The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, used his summer statement on Wednesday to announce a further package of economic recovery measures, including a “green recovery” programme to cut carbon emissions and invest in green buildings.
The government will set aside £3 billion for decarbonising buildings and issue vouchers worth up to £10,000 to encourage families to insulate their homes. The green investment package is accompanied by a £2 billion job creation scheme for young people.
However, Labour, the Green Party and other critics say that the Chancellor is more concerned with ‘meal deals’ than a Green New Deal, Sunak announcing plans to issue vouchers for midweek dining and a 15% cut to VAT for businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector.
Responding to Sunak’s statement, the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas warned, “We cannot put out a fire with one hand while still pouring petrol on it with the other, yet that is what the Government are doing, through the £27 billion road building schemes, the blank cheque bail-outs to airlines and the public money funnelled into fossil fuel projects overseas.” Lucas added, “The Chancellor says he is proud of the Government’s green record, yet the green measures announced today will cut just 0.14% of UK emissions.”
In fact, a report released today by Transport for Quality of Life finds that 80% of CO2 emissions saved by the rise in electric cars will be wiped out by the government’s road-building plans.
In response to Lucas, Sunak said, “We are now a world leader in offshore wind and, for the first time ever last year, we generated the majority of our energy from zero carbon sources. We are building on our progress.” He added, “This government will ensure that we meet our net zero obligations and do so in a way that creates jobs in every part of our United Kingdom.”
Included in the Chancellor’s statement were plans for a £3bn package of green investments to decarbonise public buildings and insulate homes. Representing one-ninth of the budget allocated to road-building alone, campaigners argue that the Treasury’s plans are a mere drop in the ocean.
There is now a 70% chance that any given month in the next five years will see global average temperatures rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the World Meteorological Organisation reported this week. This is the level of warming that the Paris Agreement of 2015 endeavoured to keep below, as anything higher risks setting off unpredictable and irreversible tipping points.
Campaigners say there has never been a more opportune moment to lay the tracks for a green recovery, politicians, campaigners and the majority of the public agree. Indeed, eight in ten of the members of the UK’s Climate Assembly (108 representative members of the public) said that the government’s economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis should focus on meeting targets to reach a net-zero economy by 2050.
A key part of the infrastructure revolution promised by the Conservative government is the £27bn budget allocated for road-building in the next five years. However, critics say that the government’s economic plans do more to lock in carbon emissions for decades, rather than set the UK economy on a path to net-zero, pointing to the HS2 project – which is expected to destroy over one hundred ancient woodlands – and plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.
Greenpeace’s head of green recovery, Rosie Rogers, said “surely this is just a down payment? The German government’s pumping a whopping £36bn into climate change-cutting, economy-boosting measures and France is throwing £13.5bn at tackling the climate emergency. £3bn isn’t playing in the same league.”
Labour’s Ed Miliband, the Shadow Business Secretary, added, “When the moment demands the most ambitious green recovery possible, the government has not so far risen to the challenge.”
A Treasury spokesperson defended the government’s record on the environment, noting that “the government remains committed to decarbonising buildings to keep us on track to reach net zero emissions by 2050,” and that the plans announced by Sunak represent, “a significant and accelerated down payment on decarbonising buildings, to help stimulate the economic recovery and create green jobs.”
The reception to the Chancellor’s plans are mixed, to say the least. Perhaps the most important government action in the months following this crisis will be its preparations for COP26 next year, where it will host the world’s governments in their attempt to avert the gravest consequences of the climate crisis whilst recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.