Voices: The government refuses to acknowledge – let alone address – the climate crisis
This week, we’ve heard predictions from the Met Office that the probability of surpassing 1.5C heating within five years has now jumped to 50 per cent.
Temperatures are reaching 50C in parts of the world. We’ve heard reports of 195 “carbon bombs” from the fossil fuel industry, each set to unleash a billion tonnes of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
Prince Charles, then – such an ardent advocate for environmental action – must have been scanning the pages of the Queen’s Speech in disbelief, as he was compelled to deliver a government-stamped rhetoric to the nation which failed to mention the word “climate” even once.
And now we hear that the government has underspent its net zero budget by a staggering quarter of a billion pounds. Just months after proudly trumpeting “cash” as one of his four flagship pledges day after day during Cop26, Boris Johnson has evidently filed the whole summit away in a dusty drawer, never to be seen or spoken of again. The Tories now fundamentally fail to even acknowledge, let alone address, this crisis.
When we face a soaring cost of living, with bills spiralling out of control and pensioners travelling on buses all day just to keep warm – alongside an energy security crisis, while we in the UK currently have the leakiest homes in Europe – we need big, bold, positive solutions.
Perhaps most frustratingly of all; those solutions are staring the prime minister in the face.
We need a retrofit revolution – a mass programme of heat pumps and insulation for 10 million homes designed to slash energy bills, reduce energy demand, and cut emissions while we’re at it.
We need a Green New Deal to decarbonise our economy and create thousands of new, well-paid green jobs, in sectors ranging from renewable energy to care work.
And we need to shift away from the dangerous pursuit of endless economic growth at all costs, towards making wellbeing our main economic goal – of people, communities and our natural world.
Yes, these solutions cost money. We’re not ashamed to say that the Green Party’s retrofitting plan would cost £25bn a year, for 10 years. But while climate sceptics like Steve Baker wax lyrical about the “cost of net zero”, they conveniently omit the cost of not getting to net zero.
A recent report by the well-respected Institute for Government found that “the costs of failing to bring climate change under control would be much larger than those associated with decarbonisation”. Perhaps the most telling example of this is David Cameron’s decision to “cut the green crap”, which actually added £150 to every household energy bill, and cost the economy £8.3bn. Ending onshore wind projects, solar subsidies and energy efficiency schemes has made people worse off, not better off.
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And there’s a human cost, too. I dare Steve Baker or any other member of “Net Zero Watch” to speak to Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose own daughter died from air pollution on London’s South Circular – or the families of 180 people who died in floods across Germany and western Europe last summer – and tell them we can’t tackle the climate crisis because it’s too expensive.
What this week’s Queen’s Speech showed is that our government refuses to spend because it lacks vision, ideas, and a sense of purpose. Held hostage, perhaps willingly (as no one really knows what our prime minister believes) by fanatical low-tax, low-spend right-wing backbenchers and an arch-Thatcherite chancellor, Boris Johnson is falling woefully short when it comes to financing the solutions to the cost of living crisis, the energy security crisis and the climate crisis.
“We all agree what needs to be done. We just need the courage to get on and do it.” For once, I agree with these wise words from our prime minister at Cop26 last November.
But six months on, and I’m still waiting.
Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion and former leader of the Green Party