Billionaire Tory donor accuses Britain of ‘dithering’ in global green race | Politics | News

February 2, 2024
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For too long in the United Kingdom, we have chased short term solutions instead of having a long term strategy.

This lack of vision has set the UK back time and again – and we are seeing the results now in our energy, infrastructure and economy.

Take, for example, the news last week that the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant could be delayed until 2031 and the cost may spiral to £35 billion.

The UK has not built a nuclear power station since Sizewell B, which started construction in 1987 and became operational in 1995. By the time Hinkley Point C becomes operational, even in the best case scenario of 2029, four of the UK’s five nuclear power stations will have closed, and the fifth will be just years away from closing.

Why, then, are we surprised when we find ourselves in a situation where we are too reliant on foreign energy supplies and fluctuating market prices?

Whilst some will argue this is a sign that our net zero ambitions are too costly, it is in reality our failure to invest in our prosperity and prepare the country for the economy and infrastructure of the future.

We are locked into a global race for green technology, where funding, infrastructure and talent are critical to our national prosperity.

But, as I have argued, Britain is dithering on the sidelines as China, the US and Europe are busy reaping the rewards of this opportunity.

There are estimates that the US Inflation Reduction Act could lead to over 400,000 jobs and the European Green Deal may lead to over 2 million jobs.

China, meanwhile, is leading the way in some exciting new areas of technology, such as sodium-ion batteries.

Sodium is an abundant material that can be obtained from sea water – and it’s estimated that in just a few years, China may have 95 per cent of the global capacity to make sodium-ion batteries.

China is also racing ahead in nuclear energy, with 26 reactors under construction and 42 reactors planned.

While net zero targets should spur us to action and to join this race to innovate, create sustainable jobs, and invest in our future, we are instead heading in the opposite direction.

We are setting back key net zero pledges and creating confusion for industries such as electric vehicle manufacturers – who had invested in the UK on the basis that Britain was serious about its net zero commitments and its desire to be a key player on the global stage.

This short-termism can be seen elsewhere too, such as Britain’s connectivity and infrastructure problems.

It is more difficult to travel across British cities compared to European counterparts. This is a barrier for access to employment and education, and it is estimated to cost the country about £23 billion a year.

This is made worse by the fact that infrastructure projects are far more expensive in the UK compared with those in Europe. The average cost-per-mile of the 10 most expensive rail projects in the UK was nearly £400 million, whilst in Italy it was nearly £300 billion, and in France it was about £220 million.

And London has retained its unfortunate title of being the world’s slowest city, with the average time lost due to sitting in traffic at rush hour being 143 hours per year.

If we are serious about addressing these problems and boosting the UK economy and its productivity, I believe we need to develop a bold and confident strategy based on science and green technology.

This would not only be to our strategic advantage as a country, it would also be good for the planet.

As The Royal Society has put it, the UK’s ambition to be a science superpower is hampered by the “lack of a long-term vision, and by short-termism in political priorities and funding cycles”.

It is for this reason I have established a research project, Caudwell Strong Britain, at the Council on Geostrategy.

This initiative will explore the strengths and weaknesses of the UK’s science and technology ecosystem, and help us understand how we can create a more competitive and resilient science and technological ecosystem.

In doing so it will help unleash our potential for enhanced prosperity and security, and help protect the environment.



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