Caroline Lucas MP: We need policies, not platitudes if we’re to reach our net zero target
Government must take a joined-up approach across all departments and put climate action at the heart of every single economic and policy decision, writes Caroline Lucas MP
Following his election victory, Boris Johnson declared: “You voted to be carbon neutral by 2050 and we’ll do it”. Words are easy, no more so when they come from the mouth of this prime minister. Action is harder, and there is little sign of enough of it.
Last October, he announced that he was setting up a cabinet committee on climate change and that he would chair it – a sign of real commitment. We then discover that it hasn’t met once. His sense of urgency appears to have evaporated, or perhaps been washed away in the flooding that has drowned parts of Britain.
Climate crisis is not an issue which can be parked on the desk of a handful of ministers, however senior, unless that translates into nationwide policies and action.
We will only tackle this crisis if the drive to net zero emissions is at the heart of every single economic and other policy decision taken. And that means an approach that fundamentally redesigns how we are used to thinking about the economy and the purpose of government.
It’s not enough to drive down emissions in power generation (involving BEIS) if they continue to grow in transport and our buildings (departments of health, education, housing and local government).
Then there is land use: step in Defra. And overseas trade and investment. Achieving net zero emissions cannot mean we outsource our emissions to others, nor should we be undermining other countries’ decarbonisation efforts by financing fossil fuel projects overseas.
A joined-up approach, with each government department and each local authority or public body required to set clear targets, and a strategy and funds to deliver them is essential. But even that isn’t enough given the scale of the change we need to make.
Government is used to working with the Treasury’s Green Book. It needs to become a rulebook, run by a green Chancellor based at No 11, that puts the just transition to a net zero economy right at the heart of government and stops climate-wrecking projects like Heathrow expansion or HS2.
Regular COBRA-style meetings should track progress and confer with devolved assemblies and representatives of local authorities, and spending reviews would focus on the environment and the move to net zero.
The business and finance sectors need to be involved from the start, as do citizens via initiatives like citizens assemblies. This is an opportunity to bring people together to deliver a shared vision of a positive future and to reinvigorate our democracy – not for platitudes, laurel-resting or vague initiatives.
Reaching net zero would involve huge investment to transform almost every aspect of our economy. That means government playing a much more active role than it has been used to, investing in renewables and energy efficiency, insulating Britain’s 30 million buildings, revolutionising our transport system, moving to agroecological farming, decarbonising industry and radically reducing resources use, and delivering the skills and training to help bring this about.
Crucially, for a government that’s pledged to put power into the hands of people, it will need central government to devolve power and resources to the local level where the transformation of our transport system and housing can best be planned and implemented.
Fundamentally, it requires that we move away from chasing economic growth as our primary goal. We need additional yardsticks of success: ones which take in wellbeing, equality, and protecting the natural environment.
This is not a job for one government department. It must become the overarching objective of government at every level as we will need all our skills and resources to bring about such a positive transformation of the UK.
Caroline Lucas is Green MP for Brighton Pavilion