A Blue City electric car is charged at a Source power point in London, Britain. Reuters
Caroline Lucas, The Independent
They say that when you’re in a hole you should stop digging. When you’re faced with a climate emergency, the first step should be to stop fuelling it.
Our climate crisis has been building for centuries and is being driven by a flawed and dangerously outdated economic model. It’s a model that has also created huge inequality, caused widespread global ecological degradation and created fertile conditions for the kind of global pandemic that has brought our economy to its knees.
Changing that must be the starting point of any meaningful attempt to address the climate and nature crises.
So what does Boris Johnson offer? A 10-point plan covering everything from an early phase-out of petrol and diesel, to research into hydrogen and providing more home insulation. This isn’t a plan, it’s a shopping list with a paltry £4bn of new money to fund it.
To put it in context, the government is spending £27bn on new roads. In Europe, Germany is investing £36bn in its green stimulus. And Johnson has come up with £4bn. If he thinks this is going to tackle the climate and nature crises, he hasn’t done his homework on them.
A genuinely green reset would boldly repurpose economic policy so that it prioritises people’s health and wellbeing, and environmental sustainability, building up our society’s resilience to better withstand the shocks delivered by future pandemics or climate-related disasters.
For all Johnson’s boasts about every government initiative being “world beating”, there is already a model to follow. New Zealand last year unveiled its first budget focusing on wellbeing above economic growth. Other countries are looking to do the same, guided by what citizens actually say matters the most to them. I hope the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is taking notes.
Second, we need a joined-up approach that ends the ludicrous inconsistencies of a system where green policies from one department are undermined or cancelled out by actions from another. Rather than No 10 leading a cohesive strategy, the prime minister seems to see no contradiction in promising to protect 30 per cent of land for nature while, at the same time, his ministers greenlight road schemes, or high-speed rail projects like HS2, which bulldoze wildlife habitats and destroy the green space which is supposed to be protected.
The coronavirus pandemic is a sober reminder that our health, wellbeing and economy are all inextricably linked to the health of the natural world. We need policies which reflect this, across all government departments, most of all the Treasury. Those policies also need to be aligned with the Paris Agreement’s ambition to limit global warming to 1.5C.
The Treasury is already reviewing its fiscal framework, to align it with the UK’s target of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050. It needs to go further, and abandon the overwhelming focus on GDP growth as the key indicator of success, and think more about wellbeing, health and the need to invest now for a sustainable future.
With the economy in crisis and with jobs being lost at a scale not seen since the 1980s, there must be a focus on jobs. Research from Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment has shown that investment in the green economy creates more jobs, delivers higher short-term returns on investment and leads to higher long-term cost savings compared to a traditional fiscal stimulus.
A green jobs guarantee would lead to good quality jobs in essential sectors across the UK, whether helping to insulate the UK’s notoriously draughty homes, manufacturing wind-turbines or restoring our nature-depleted landscape.
This investment (and it is an investment not a cost, chancellor) should also ensure a just transition to a sustainable future, so that we don’t repeat the disastrous policies of the 1980s when whole communities were simply abandoned after their industries were closed.
A fundamental shift away from a dangerous, outdated economic model; a more joined-up approach to tackling a crisis which dwarfs even the COVID-19 pandemic; and an investment in jobs and a green economy. After Wednesday’s failed reset, next week’s spending review is another chance.
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