This is to be spread across energy, electric vehicles, green transport, homes and public buildings, carbon capture, greener aviation and maritime, innovation and finance, and the natural environment. The investment is expected to create and support up to 250,000 green jobs. The full document can be seen at here.
Is this enough?
Many informed commentators from a number of organisations Including the Environment Agency, the Climate Change Committee and the Green Alliance have raised a number of important concerns about the Government plan. Resolution of these is seen as absolutely critical to whether or not the plan will achieve its stated ambitions:
1. The UK is already way off track to meet carbon emission targets. The Government’s own climate advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, reported in June 2020 that only four of the 21 indicators are on track and only two of 31 milestones have been reached on the road to net zero emissions. A report by the National Audit Office also found that the Government is predicted to fail to meet its existing targets to reduce emissions in the period from 2023 to 2032.
2. Inadequate funding pledges. The government’s funding announcements to tackle the climate crisis fall way below what is needed to realise its targets. Of the £12bn announced, just £4bn is new government money. This compares with £27bn confirmed in August 2020 for investment in the road network and more than £100bn for HS2. To put the government’s commitments into wider context, France has already pledged £27bn for environmental stimulus measures and Germany has committed £36bn.
3. Overlooked emissions have to be in the picture
The UK should take responsibility for all the emissions it is responsible for. The UK’s net-zero target by 2050 does not account for the UK’s disproportionate consumption of fossil-fuel based imports and its continued commitment to maximising the recovery of North Sea oil and gas. The CCC makes clear that only by formally including these emissions in legislated targets will the UK be able to make effective long term policy and infrastructure investment decisions. It also notes that nearly half of UK consumption emissions arise from goods and services produced outside our borders. Until we tackle these, it will be hard to claim that we are a truly low carbon society. This requires action at home, to raise awareness of high carbon sources and promote the consumption of low carbon, resource efficient goods and services, working jointly along global supply chains.
4. People have to be at the centre of the transition
With an estimated 59 per cent of emission savings to 2035 relying on some sort of consumer action, they won’t happen without public buy in. While there is now widespread public support for climate action and an economic recovery that takes full account of this environmental imperative, it’s vital that people understand why specific changes are needed in the way they live, the way they travel and in the things they consume. The government must engage the public and local government in decision making and ensure costs are fairly and justly distributed.
5. Solutions must be planned in a way that complement each other. For example Greenpeace observe that the pledge to install 600,000 heat pumps a year is an important measure, but it won’t succeed without the right level of investment to insulate the UK’s 29 million draughty homes. And the promise to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 - one of the flagship announcements - urgently needs to be accompanied by a wider package of policies, regulations and retraining schemes. Without these, the electric vehicle revolution may not happen.
6. The 2020s are the critical decade for action. Long-term, abstract targets are simply not enough. Concrete actions for their realisation need to be put in place rapidly, within the next few years. Detailed planning and implementation timelines that reflect the critical status of the crisis for society are required, together with clear targets for every sector. The CCC’s new analysis shows that getting going now will pay big dividends sooner rather than later, laying the foundations for the UK to go deeper and faster on emission reductions. The plan should focus on proven renewable technologies whose value and scope are increasing and whose costs are reducing rather than speculative investment in new technologies.
7. Climate resilience planning. The plan is too focussed on emissions reduction to the neglect of building in resilience to mitigate the inevitable impacts of extreme climate events that are already happening, not only overseas but also in the UK.
The Broader Context: where the really urgent concerns lie
As we move towards the UK’s hosting of the International Climate Change Summit in November, there is real concern that the wider global context is not being taken seriously enough. We need a portal to a worldview that is more inclusive and expansive, one that recognises the injustice of a situation where those who have done little or nothing to cause environmental breakdown are the ones paying the highest price - often with their homes, their land, their livelihoods and their lives. And one that puts the sacredness of creation and the earth to the forefront. How can the Government provide ‘global leadership’ through COP26 and the G7 without first confronting the true extent of the UK’s complicity in the crisis?” A particularly sobering example is provided by Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency. She notes that the government want to make the City of London the global centre of green finance - yet analysis by Aviva, using Carbon Delta’s warming potential metric, shows the FTSE 100 index as a whole is heading us towards global temperature rise of 3.9 degrees, far above the upper limit of 1.5 degrees seen as the outer limit of safety.
Without urgent action, the consequences are dire indeed. The number of people who lack sufficient water for at least one month per year could soar from 3.6 billion today, to more than 5 billion by 2050. Rising seas could force hundreds of millions of people in coastal cities from their homes, with total costs of more than one trillion dollars each year by 2050. Wildfires in northern California have expanded beyond 1 million acres; they can no longer be classified as “megafires” but needs a new classification: “gigafire”. These are getting worse year on year. And climate change could also push more than 100 million people in developing countries below the poverty line by 2030. The director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh, commended the UK’s push to begin a “race to zero emissions” at COP26, but went on to suggest: “There could also be a race to zero vulnerability of every country by 2030 as an equivalent to the race to zero emissions.”
Our gospel values force us to confront he question ‘who is our neighbour?’ Compassionate feelings are not enough. As Meister Eckhart has written, compassion means justice. We need something akin to what is offered in the African word Ubuntu, brought to life by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity and all living things, a recognition of our interconnectedness, that ‘I am because we are’. One that asks “How can one of us be happy when all the others are sad?”