With the climate crisis at our door, the Tories are fiddling while the earth burns

Heatwaves, drought and floods should be triggering radical action on the climate. The next Tory leader looks like they'll only make things worse.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss on a Channel 4 debate for the Tory leadership election

This week England and Wales face two apparently contradictory weather warnings – drought and floods. Following a record-breaking heatwave in July and an amber extreme heat warning in the past week, the land has been left baked solid. This means that the heavy thundery downpours forecast this week are unlikely to penetrate the soils, instead running off slopes to create flash floods. 

The unprecedented heatwave and drought is unquestionably the result of climate change. Yet climate scientists warn that in 30 years’ time we may look back on 2022 as relatively benign compared to what we’re likely to experience by 2050. 

This summer should be a wake up call for policy makers. Yet climate has barely featured at all in the Tory leadership contest. Instead, Liz Truss threatens to take us backwards by scrapping the Green Levy and ruling out taxing the eye watering profits of fossil fuel energy giants. It’s fiddling while the earth burns – quite literally, as firefighters in Portugal, Spain, France, Greece and Morocco battle forest fires across tens of thousands of hectares.

What this summer should have ignited is decisive action to tackle the climate crisis. We need measures to urgently and drastically cut our emissions while helping us and nature adapt to a changing climate.   

Rather than putting home insulation on the back burner, we urgently need a massive retrofit programme to improve energy efficiency in some of the leakiest housing stock in Europe. Insulation not only keeps homes warm in winter but also helps to keep them cool in summer. It is also probably the single most important measure to reduce household energy costs: the cheapest energy bill is the one you don’t have to pay because your home is so well insulated.   

Rather than cutting support for renewables and incentivising the fossil fuel industry, as the Tories seem hell bent on doing, we need to be moving in the opposite direction – super taxing the profits of energy giants, so that investing in fossil fuels becomes unviable, while driving the shift towards renewables. This should include an expansion of on-shore wind – the cheapest form of electricity generation – and changing planning rules to ensure all new builds are fitted with solar panels.  

Carbon emissions from transport in the UK are higher than for any other sector. We need a transport revolution, axing the £27bn road building budget and diverting the money to pay for huge investment in affordable – or even free – public transport and active travel. Where Greens are in power, we have helped steer such a shift. In Scotland, Greens pushed successfully for free bus travel for all those under 22; in Herefordshire, Greens on the Council ensured that Covid Recovery funds were used to provide free weekend buses; and in Sheffield, after years of campaigning, Green councillors secured the return of a free circular bus service in the city centre

Sadly, future heatwaves and droughts are now baked in due to the emissions we have already pumped into the atmosphere. So, it is vital that we protect and expand green spaces within our towns and cities – especially by increasing tree cover. Research shows that increasing cooling green space by just 10% can prevent urban temperatures rising.

Shockingly, some water companies waste more water than they provide to their customers. More than three billion litres of clean water is wasted every day due to a network of pipes riddled with leaks. With more droughts in the pipeline, it’s time to hold the water companies to account and bring an end to a culture of reward for failure. The £57bn paid out in dividends over the last 30 years and hugely inflated salaries of water bosses should have gone towards plugging the leaks. It’s time to take the water supply back into public ownership to ensure the income from people’s bills is reinvested in fixing pipes rather than leaking out to shareholders and bosses. 

Rewilding is also a key solution in the fight against climate breakdown. Humanity has driven a bulldozer through nature, resulting in huge destruction and climate breakdown. We need to put nature back in the driving seat. Allowing large areas of the country to be as nature intended can restore ecosystems so that they help both nature and us. Equally vital is tackling emissions from farming. England and Wales have some fantastic examples of regenerative and organic farming methods that supply healthy and sustainable food while capturing carbon in the soil and improving biodiversity. 

If you’ve felt hot this summer, remember this will be one of the cooler summers over the next 30 years. The heat is on. Our government cannot continue to ignore the urgent need to adopt solutions to tackle the biggest issue of our generation.

Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales

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