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We have the technology and the skills to build a green economy - but we need the political will

4 min read

Workable measures exist to tackle climate change, if only the Government had the political will to pursue them, writes Rachel Reeves MP

Beyond the waffle, the actions of Boris Johnson’s new government show every sign of a stubborn reluctance to lead the fight against climate change. When the UK should be putting its money where its mouth is on achieving net zero emissions, Sajid Javid could only mark his first big Commons occasion as chancellor with a paltry £30m for decarbonisation.

Given Boris Johnson’s dreadful record on climate change as mayor of London, the new chancellor’s feeble response shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it bodes ill for the UK’s hopes of building a thriving green economy.

Londoners won’t need reminding that when Boris Johnson was mayor, he actually shrank the city’s congestion charge zone – damaging efforts to tackle air pollution and cut carbon emissions. Now he’s in the hot seat as PM, he’s ensuring his government is shrinking in its commitment to achieving the 2050 net zero emissions target.

Make no mistake, for all the UK’s potential, we have a long way to go to deliver on our climate change goals. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) made it clear that UK action to reduce carbon emissions is lagging far behind what is needed to deliver on the climate change targets of the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, let alone the more ambitious aim to cut fossil fuel emissions to net zero by 2050.

The CCC’s annual progress report on government’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions went further, with Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, likening the approach of the Government and his Tory colleagues in tackling climate change to that of a “ramshackle Dad’s Army”.

Initial signs from this new government are far from encouraging. The spending review was a missed opportunity. When the UK could press ahead with the policies and measures needed in areas such as electric vehicles, carbon capture and energy efficiency, the chancellor offered precious little to kickstart these efforts.

The reality is that policy gaps to deliver on UK climate change targets have widened over the past year at the very time when we need to ramp up our efforts on transport, on energy and on decarbonising actions across our economy.

Policy fixes aren’t pie in the sky. Practical, workable and realistic measures exist, if only the Government had the political will to pursue them.

On the subject of onshore wind, for example, the Government could bin its ideological prejudice and promote the cheapest form of electricity generation in the UK to fulfil this technology’s huge potential. Banning new petrol and diesel car registrations much sooner than the Government’s 2040 target, to 2032 at the latest, would be a major step forward too. Including aviation and shipping emissions in our carbon accounts would be a sign that the UK takes its responsibilities seriously.

UK industry needs capture carbon and storage, but the Government continues to be vague and timid in its support when it should press ahead and give the green light to this technology. Energy efficiency measures need to be ramped up too, delivering a cost-effective way of reducing our carbon emissions.

In recent months, through the efforts of activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion and inspiring campaigners such as Greta Thunberg, climate change has shifted to the centre stage of national and global politics.

In the UK we have the technology, the people and the expertise to transform our environment and deliver a green economy. But this takes an understanding of the crisis we face and the political will to make those changes. It is clear the Government is shirking those challenges.

We need to see an end to the dither and delay from Downing Street. We also need political leaders who can drive real and swift change to our laws, industry, infrastructure and taxation policies that show we are totally committed to dealing with our climate emergency. Only then can we genuinely claim we are serious about tackling the biggest challenge of our times.

Rachel Reeves is Labour MP for Leeds West and chair of the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Committee

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