The Government that can’t do too little

By Bill McGuire

Monday afternoon (February 25th) temperatures in Trawsgoed peaked at 20.6ºC – the first time that winter temperatures in the UK have ever topped the 20ºC mark. This is, purely and simply, the result of humankind’s impact on the climate. But don’t expect Theresa May and her cronies to pay much attention. When it comes to climate breakdown, this is a government that can’t do too little. While Brexit continues to swamp the news feeds and sucks up all political and social analysis, another crisis spawned by successive Tory governments continues to build, unseen and unheard. In 2006, David Cameron’s fraudulent call to vote blue – go green was rightly laughed off and, thirteen years on, the idea that a conservative government will ever take climate change seriously is still a joke. The latest confirmation comes from a damning letter sent by the government’s own Committee on Climate Change to the UK Minister for Energy & Clean Growth, Claire Perry. I will try and ignore Perry’s Orwelian title – in the context of a regime that continues to push fracking and provide massive fossil fuel subsidies – and focus on the letter’s content.

The gist is this. By almost any measure, the government is failing in its efforts to effectively tackle climate breakdown. Seeking to meet its legal obligation to cut emissions by 80 percent (below 1990 levels) by 2050 – way down on what is needed in any case – it has not met its own targets for 15 out of 18 key indicators for reducing emissions, including in the critical areas of waste and land use, agriculture, transport and buildings. No doubt the government will attempt to grab credit for the one statistic in its favour, which shows that UK greenhouse gas emissions fell, between 2013 and 2018, by 14 percent. We know, however, that ‘home-grown’ emissions are not a fair measure of UK emissions overall, with a big chunk now ‘exported’ to China and other countries that still make stuff. Furthermore, as the CCC reports in its letter, the fall is hardly evidence of pro-active policies. Instead, it mainly reflects the continuing weak economy and changes to the EU Emissions Trading System.

Targets for insulating lofts and walls, and for installing heat pumps were all missed, but this is hardly surprising from a government that in 2016 scrapped plans for all new homes to be carbon neutral. Plans for a quarter of a million electric (including hybrid) vehicles on the road every year are also floundering, with an average of just 48,000 registered annually – less than one fifth of the target. I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies, in that the government rowed back on its ideas – some years back – to privatise the Forestry Commission. Nonetheless, its reforesting initiative is proving to be a dismal failure. On average just seven thousand hectares of new woodland was planted between 2013 and last year, compared to a target annual figure of 25,000 hectares.

In the face of ever more obvious climate breakdown this is a government that can’t even hit its own targets, and doesn’t much care. It is a government that talks the talk on climate change, but one that simply isn’t sufficiently bothered enough about climate breakdown to walk the walk. Remember, these are the same people who – a couple of weeks ago – were lambasting school children for doing what they themselves should be doing. Flagging climate breakdown as an emergency that needs dealing with NOW and getting on with the job. Rather than struggling to meet even its own mediocre emissions reduction targets, the government should be setting far more challenging ones and hitting them. To make this happen, we need to keep up the pressure for nothing less than a war-footing to stop climate breakdown in its tracks. Net Zero Carbon by 2025. Nothing else will do.

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