Neither the government nor Starmer's Labour party are taking the climate crisis seriously - real action must be led from outside parliament, argues Jamal Elaheebocus
On Wednesday, Rishi Sunak unveiled a £3 billion plan to cut emissions, which included a £2 billion ‘Green Homes Grant’ and £1 billion to improve the energy efficiency of public sector buildings. As part of the ‘Green Homes Grant’, the government will pay for at least two-thirds of the price of certain home improvements which will make houses more energy inefficient, including double glazing, insulation and low-energy lighting. The poorest will get up to £10,000 for home improvements. The government estimates the plan will cut carbon emissions by 500,000 tonnes.
However, these measures are wholly inadequate, considering the scale and severity of the climate crisis we face. The UK produced 364 million tonnes of carbon emissions in 2018, a figure which dwarfs the 500,000 tonnes that will supposedly be cut by the new measures. Furthermore, the grant is only for homeowners and so completely neglects the 8.5 million homes in the social and private rented sector, most of which are considerably less energy efficient than the homes these grants will be given to.
Greenpeace called it a “strong start” but argued that much more funding and investment is needed in areas such as clean transport and the power sector. They called for a £15 billion cash injection to lead a green recovery and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
These measures are nothing more than performative actions. The ruling class is desperate to ignore the impending climate crisis, as to acknowledge it would be to implement fundamental, systematic changes to the energy industry, transport, the military and so on. The capitalist system relies on exploitation, not just of people but of the environment as well.
There is no talk from the government about scaling back polluting industries, such as the aviation industry, which produces 71.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year and which is planning a 70% increase in flights over the next three decades. Their promise to reach zero net carbon emissions by 2050 is laughable, considering that for decades they have avoided all commitments to cutting emissions.
There is no desire from the government to invest in green energy either. The UK gives £10.5 billion per year in subsidies to fossil fuel industries, while only spending around £7.5 billion on renewable energy. This is one of the highest levels of subsidies in Europe. The military has been found to be eleven times more polluting than was admitted by the Ministry of Defence and the arms industry, also heavily subsidised, is responsible for 1.46 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Last May, the Committee on Climate Change warned the government that they must avoid moving from the coronavirus crisis to a deeper climate crisis. Sven Harmeling from CARE warned that "If governments fail to make their economic stimulus sustainable and equitable, they will drive our planet much deeper into the existential economic, social and ecological turmoil caused by the climate crisis."
If the government were serious about building the economy back more sustainably, there would be plans to transform the energy industry and invest billions of pounds in renewable energy, which would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. They would not carry on subsidising polluting industries like aviation, fossil fuel and arms and they would be seriously discussing the need for less polluting transport systems. Grants for home improvements really does not cut it.
None of this will happen because under capitalism, these changes are not viable. The pursuit for short term profit at the expense of people and the environment is an integral part of the capitalist system. Throughout the crisis, the ruling class has shown that their only priority is profit. From the late, partial lockdown, which was lifted early, to the handing over of test and trace to private companies and the general overarching herd immunity strategy, the desire to maintain the status quo and protect the economy has been at the heart of everything the Tories have done. The environmental response, limited as it will be, will be no different.
Likewise, Keir Starmer is already looking to drop the 2030 net zero carbon emissions target and other elements of the Green New Deal formed by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. It is increasingly clear that action on the climate crisis is no longer going to come from within parliament. Yet with such demand for it coming from the youth climate strikes which swept the world, parliament cannot avoid the issue forever. As socialists, we have to make the argument that we need a sustainable economy and society which puts people and the planet before profit.
Unless there is mass public pressure, we will not build back better. We will see more of these performative actions which fail to address the fundamental problems which are contributing to the climate crisis. We desperately need a Green New Deal coming out of the coronavirus crisis and real action to deal with the systemic causes of climate change.
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