Fierce criticism for ‘vital step to net zero’

Big-spender agenda: Britain will host the UN Climate Change conference in November.

THE GREEN REVOLUTION: 4/5 Politics. Are governments doing enough? The UK announced a £1bn plan to create green jobs and slash emissions yesterday. But many say a bigger vision is needed.

The smiling piggy bank on the bookshelf behind Douglas Parr seemed to be enjoying its owner’s frustration. “The climate stuff just seems to go out of the window in favour of the short-term economic or political interests,” complained Greenpeace’s spokesman in an online interview. “It’s about time the government started to live up to its own rhetoric and take some of those crunchy decisions.”

Parr was commenting on the British government’s plan, announced yesterday, to spend more than £1bn on reducing carbon emissions. He was unimpressed by the claims made by Kwasi Kwarteng, the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.

“Today we’re taking a vital step to net zero,” said Kwarteng. “The UK is showing the world how we can cut emissions, create jobs and unleash private investment and economic growth.”

But enthusiasm for the spending announcement was tempered by the fact that the money is not an extra investment. The government has simply decided how to allocate an amount that had already been set aside. Of this, £171m is being given to an industrial decarbonisation fund. Another £932m will be spent on making public buildings greener.

Writing in The Guardian, Adam Tooze berated British politicians for failing to address the climate crisis whole-heartedly. “A politics that does not want to mobilise around these challenges, which prefers to deal in patriotic pastiche, forfeits any claim to be progressive,” he declared.

Tooze believes that the Biden administration in the US is taking a far more admirable approach. But Biden too has his critics, who argue that he should be more wedded to the Green New Deal.

This takes its name and inspiration from the New Deal, President Roosevelt’s vast public works programme that helped America recover from the Great Depression in the 1930s. The green version was devised more than a decade ago by activists and academics responding to the 2008 financial crash.

It is geared to tackling climate change and inequality at the same time. The aim is to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the US economy by 2030, while creating well-paid jobs in clean-energy industries that will benefit the poorest in society.

It has been enthusiastically promoted by those on the left of the Democratic Party, led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey. But their attempt to have it adopted by Congress in 2019 was defeated.

President Biden has come up with an ambitious scheme for tackling climate change, calling the Green New Deal a “crucial framework” for it. But his goal is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 rather than 2030. And while he has put $2trn towards it, Ocasio-Cortez argues that $10trn is needed.

In the EU, the European Parliament has approved the idea of making a green deal part of its Covid-19 recovery programme. But it too would have a deadline of 2050 for achieving carbon neutrality.

Are governments doing enough?

Carbon-zero heroes?

Some say, yes. Moving to a zero-carbon economy is a hugely complicated process, and to do it too fast would cause financial misery for many. The Confederation of British Industry has called the government’s latest move “a welcome demonstration of the UK’s commitment to act on climate change… and to give businesses the certainty they need to invest in the technologies of the future.”

Others argue that governments are being half-hearted about the Green New Deal – and others still that the deal itself does not go far enough. They say that it fails to tackle the root cause of the climate emergency, which is the concept of unending growth and consumption that capitalism promotes. Instead, it is an attempt to “greenwash” a damaging economic system.

You Decide

  1. Which is better for motivating people – an ambitious target or an obviously achievable one?
  2. Is the social-justice element of the Green New Deal a help or a hindrance in achieving its environmental aims?

Activities

  1. Roosevelt’s New Deal included commissioning artists to paint murals in public buildings. Design a mural for your school.
  2. Imagine that you are a politician championing or opposing the Green New Deal. Write a speech summing up your views on it and deliver it to your class.

Some People Say...

“Individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry… are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – 1945), American politician

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that the Green New Deal has enormous breadth of vision. It involves creating new power grids and generating electricity with zero emissions, while upgrading all buildings and the national infrastructure to make them energy-efficient. It aims to provide a huge number of well-paid jobs, as well as affordable health care and housing for everybody. It promotes electric vehicles, better public transport, the replanting of forests and the reduction of agricultural emissions.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around how far politicians can afford to ignore the fossil-fuel industries. President Biden has said that he will not abolish fracking – an industry which provides thousands of jobs in the key marginal state of Pennsylvania. In the UK, the government is involved in a heated debate over whether to allow a new coal mine in Cumbria, which would create 500 jobs in a deprived area. The local Conservative MP has called those who oppose the scheme “climate terrorists”.

Word Watch

Greenpeace
An international campaigning organisation based in Amsterdam. Its aim is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity”.
Tempered
Made less extreme. In industry, tempering is the process of hardening steel by heating it and then making it cold.
Industrial decarbonisation
It is hoped that projects including carbon-capture technology will cut emissions by two-thirds over the next 15 years, and eventually create 80,000 jobs.
Public buildings
Schools, hospitals and other buildings will be provided with solar panels, heat pumps and insulation.
Berated
Criticised angrily. It also used to mean driving someone away by scolding them.
Pastiche
Imitation. Tooze is criticising politicians who try to peddle an old-fashioned, second-hand vision of Britain instead of grappling with a vital global issue.
President Roosevelt
Despite being paralysed from the waist down, he was the only US president to be re-elected three times, holding office from 1933 until his death in 1945.
Great Depression
An international economic slump triggered by a US stock-market crash in 1929.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
A New Yorker from a Puerto Rican family, she became the youngest woman ever in Congress when she was elected in 2018 aged 29.
Ed Markey
A Massachusetts politician from an Irish family, he paid his way through university by selling ice cream from a van.

Subjects

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