We have heard a lot of rhetoric from government ministers about a green recovery from the economic fallout of coronavirus.
We’re going to “build back greener” promised the prime minister in his speech in Dudley on 30 June. “This is going to be a green recovery with concern for our environment at its heart”, echoed the Chancellor this week.
What did we get? A mere gesture towards green jobs in the form of £3 billion to insulate homes and public buildings, and money for nature restoration.
This is not a green recovery. It comes nowhere near it. The government’s own figures show the insulation programme would cut just 0.14 per cent of our emissions.
Energy efficiency is vital and I have argued for years that there must be a programme to insulate our homes, which are some of the leakiest in Europe. This year’s progress report from the Committee on Climate Change also identified retrofitting buildings as a clear priority in the months ahead.
But aiming to make 650,000 homes more energy efficient when there are 24 million homes in the country barely scratches the surface.
A new report this week showed that if the government invested £8.6 billion a year in retrofitting houses, we could create five times as many jobs as the Chancellor’s scheme, reduce household emissions by more than 20 per cent and cut the energy bills of those households by more than £400. That gets closer to what an energy efficiency programme looks like.
Then there’s the £40 million the Chancellor announced for nature restoration jobs – a belated recognition from the government that nature in this country is in crisis. We are witnessing a catastrophic loss of wildlife in the UK, with 15 per cent of species at risk of extinction.
Since 2009, Natural England, whose job it is to protect our wildlife and environment, has seen its funding slashed by nearly four times this amount. £40 million for jobs to plant trees and clean up rivers barely amounts to a sticking plaster.
It’s not only the totally inadequate sums being allocated to “green” jobs. The government is still pouring money into industries which are driving the climate crisis: blank cheque bail-outs to airlines with no climate conditions attached, public finance support for fossil fuel projects overseas and a £27-billion road building programme which ministers remain committed to, though even the AA says it’s not a good use of public money.
The CO2 impact of the road programme alone would wipe out nearly all the gains from the move to electric vehicles. It’s as if the government is trying to put out a fire with one hand while pouring petrol on it with the other.
The day before the Chancellor’s statement, I and Labour MP Clive Lewis, presented the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill to Parliament. It’s not the catchiest title, but it is the first attempt in the UK to legislate for a green new deal with social and environmental justice at its heart. It sets out what a commensurate response to our challenges looks like.
I’ve been working on a green new deal since before the financial crisis. It was overdue then. It’s even more urgent now. If the Chancellor is looking for some summer reading ahead of the autumn budget, it’s a good place to start.