‘Random and unconnected’ policies don’t hold up to the climate emergency

Former MEP Molly Scott Cato responds to the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan to reach net zero by 2050.

Offshore wind turbines
Molly Scott Cato

While any action to reduce the threat from the climate crisis is welcome, the 10-point plan to reach Net Zero announced by the Prime Minister last week came nowhere near matching the scale and urgency of the challenge we face. 

Far from providing reassurance, it reinforces the fear that the Government simply does not understand the climate crisis we are facing. While Biden is promising to spend $2 trillion on his climate plan, Johnson’s plan amounts only to some £4 billion – and his Government is investing more than four times as much in the energy-intensive road-building programme.

The whole ‘10-point’ format comes across as a random shopping list of nice-to-haves when what we need is a clear plan to reach defined targets. The Paris Agreement sets out the reductions in CO2 emissions we need to achieve to stay within a 1.5-degree warming limit. The Government has set a target of net zero by 2050 and has its own Committee on Climate Change to keep it on track to reach that target. Yet, this plan ignores those very real limits and throws out a number of random and unconnected policies. The very epitome of government policy not being joined up.

Rather than providing our own shopping list, the Green Party sets out a series of principles that any plan for the climate emergency would have to meet to be taken seriously.

First, we need a plan that will transform the whole economy, not just focus almost exclusively on energy. We need a fundamental reset of the whole economy, decarbonising every sector, ditching high-carbon infrastructure projects such as road building and investing instead in projects like nature conservation, public transport, and walking and cycling infrastructure. The 10-point plan must set out how we go net zero across every single sector, including housing, transport and agriculture, without simply relying on the development of new technologies that do not yet exist.

Second, we can’t plan on the basis of unicorn technologies that allow us to avoid this transformation in the hope that something might turn up in the future. New green technologies are an important part of addressing the climate emergency, but we can’t allow the Prime Minister’s enthusiastic embrace of the rhetoric of Jet Zero, for example, to blind us to the fact that there is nothing on the horizon to enable flight without the production of vast quantities of CO2. The hard choice of reducing flights and constraining the expansion of aviation is the right choice, and we can’t allow the mirage of non-existent technologies to hide that. 

While we should support new renewables, we must end subsidies to industries that should be able to stand on their own feet, which means an end to subsidies for fossils fuels (which, incredibly, still exist) and for new nuclear, which is vastly overpriced and far too slow to come on stream to help us with this crisis.

The weakness of the proposals suggests that the Government is still harbouring hopes of offloading its climate responsibilities onto other countries. So, a central condition for a truly green future is that the UK must carry its own net-zero burden. We cannot rely on other countries to do the heavy lifting, either by using international carbon credits from countries that have made better progress on renewable energy or relying on imported dirty electricity. With our incredible renewable resources, we should aim to be an exporter of clean energy. 

We must also ensure that the green industrial revolution is also a just transition. The focus on electric vehicles rather than cheaper and more accessible public transport is a clear example of how the Government’s plans for net zero will leave those on lower incomes behind. By contrast, our Green New Deal proposals offer a credible strategy for winding down polluting, outdated sectors, protecting all livelihoods with a basic income and creating millions of good, well-paid green jobs.

Finally, we need action at all levels and more power to tackle the climate emergency devolved downwards. Across the world, leadership on moving to net zero has come from local authorities and regional governments. The changes that we need to see must be rapid and have to come from the bottom up. In the UK, we have seen this with local authority climate emergency plans. We need the Government to share the power to tackle climate change with local governments and to provide the money and resources for them to take action to deliver on those plans.

As Greens, we have waited so long for serious action that it would be wonderful to be able to warmly welcome this plan. But the lack of ambition and focus indicates a government without a clear grasp of the problem and one that is more concerned with presenting a green posture than embracing the transformation of our economy and society that the climate crisis demands.