August 3, 2023 - 10:00am

It has been a tough week for climate activists. First, the new head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Jim Skea, said we should not overstate the 1.5 degrees celsius warning, and that humanity will not end if we miss it. At the same time, wind projects are hitting new obstacles, with Vattenfall cancelling a new offshore project in the North Sea due to high costs, while also having a project in Sweden rejected because Stockholm sees potential “negative effects on the environment” from offshore wind installations.

Elsewhere in the world of renewables, a new report has shown that the production of solar panels is causing more emissions than previously thought, and the once much celebrated solar-powered mini-grids in India are falling apartBut it does not end there: the British Government has decided to cut costs of polluting and approve hundreds of new North Sea oil and gas licenses. This announcement may have upset Just Stop Oil activists, but the reality is that the world is using more oil than ever and Britain needs to be prepared.

In addition to oil, the world’s most common fossil fuel — coal — is also set to break a new record in consumption. “In 2023 and 2024, small declines in coal-fired power generation are likely to be offset by rises in industrial use of coal,” according to the International Energy Agency. Despite all the promises of renewable energy, the road to industrialisation is still paved with coal. 

Then there is the issue of electric vehicles. Ford is set to lose $4.5 billion on them this year, while Volkswagen has decided to scale back its EV production amid a slowdown in the Chinese market. This begs the question of how promising the EV market really is without coercion (banning the internal combustion engine) or incentives (tax credits and subsidies) by government.

What’s more, insurers around the world are paying attention to the higher risks surrounding the transportation of EVs, something that will push prices up even further (at the time of writing, a cargo ship carrying cars is still burning off the Dutch coast, most likely due to a fire caused by an EV battery, with one sailor killed). It also doesn’t help that Tesla actively suppressed thousands of driving range complaints from becoming public, and this lack of reliability likely also explains why the absolute number of gasoline-powered cars is still growing

As the energy analyst Anas Alhajji has pointed out, one of the reasons why EV sales are often presented in percentages is because the total number is still incredibly small. For many people a battery-only vehicle is not an option, especially at times of growing electricity prices.

And this matters more broadly too, because public support for goals like Net Zero are a bit like world peace or ending poverty: almost everyone likes the idea, but no one wants to pay for it. Politics, of course, is waking up to this — and given the fact that most politicians are opportunists and not ideologues, there is a growing probability that we are witnessing the end of Net Zero as a goal.