On Wednesday Afternoon in the House of Commons there was a debate under the headline of Review of impact of Act on the environment which included a significant contribution from Caroline Lucas. The following section is a few of the pieces of her speech which I found easiest to understand and most inspiring. I mainly removed the sections that have related to the details of the legislation and did not refer to the subject in a more general sense. Of course the challenge is how will we move forward from here, given these challenges:
This debate could not be more important. The Arctic is on fire; 2020 is on course to be the hottest year on record; and 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been since 2000. There is such a thing as being too late. This is a pivotal moment, because the actions that we take over the next few weeks and months will either lock us into high-carbon dependency for decades to come, in which case we can say goodbye to any chance of avoiding the worst of climate catastrophe, or they will start to lay the foundations for a greener, safer, fairer future as we emerge from the peak of this pandemic. These decisions could not be more consequential and nor could the issue be more urgent.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister talked of addressing inter-generational injustice, yet so far the Government’s economic response to covid has doubled down on business as usual. Young people are at the forefront of the campaigns for a transformative green new deal, yet all they are being offered is a bargain-basement imitation, with none of the necessary boldness, vision or resource.
The good news is that just 6% of the public want to return to the pre-pandemic economy. Many of them know that GDP is a poor measure of the things that really matter and that we should not let policy be guided by it. The Government must change course and put public health above private wealth.
If we were to ask the millions of households in the UK suffering from hunger, food insecurity or fuel poverty whether our current growth-based economic model has delivered them prosperity, we would find that they would say that it has not. It has delivered rising inequality, insecurity, and environmental breakdown. What would change if we made the wellbeing of people and nature our primary economic goal? Some examples are obvious. Of course, we would have investment in things such as energy efficiency and retrofit, creating thousands of good jobs in every constituency, ending fuel poverty and getting emissions down—a real win, win, win. Despite Dominic Cummings apparently thinking this is all a bit boring, it is fundamental to that win-win of combining social and environmental justice. It would also mean more jobs in care, and the Women’s Budget Group shows how sensible that would be. Investing in care creates seven times as many jobs as the same investment in construction, for example, with 50% more recouped by the Treasury in tax revenues. Investment in care is also greener, producing 30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than construction. A care-led recovery is also a green-led recovery.
I wish to finish by saying a few words about the level of climate ambition. I am delighted to hear everybody, right across this House, talking about the importance of the climate crisis, but unless we get the ambition right, fine words will not get us where we need to be. As for where we need to be, organisations such as Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid, ActionAid and others have worked what our fair share of a climate reduction ought to be. If we look at how that compares with the Government’s 2050 net zero target, we will see a massive gulf. Those organisations have worked out that, based on our relative wealth and historical emissions, we should be getting to net zero by 2030—a full two decades earlier than the current target—and that we should be creating the equivalent of another 100% reduction of UK emissions overseas through climate finance to the global south. That is what we need to be aiming for.
As others have said many times this afternoon, we are already off track to meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which themselves are not even strong enough to get us to net zero by 2050. That is how vast the ambition gap is, and that means that our economic recovery cannot just deliver incremental emission reductions; it needs to catapult us into a pathway that meets our moral obligations to the rest of the world.
Let us take a quick look at what that actually means and compare it with what the Government are offering. The Government celebrate a new £12 million investment in zero-emission vehicles research, but compared with the £27 billion road-building budget that I mentioned earlier, it is a drop in the ocean—just 0.04% of the road-building programme’s budget—at a time when we should be demanding that all new road schemes be cancelled. Money should be invested instead in getting people out of their cars altogether and into walking, cycling and public transport.
When it comes to this so-called just transition, it is vital that we support workers in high-carbon industries, but we should be clear that there will be not be a penny more for any kind of bail-out for companies that do not have a programme in place both to support their workers and, crucially, to transition to a sustainable route forward. The idea that the Government would just hand over £600 million to easyJet, without even batting an eyelid, with no conditions at all, is absolutely unacceptable. Look at France, where strong green conditions were applied to Air France. We should be doing the same. We like to pretend that we wear the mantle of climate leadership, but unless we do something like that, we do not.
We want not a penny more for any further fossil fuel exploitation, we want to end the subsidies of fossil fuels, and we want to stop the UK Export Finance Department funding fossil fuel exploration, exploration and promotion in developing countries. Those are the tests of whether we are serious about this issue, on which we are not delivering what is needed.