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‘Green Industrial Revolution’? Not with this plan

We've had the big announcement: Boris Johnson’s ten point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. But following initial positive headlines, the details start trickling out. £12 billion was announced, but just £3 billion, it emerges, is new money. This is paltry. Other countries have already made much larger commitments, including Germany's green stimulus of over €40bn and France around €35bn. 

Most importantly, how does it stack up compared to the scale of the task facing us? Two years on from the IPCC’s ground-breaking report calling for an urgent transformation of the global economy to stay within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, global emissions are still (excluding the limited impact of the pandemic) on an upward trend. As temperatures continue to rise, sea level rise is accelerating as polar ice melts. And in the background a steady stream of records broken for ‘natural’ disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, hitting the poorest hardest. 

The UK’s carbon budgets reflect out of date targets, an 80% cut in emissions by 2050. Previous policy failure means we are nowhere near on track to even stay within these deficient targets. This latest set of announcements is therefore doubly inadequate. It leaves a major hole in meeting even these out of date commitments. However we don’t just need to close that gap. Last year the government set a new climate commitment of ‘net-zero’ carbon by 2050. In relation to this new target, the gap is even greater. But unfortunately even ‘net zero by 2050’ doesn’t cut it. We need to act even faster than 2050 to be compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Meanwhile, we also face a devastating pandemic leaving in its wake widespread unemployment. Now is the time for a real climate jobs programme to tackle the climate and jobs crises.

What would a real 10 point plan to tackle the climate crisis look like?

1. A comprehensive approach

Climate change cannot be tackled as an add-on, or a piecemeal approach that takes us one step forward, two steps back. We need a commitment that every economic policy, every spending commitment, every piece of legislation, will put us on track for a safer future, not jeopardise it by locking us in to business as usual. 

If the government had really taken on board the scale of the crisis, it would be rethinking the policies of unconditional corporate bailouts, planning deregulation, aviation expansion, road building, stifling onshore wind. It would not be giving a £16.5 billion windfall to military spending.

2. Meeting the needs of both people and planet  

Austerity has left us, more than ever, with a grossly unequal society with continued deep inequalities in race, gender and for disabled people. Underfunded public services are struggling. The move towards a zero carbon society must also ensure access to food, healthcare, education, income, job security, good, affordable, housing, clean and affordable energy and heat, public transport, clean air and green spaces for everyone.

There is huge public support to ‘build back better’ as part of recovery from the pandemic, investing in public services and frontline workers. Instead, a public sector pay freeze is being mooted. These are the wrong priorities: we need huge investment and expansion in the public sector and the people who work in it. 

3. ‘New Deal’ levels of spending

Boris Johnson has tried to compare his plans to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In today’s money, Roosevelt’s spending programme amounted to about £4,300 – for every American living through the turmoil of the Great Depression. In contrast £12 billion is about £180 each.

Our own ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ report or Green New Deal plans give more of a sense of the levels of investment and ambition needed if the government is taking this seriously. Other recent analyses include an IPPR report which estimates that £33 billion a year in additional annual investment is needed to meet the government’s net zero target, creating 1.6 million jobs, including £8 billion on homes and buildings and £10.3 billion on transport.

The pandemic has shown that money can be found. It has been found for other spending, including billions to private companies for medical supply and services in contracts awarded with no oversight, regulation or transparency. These are the sums of money that now need to be directed into tackling the climate crisis, sums that can actually make an impact in reducing emissions and would truly justify the term New Deal.

Net Zero Festival brings accusations of greenwash

 

Climate breakdown cannot be a niche issue - it has to be a priority for us all. So we should welcome the Net Zero Festival, run by BusinessGreen, as an attempt to wake up mainstream businesses to the necessity of rapid transition to net zero carbon. As exemplified by sponsors… 

...Heathrow, Drax, Shell?

Hang on. Finding these names among the sponsors, one can hardly fail to notice that they are hardly companies usually held up as examples of climate leaders. What is going on? Is Shell switching from oil and gas to renewables and we somehow missed the announcement? 

Unfortunately not. What Shell actually produced earlier this year is a ‘net zero carbon plan’. This promises to cut a small part of the company’s own emissions (those unrelated to burning the oil and gas it extracts) to net zero by 2050 by offsetting. As for the majority of Shell’s emissions which come from customers burning its product, there is no target to reduce total emissions, let alone reduce oil and gas production. Instead, Shell promises to reduce ‘carbon intensity’ by two thirds. This could be by increasing production of renewable energy and biofuels alongside oil and gas, and also offsetting. It further promises to work with customers who burn its product to ensure they capture the carbon or offset emissions.

Interesting. However, notable by their absence from Shell's plan are any proposals to stop exploring for new oil and gas; to halt new extraction; to phase out production in the short or long term; or to invest in a just transition for workers. Before the pandemic, Shell was planning more than 35 new oil and gas projects by 2025. Half of the 24 “major projects” in its investment profile are deep water oil and gas projects, which it says have “significant growth potential.”

No climate justice without an end to racism

The brutal and casual murder of George Floyd has sparked an uprising. Protests have spread across the US and in other countries, fuelled by centuries of structural oppression and racism and a culture of impunity among the police force. The roll call of sons, fathers, daughters, grandmothers killed without justice did not start with Trump's presidency, but he has consistently promoted racist violence in his statements and his policies.

We stand with the international protests. Black Lives Matter. And here in the UK we cannot merely see racism as a US issue. Black lives matter in police stations. Black lives matter in hospital wards and care homes, on trains and buses, in schools and colleges - the shocking disparity in BAME Covid deaths even more dramatic among health and social care staff and transport workers. Black lives matter in the 'hostile environment'. As individuals, we must listen and learn. As climate campaigners, we must speak out.

Climate breakdown has always been an issue of racism as well as social and economic injustice. How could it be otherwise, when the Global South suffers so disproportionately from something it has done so little to cause? Environmental racism also manifests in the toxic pollution from fossil fuel extraction burdening low-income communities in many countries. This has led to the concept of 'sacrifice zones'. But when we compromise on cutting emissions, when 'moderation' is prioritised over climate scientists' stark warnings and call to urgent action, we are accepting the idea that poorer countries and vulnerable communities should be a 'sacrifice zone' for the sake of short-term profit. 

We must insist on climate policy that says Black Lives Matter. We must stand with those, particularly indigenous peoples, who are defending their land, water and rights against fossil fuel companies and other resource extraction. 

Right now we are heading for a recession that, like the pandemic, exacerbates all existing inequalities. And governments are handing out billions to prop up high-carbon industries. Campaigning for a green recovery which is also a just transformation of society, shaped by the voices those on the streets, demanding an end to racism and injustice - this campaign has never been more urgent.

Rest in Power George Floyd. Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter. There is no climate justice without an end to racism

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