OPINION - Green Day: Britain to miss key climate targets

 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

If publishing new and revised UK government documents on subjects relating to climate change had a cooling effect on the planet, scientists could forget about global warming and instead worry about an imminent ice age.

Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans has put together a handy Google Doc listing all the documents (44) and the total number of pages (2,840) released today (so far). But the most important figure is this: Britain is set to miss its legally binding sixth carbon budget. In other words, we are still emitting far too much CO2.

To summarise the day’s releases in this newsletter would demonstrate an ambition lacking in the government’s plans, but I will instead link to this great explainer on what is and isn’t new amid the thousands of pages. From here on in, let’s focus on one debate: energy security versus opportunity.

Ministers have very much pitched today, dubbed ‘Green day’, on the security of supply. This is in many ways understandable. Energy security has dominated the last year of British and European politics since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. But it also sort of misses the broader point.

Jeremy Hunt has written an op-ed in today’s Times on what the government is doing to drive Britain’s “green industrial revolution”. It is a revealing article. Partway through, the chancellor takes a swipe at Joe Biden’s gargantuan Inflation Reduction Act, a landmark law which aims to spur investment in clean energy through $370bn (£299bn) of subsidies. It is, as the president himself might say, a big f***ing deal.

Given the UK’s precarious fiscal position and a prime minister far less interested in climate change than practically all of his recent predecessors, Hunt has suggested the government’s approach will be different: “We are not going toe-to-toe with our friends and allies in some distortive global subsidy race.... the long-term solution is not subsidy but security.”

The problem with this position is that climate change is not only an all-consuming, interconnecting problem, it is also a gigantic opportunity for the countries that come to dominate the industries of the future. But Hunt is effectively acknowledging that Britain will not seek to compete with the US, EU and China in this global race for jobs and prosperity.

The UK is well-versed in cosplaying world-leader status. The 2008 Climate Change Act was a genuinely pioneering piece of legislation which made Britain the first to set a legally-binding climate mitigation target. This was upgraded in 2019 by Theresa May, who enshrined a 2050 net zero target in law.

But as a nation, we are less good at that tricky next step of scaling up, of laying the groundwork to fuse public and private investment in the technologies and industries that will dominate the second half of the 21st century. The diet is perennially starting tomorrow. As a result, today’s so-called ‘Green Day’ is yet another boulevard of broken dreams.

Elsewhere in the paper, one-third of the capital’s youth clubs face closure without new funding, the charity London Youth warned today as it launched a campaign to save them. An open letter from London’s ‘forgotten generation’ of young people has been painted on a billboard in Shoreditch to draw attention to the campaign, which urges policymakers not to let ambitions die.

In the comment pages, Ben Judah says Emmanuel Macron may be struggling at home, but he remains Europe’s biggest dog. Sarfraz Manzoor skilfully avoids ‘old man yells at cloud’ in his piece encouraging more phone-free spaces. While Ross Lydall asks the unthinkable: has the Superloop made buses fashionable again?

And finally, a handful of never-before-seen photographs taken by Sir Paul McCartney during the early years of The Beatles have been released ahead of their display at the National Portrait Gallery, which is reopening after three years of major refurbishments.

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