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Voters are demanding decisive action from government to deliver on the climate emergency

4 min read

When it comes to the climate emergency, the public appears to be taking the lead. A recent large-scale survey of climate policy preferences revealed that a carbon tax, local government-co-ordinated public transport, and encouraging less meat and dairy consumption to be the most popular measures.

The Climate Assembly UK, held in June 2019, tells a similar story. It brought together 108 people from all walks of life to look at policy preferences. Again, bold actions to achieve net-zero gained strong support – measures such as wind and solar electricity generation rather than biofuels, nuclear or fossil fuels with carbon capture; proposals for a frequent-flyer levy; and labelling food and drink products to show their emissions.

I know from personal experience that people are on our side when it comes to treating climate change as an emergency. As a councillor, I succeeded in pushing through Europe’s first climate emergency declaration in Bristol in 2018. Since then, hundreds of councils have followed suit. In many cases, these declarations were made with strong cross-party support, which is a reflection of the pressure residents put on their councillors to support it.

A carbon tax would shift us towards a clean green economy in a fair way

Our government claims it is listening and ready to act. Boris Johnson has pledged to be bold at COP26 and has called on the world to make big commitments. That might be credible if his own government wasn’t also embarking on a £27bn road building plan, the fantasy of “jet-zero”, reckless airport expansion, and granting licences for new oil drilling in the North Sea. Furthermore, his Chancellor appears to be a net-zero sceptic, blocking the necessary funding for a green transition.

So, what would happen if politicians actually listened to the people and delivered decisive climate action?   

First, by popular demand, a carbon tax on all carbon emissions. Greens have proposed such a tax beginning at £100 per tonne of CO2 released, rising to £500 per tonne by 2030. With the UK set to release around 800 million tonnes of CO2 this year, the tax would immediately generate up to £80bn. Not only would a carbon tax be a critical lever to help shift us towards a clean green economy, it would also do it in a fair way. The yield from the tax would provide a social dividend, targeted at those on low incomes. So it could help fund free home insulation, cheap public transport, and a universal basic income.

Second, we need £100bn a year invested in a Green New Deal to get the UK on track to reduce climate emissions to net-zero by 2030. Training and reskilling would be a key part of this plan, creating millions of green jobs in the energy, housing and land management sectors of the economy. Before Covid-19 such a figure was considered eye-watering to many. But between April 2020 and April 2021, the UK borrowed £300bn to fight the pandemic and protect the economy. This has proved that, faced with an emergency, governments will find a path to the magic money tree. 

Finally, we need reparations – support provided by wealthy countries like our own to low-income countries experiencing the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Richer countries must meet their global responsibilities by offering generous grants to help other countries adapt to a changing climate as well as funding their rapid transition away from a fossil fuel economy.

The public desire for rapid action on climate change isn’t in question. The biggest barrier is political will. COP26 provides an opportunity for our government to show clear leadership and push for the bold measures that will safeguard our environment for current and future generations.

If today’s politicians don’t have the courage to do that, voters will notice. In fact, they already have. Record polling for the Green Party, especially among young people, shows they’re watching.


Carla Denyer is the co-leader fo the Green Party and a Green councillor on Bristol City Council. 

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