andrew Neil, Daily Mail, October 2021.

So, a look at the social class credentials of those who run Net Zero Watch and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, the former from an office in Tufton Street shared with a number of right wing think tanks, would seem to be in order. Oddly enough, they all seem to be “posh folk” telling the rest of us what NOT to do to save ourselves from climate breakdown.

  • Nigel Lawson, Baron Lawson of Blaby (89). Born the son of a stockbroker and City of London tea trader. Westminster School. Christchurch College Oxford. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is reported to have “earned” $400,000 a year for 2 days a week attending board meetings for Barclays Bank and participated in the great wave of asset stripping in Eastern Europe in the 1990s as the Chair of the Central European Trust.
  • Neil Record (68) Chair of Net Zero Watch and Institute of Economic Affairs. Magdalene College School and Balliol College Oxford. Personal fortune is reported to be $1-5 million. Major donor to Conservative Party.
  • Edward Atkin CBE (77) Inherited his father’s rubber company and according to the Sunday Times rich list 2019 he has a personal fortune of £267 million.
  • Steve Baker MP (Conservative). The chief architect of global financing and asset service platforms at Lehman brothers until their collapse in 2008. So, a bit of a banker. An evangelical Christian who manages to ignore all those inconvenient injunctions on the rich to give up their wealth to the poor, but no doubt thinks that we are living in the End of Times and it’s his job to help us hurry on to fulfil the Book of Revelations. He is reported to have been a recipient of a £15,000 donation from former Vitol Oil Executive Matthew Ferrey (who has given the Conservatives £675,000 in total.
  • Craig McKinley MP (Conservative). Chartered Accountant and former UKIP member. Claimed more than £150,000in Parliamentary expenses 1 Apr 2019 — 31 Mar 2020 and reportedly earned an additional £18,000 a year for 20 hours worked a month at his second job as an accountant.

Lawson, Atkin and Record are of a class and an age group sheltered from climate change impacts. They will be dead before the worst of it hits. Perhaps they just don’t look their grandchildren in the eye. Mackinlay and Baker, their Parliamentary NCOs are younger, but perhaps they think they have the Social Darwinist right stuff to be able to float to the surface in the turmoil of the new Dark Ages.

These are clearly not in the “plain folk” category. All of them qualify as part of the global 1% – the richest elite who are disproportionately responsible for the carbon emissions that are putting the rest of us at risk.

A recent study from OXFAM showed that

  • “The world’s richest 1% are set to have per capita consumption emissions in 2030 that are still 30 times higher than the global per capita level compatible with the 1.5⁰C goal of the Paris Agreement…
  • By 2030, the richest 1% are on course for an even greater share of total global emissions than when the Paris Agreement was signed.”
  • To be aligned with a 1.5C target, the carbon emissions of the richest 1% would have to be cut by 97% by 2030.

The richest 1 percent ―fewer people than the population of Germany― are expected to account for 16 percent of total global emissions by 2030, up from 15% in 2015 and 13 percent in 1990. The total emissions of the richest 10 percent alone are set to exceed the 1.5°C-aligned level in 2030, regardless of what the other 90 percent do.

The richest 1% are people on incomes of over $172,000 (£128,000) a year, and the top 10% are people on incomes of over $52,000 (£41,000) a year; The UK median income for 2019 was £29,400, so most of us here are in the global upper middle 40% whose emissions have been declining. And we have a common interest with the global poor, whose emissions are so low that they are well on target if we want to survive.

The 1% are, however, seeking to defend their own ruinous luxury consumption, by manipulating mass economic insecurities. For them, the argument is within the 1%; who control the government of every developed economy. As reducing the wealth of the elite to a climate sustainable level is unthinkable (“hairshirtery” to Boris Johnson); there either has to be a green transition with the costs dumped on the majority, or there is no transition at all, and the consequences dumped on the majority as civilisation collapses in fire and flood and the 1% jet off to their doomsday bolt holes in New Zealand or Patagonia.

OXFAMs conclusions that, “Tackling extreme inequality and targeting the excessive emissions linked to the consumption and investments of the world’s richest people is vital to keeping the 1.5⁰C Paris goal alive” and that “carbon emissions must be cut far faster than currently proposed. But critically, these efforts must go hand-in-hand with measures to cut pervasive inequality and ensure that the world’s richest citizens – wherever they live – lead the way” explains why political activists from the 1% are so keen to see that goal trashed, by any means necessary; and why the rest of us should not give them the time of day and be very clear that mercilessly targeting their wealth and power is essential to avert disaster.