We must seize the opportunity to deliver a bold, green economic recovery from Covid
We have a chance to turn our backs on a system which has led to gross inequality, deprivation and is pushing our environment beyond its limits
Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election didn’t just bring a huge sense of relief to those of us who’d opposed almost everything Donald Trump said and did. It also seemed to mark a turning of the tide, away from the divisive truth-denying populism that Trump represents, and towards greater decency and integrity.
After Boris Johnson’s pallying up to Trump, he has a lot of work to mend fences with the new administration. Bold, ambitious action on climate is a good place to start.
For weeks we’ve been waiting for a promised major speech from the Prime Minister on climate change and the environment. We’ve had some policy announcements, including a reiteration of the Tories’ manifesto commitment to a significant expansion of offshore wind power. But nothing which meets the scale of the challenge we face.
If the Prime Minister is still looking around for ideas and policies, he’s fortunate that much of the groundwork has been done for him.
As a member of the all-party group on the Green New Deal, I spent much of the summer on a huge project exploring how we might reset our economy in the wake of Covid. Our cross-party group – which includes Theresa May’s former environment adviser, Lord Randall, Labour MPs Clive Lewis and Debbie Abrahams, Liz Saville Roberts from Plaid and the SNP’s Alan Brown among others – was determined to reach out beyond Westminster.
We commissioned surveys, an opinion poll, held workshops and evidence sessions and conducted in-depth interviews from policy experts and members of the public. Overall, more than 55,000 people took part in the process.
The results, just published in our report ‘How to Reset’, were striking. There was overwhelming agreement that the Covid crisis presented a unique opportunity to re-think the way our society is managed. We have a chance to turn our backs on a system which has led to gross inequality, deprivation and is pushing our environment beyond its limits.
This is the moment to address the climate emergency at the pace and scale that it demands
Two thirds of responses to an opinion poll, carried out by Opinium, said the government should use the disruption of Covid to reset the economy in a way that makes life fairer and greener. Almost the same number supported a jobs guarantee as part of the transition to a greener economy, with available work being shared more fairly.
There is a clear public mandate for the government to be far bolder and greener in its response to the economic fallout from Covid than it has been to date.
The people we spoke to had clear priorities for government investment in the wake of Covid. We must make homes more energy-efficient, invest in greener energy, upgrade transport, improve land, forestry and agriculture and invest in the care system so we properly look after the most vulnerable.
There was strong support too for a focus on local neighbourhoods, so that people’s daily needs can be met within a 15-minute or cycle ride from their homes. Those daily needs include the ability to access green space and nature, which plays such an important role in people’s health and wellbeing.
People backed the call by environmental groups for a National Nature Service which would restore habitats, halt biodiversity loss, improve the health of nature, people and the planet – and create tens of thousands of jobs.
The Covid crisis has had a devastating impact on jobs and people’s livelihoods. But evidence from Oxford University’s Smith School, and others, shows that investment in green projects would create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns and lead to higher long-term cost savings compared to traditional fiscal stimulus measures.
The former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has described the need to transition to a zero carbon economy as “the greatest commercial opportunity of our time”. It isn’t only a commercial opportunity, it’s the chance to transform our economy and build a society that shares rewards, focuses on people’s health and wellbeing and respects the planet’s environmental limits.
This is the moment to address the climate emergency at the pace and scale that it demands. We have to reset our economy in the wake of the Covid pandemic. We cannot afford to squander this opportunity.
The public want fundamental change. Boris Johnson needs to use that keynote speech to start delivering it.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.