I went to a conference on climate change the other day. The conference was organised by a think tank that I had not heard of before – Green House. Natalie Bennett chaired the event.
I did attend the whole event by any means. But having attended for a few hours, I was struck by a sense that we are barely beginning to tackle climate change in this country. Green House have done a lot of modelling to show that the transition to a green economy could create lots of new jobs[i].
If you were serious about tackling climate change, the country would need a very different economy. Petrol and diesel cars would be phased out by 3035. Many of the jobs we have repairing and maintaining cars would be lost or need to be adapted. You would ban fracking. All those jobs would be lost. You would cancel HS2. All those jobs would be lost. You would encourage renewable energy. That would create some new jobs.
We need to fly less. That would mean less jobs for pilots and cabin crew. We need to eat more locally grown food – currently something like 60% of the food we eat is imported. Some of the jobs for truckers would be lost. We need agriculture to be less intensive. We need less animals and more people working in farming. We need less chemical inputs into agriculture. We need a lot more waste reprocessing and recycling. That would create jobs. We currently export about 60% of our waste. The amount of clothing we buy that is disposed of needs to be reduced.
You need Repair and Reuse Shops on every high street. It is unclear who actually has the skills to repair gadgets, household appliances etc. The only reason that cars can be repaired is because historically they were quite a high value item. It is increasingly the case that it cheaper to buy a new car than repair an old one. As we have seen with the Repair Shop on BBC, a lot of repairs require highly skilled restorers.
The Climate Change Committee made these recommendations in its recent report. The report was news for one day and then died. I looked to see how the Sun reported it. The Sun editorial snorted with derision that people did not want to be told to eat less meat and fly less often.
So outside a small circle of the committed and concerned, I don’t see the broad mass of the population being concerned about the issue or being willing to change their lifestyle to deal with it. To some extent they should not not have to. Government could/should outlaw fossil fuels. Governments could at the very least ensure that renewable and fossil fuels have a level playing field. My understanding is that fossil fuels are currently highly subsidised. Governments could ensure that there is public transport across the country so that people don’t need to be reliant on cars. They could require all new homes to be energy efficient.
It is all hugely political. It requires government to take on vested economic interests and I don’t see that happening. It also requires a national conversation and I don’t see that happening either. A couple of towns/cities have had citizens assemblies on climate change, but it is to some extent the usual suspects – Oxford, Camden etc.
People need to have the basic science of climate change explained to them. We need to know how much carbon we have already used and how much is left. We need to know how much carbon the UK has left to use. The UK allocation of carbon has to be allocated among all the citizens. Again, if you were serious about climate change, you would want a static or falling population rather than one which is constantly growing (mainly by migration). It is of course the case that when people move from the global south to the global north that their carbon footprint increases substantially.
The last Labour Government thought about bringing in individual carbon budgets. It commissioned reports but decided the time was not right. The Coalition did almost nothing on climate change. Indeed, it unravelled most of the things that the Labour Government had done. We had a decade when climate change was not even on the political agenda.
The IPPC has been churning reports which got 5 minutes of coverage. Its most recent report said there were 12 years left to prevent catastrophic climate change. That message has begun to cut through. But there will be many people for whom this issue is completely new.
I think the Government urgently need to bring in carbon budgets for citizens and businesses. It is complicated. People are going to have to have these issues explained to them. All individuals will have the same carbon budget. I think that is an important way of trying to build more social cohesion.
We need a target budget, which seems to me to be about 10tCO2 per year. It seems to me hard to get much below that living in an advanced industrial country. . I am not yet sure how you deal with the issue of people who have a carbon footprint two or three times the target.
My understanding is that we are way off meeting climate targets and frankly it is not hard to see why. We are just not being serious about it. It is probably going to require the sort of national mobilisation last seen in the UK during WW2, to really tackle this issue. I don’t necessarily hold with the argument that only socialism can deliver proper action on climate change. But it is clear that business as usual is not going to deal with climate change.
[i] Anne Chapman, Jonathan Essex and Peter Sims, Unlocking the jobs potential of zero carbon, published by the Green European Foundation, Brussels, 2018.