The Government must show more ambition and better leadership if we’re going to rise to the challenge of the climate emergency.
The Tories’ handling of the pandemic has left us facing the worst economic shock of any OECD economy and the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe. Slow to realise the threat posed by the virus, slow to acquire life-saving equipment, slow to take action to safeguard human life against the virus, their hesitation to follow the example of other countries and adopt bold policies during a public health emergency has left us all worse off. We will need to act with more urgency if we’re going to do better against an even bigger challenge: climate breakdown.
From the Government’s response so far, you wouldn’t know we were facing a climate emergency. £3 billion of green spending barely touches the sides of the trouble we’re in. Compare this with Germany’s and France’s respective pledges of £36 billion and £13.5 billion or Denmark’s massive £33.5 billion investment in one major offshore wind project. The UK was the first to set a 2050 net-zero emissions target but with the Tories asleep at the helm, we’ll be the last to reach it.
Meanwhile, the Government has provided loans to aviation, automotive and oil companies without setting out any binding commitments to reduce emissions, pay UK taxes or even keep workers on the payroll – as the disgraceful treatment of British Airways workers shows.
The case for a Green New Deal couldn’t be clearer: self-interested companies won’t put people before profit, so governments must be prepared to do it for them. This level of investment would deliver tangible improvements in people’s daily lives, creating millions of new green jobs during a time of rising unemployment, protecting the green spaces which have been a lifeline for many during lockdown, decarbonising our public transport infrastructure and bringing air pollution down to healthy levels.
The decisions we take now as we head into the next recession will determine the future health of our planet. The environment must be at the heart of our rebuilding efforts and that means every single government policy must fit with the bigger push towards net-zero. The pandemic has shown the importance of collective action and prioritising public health before private profit. We must learn from this to tackle the climate emergency.
This article first appeared as a column in the South London Press on Friday 24th July 2020.