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The role the proposed extension of the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) did or didn’t play in the recent Uxbridge by-election result has resurrected a debate on whether we should cut the “green crap”.
We’ve heard Rishi Sunak saying that net zero must be pursued “in a proportionate and pragmatic way”, with Michael Gove going further and calling for a relaxation of net zero measures. This fiddling goes on as Europe burns.
But how many people actually agree that we should be scaling-back on our climate ambition?
The most recent polling shows that more than 80% of the public are concerned about climate change, with seven out of 10 recognising that we are already feeling the effects. When asked about the net zero target, 52% of those surveyed said we should bring the target date forward from 2050 – with only 18% saying we should slow down or abandon the target altogether.
So, the anti-green spin machine – which has been in overdrive ever since the recent by-elections – doesn’t chime with public opinion.
We mustn’t be naïve about where this pressure is coming from. The very same day the by-elections were held, a leaked report showed that the ‘gas boiler lobby’ was trying to push back the date for the phase-out of gas boilers. Industry resistance no doubt helps to explain our appalling record on installation, with Britain installing the smallest number of heat pumps by population size of any European country. Similarly, we have seen the car lobby push back against the phase-out of fossil fuel private vehicles.
Most outrageous has been the siren song from fossil fuel company bosses threatening us with being ‘starved of energy’ if we don’t commit the climate crime of opening more oil and gas fields in the North Sea – a claim that sadly went largely unchallenged.
However they dress up their arguments, these companies are interested in profits not human lives. This is not an agenda driven by people but by vested interests – and it’s a battle we must win if we are to save human civilisation and avoid millions of deaths as a result of climate breakdown and the ecological crisis.
This issue is too important to be a party-political battle. That is why it was good to see Conservative politicians like Lord Deben, Chris Skidmore and Zac Goldsmith taking a principled stand against this rhetoric and arguing that we need to keep the political consensus and avoid the left-right battleground that the climate has become in the US.
This isn’t to say that we are all going to agree about what should be done about the climate crisis. There will always be arguments about the scale and speed of home retrofit, the size of investment in public transport, the role of hydrogen, or how our energy systems should be owned and controlled.
But the fundamental point that we need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and change ways of producing and consuming to protect the natural world, has been agreed across the political parties and that consensus must be kept.
This also requires Labour to stand firm on its commitment to climate and environmental action. Its Shadow Climate and Energy Secretary, Ed Miliband, who was responsible for the Climate Change Act, is now being muzzled by Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves – who appear to be prioritising posturing to markets and keeping the media barons sweet.
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This is not only dangerous but politically misguided. As the polling demonstrates, we see strong public support for more urgent climate action. If Sunak or Starmer think they will secure a majority come the next election by abandoning environmental action, they are sorely misguided.
Labour also needs to recognise that climate is a social justice issue. The high-energy lifestyles of the ‘polluting elite’ are driving the climate crisis, with the wealthiest people producing as much CO2 in just one year as those on the lowest incomes do in more than 20 years.
Climate policies can and must reverse that climate injustice. This is why the Green Party supports the introduction of taxes on wealth and carbon, with the revenue being invested in free home insulation for those on lower incomes as well as subsidies for public transport. This is what we mean by social justice and environmental justice going hand in hand.
Politicians who have shown leadership on the climate issue, from whatever party, are right to say that we must not weaponise the environmental crisis and that the consensus supporting action is crucial. But this consensus will not hold unless we combine it with social justice so that the green transition means that the greenest option becomes the cheapest and easiest option.
That way we guarantee that everybody can reap the rewards of the green transition.
Adrian Ramsay is Co-Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales