Caroline Lucas: The world is burning. Sunak’s Spending Review needs to deal with that

We need a Green New Deal more than ever, writes Caroline Lucas.

No Planet B

We have heard a lot of promises on the environment from this Government in recent weeks – among them a huge expansion of wind power, a commitment to protect 30 percent of land for nature, and the launch of what Boris Johnson called a “green industrial revolution”. 

Ministerial, even prime ministerial, promises are one thing. Delivering them is another, and fine words or boastful ambition mean nothing if they are not followed up with funding. 

That’s why the Chancellor’s Spending Review must have a focus on climate and nature, not only to turn these environmental commitments into reality, but because this is a critical decade for climate action. The Government needs to put the UK on the path to meeting its climate targets and show that it is serious about addressing the climate and nature crises. 

With unemployment rising sharply and thousands of businesses at risk of failure because of Covid, this is the moment when to invest in a greener, fairer Britain, and to deliver the kind of future that people want after months of sacrifice. Research from Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment has shown that investment in the green economy creates more jobs, delivers higher short-term returns on investment and leads to higher long-term cost savings compared to a traditional fiscal stimulus.  

Opinion polls this year have shown the overwhelming majority don’t want to go back to the way things were before – a grotesquely unequal society that wasn’t working for too many, and which was driving climate breakdown.   

Supporting and creating jobs is critical in the months ahead, and it must be done in a way which rewards those who have kept this country going in recent months. But we must also invest in the infrastructure that will help meet the UK’s nature and greenhouse gas emissions targets, and accelerate the transition to a carbon-free future. 

The kind of investment required could create more than a million jobs over the next two years in a wide range of sectors.  More than 500,000 could be created through a four-year government-backed scheme to insulate and retrofit the UK’s notoriously draughty homes.  The targets for renewable energy, particularly offshore wind, should produce good quality manufacturing jobs making turbines. 

When the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, there is clearly a huge need to protect and restore habitats and wildlife.  There is a lot of catching up to do.  The UK is missing 17 out of 20 of its own biodiversity targets, and has actually gone backwards on six of them.  

Funding for organisations like Natural England has been cut to the bone – it’s fallen by £165 million since 2008, making it impossible for it to carry out even its statutory duties, let alone take on the scale of the nature restoration we desperately need.  

After the Prime Minister pledged to protect 30 percent of land for nature, I challenged him in the House of Commons on delivering this.  His reply? “We pioneered the 30 percent idea and we will certainly put in all the funding required”.  

His so-called “Green Industrial Revolution”, announced last week, included just £3- 4 billion of extra funding.  Overall, the IPPR think tank calculates that the Government has committed to investing just 12 percent of the amount required to meet its own emissions targets.   

As Greta Thunberg said, we should like act like our house is on fire because it is.  And the response needs to go beyond a few buckets of water.  

When the UK is preparing to host a critical UN climate summit next year, the UK’s reputation on climate and nature will be in the global spotlight. Ministers are already cajoling other countries to be more ambitious with their climate action: we need to do the same, and protecting and restoring nature is critical to achieving climate targets

The Prime Minister made some bold pledges to the UN summit on biodiversity in September. If UK commitments are to mean anything on the global stage, he needs to start delivering on them.  

Moments of economic crisis are a time to think big and show ambition, especially when there is an urgency to address an even greater crisis than Covid – the climate and ecological emergency. 

That is why we need a Green New Deal. It should have been introduced ages ago – if the spending review isn’t used to start it, the future looks grim.

Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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