Not even baby steps

In this budget the Chancellor has taken absolutely no steps on the path to a green economy. Green growth is an oxymoron. The minute you grow anything, you have to degrow in a different area. Green growth is possible but not if you do not cut somewhere else. Every time we grow the economy, we take a bite out of the planet’s resources. In the words of Professor Jason Hickel, author of ‘Less is More’ –

“Decarbonization with growth is like trying to run down an escalator that is accelerating upwards”

My speech to the House last Thursday following the Spring Budget:

The IMF has forecast that the UK will be the worst-performing large advanced economy this year, but Britain’s decline, relative to those of other rich nations, is rooted in problems both old and new. 

Clearly, this Government have done their absolute best to trash our economy. We have had 13 years of economic mismanagement. We used to say, “Well, the thing about the Tories is that, however awful they are, at least they can manage money and know how to run an economy”. We cannot say that any more; in fact, the opposite is true. They have run our economy into the ground. I understand that Covid did not help but, in a crisis, you look to your best talents—clearly, the Tory Government did not have any. That is why we are in this situation at the moment.

Billions of pounds have been lost in bad decisions and lost investment. Millions more people are in poverty. Children and parents are going hungry. People are living in cold homes, with pensioners dying from hypothermia—and this Government have the cheek to put in their Budget the 1%, or whatever it is, for pension pots. Who is that for? It is for millionaires; it is not for people who are starving and cannot manage to pay their heating bills. It really is time that this Government understood the exact impact of what they are doing.

Today’s Budget announcement falls far short of the strong climate action needed. I have to repeat to the Government that, as Greens often say, green growth is an oxymoron. The minute you grow anything, you have to degrow in a different area. Green growth is possible but not if you do not cut somewhere else. Every time we grow the economy, we take a bite out of the planet’s resources—and it is a bite that will not grow back. Whatever this Government do, they seem to be moving in a way that is even more damaging to climate change.

Speaking to the Dutch Parliament recently, Professor Jason Hickel—his book, Less is More, should be compulsory reading for this Government—debunked the concept of green growth, saying:

“Decarbonization with growth is like trying to run down an escalator that is accelerating upwards”—

you are likely to fall on your face. People have to understand that using a tonne of fossil carbon and then trying to replace it with a tonne of new trees does not work. It is not a fair exchange; it is nowhere near compensation for the fossil fuel used. Carbon offsets will not save us from the worst of climate change; they are just something that make people feel good. They are absolutely ineffective and we have got to stop.

The simplest way to solve the problem of climate change is stopping the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. The Government have not even understood that; they are still mad about digging up coal and using oil. It is incredible that after decades of Greens like me telling the Government how to mitigate climate change, they still do not get it—plus, of course, this Chancellor continued the regressive freeze on fuel duty. That shows no grasp of the situation we are in; neither does his tweaking of the pension pot while not paying nurses and doctors. It is unbelievable stupidity. I know that there is now a deal, thank goodness, but why was there not one weeks ago? Why did we have to go through this pain? Why did patients have to go through it? I simply do not understand.

By the way, nuclear is not green. I cannot tell you how many times I have said that in this Chamber. 

Nuclear power is not green. It is filthy, it is very expensive and it is going to cause us problems in future. It is not green and it is not sustainable.

Our Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, said in the other place that the Chancellor could have announced a “wealth tax on the 1% richest people”, which “could raise up to £70 billion” and fund cheaper public transport, more home insulation and public sector pay rises for millions. He did not do that. He put in a measure that will benefit millionaires.

If you are worried about jobs, why not upscale green initiatives—green growth, if you like? For example, clean, green, abundant and affordable renewables are so much quicker, easier and cheaper than nuclear; with onshore and offshore wind, tidal and solar, we could do it and do it quickly. We must remember that growth is not necessarily prosperity; people seem to conflate the two but it is not true.

Green Alliance was very quick off the mark to give us a rapid review of the Spring Budget. It shows that the Chancellor has taken absolutely no steps on the path to a green economy. While the fiscal situation might be improving, the UK’s economy is still forecast to shrink this year, with falling living standards for households being a primary reason. It is not falling living standards for people such as us—we can manage; it is falling living standards for people who cannot even manage at the moment.

There is one tiny thing the Chancellor did right: alcohol duty will rise in line with RPI from 1 August. That might reduce alcohol harm in the UK while raising perhaps crucial public funds, but it is really so minor as to be almost not worth mentioning.

A Green Party economist, Molly Scott Cato, former MEP, said that a green Chancellor would ensure major investment in a green economy. That means meaningful investment in affordable renewables and a nationwide insulation programme. We have had so many complaints about Insulate Britain, the campaign group that caused so much fuss. In fact, we should have said, “You’re absolutely right: we need to insulate Britain. It is cheap, it is fast and it helps people”. This Government got hung up on the group’s campaigns, and now we are seeing the Public Order Bill, and so on, which are trying to stop people protesting again. Just those two measures—insulation and renewables—would help tackle greenhouse gas emissions and mean that people could afford to be warm in their homes. Is that not a kinder thing to do than to cut living standards?

Other measures would include fair pay for public sector workers and 35 hours a week of free childcare for all. I support the Government’s idea of capping bus fares, although it will not be in every place. The Greens would put a £1 single fare on all bus routes in England.

It really is time this Government were gone, before they cause yet more damage to us, our society and the reputation of the UK, and before they damage the planet any more than they have already.

Read the whole debate here: Budget Statement – Hansard – UK Parliament



Environmental Targets: Marine

As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UK failed to reach its target of restoring at least 15% of degraded ecosystems by 2020. It was adopted by the UK as part of target 2 of the EU’s biodiversity strategy, and the lack of progress is most pronounced in the marine and costal environment, where habitat degradation continues and restoration remains in its relative infancy. I believe that nobody in the Government understands the ocean, it is crucial to our well-being, and these new Government targets related to the Environment Act 2021 are utterly insufficient. Continue reading “Environmental Targets: Marine”

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill Second Reading

This Bill does not mention climate change which is the biggest existential threat to all of humankind; it is not just about the north or the south but the whole world and the Government have been deficient in mentioning it and putting it into a context that can make a difference.

It is now three years since the Conservatives won an election promising to level up the country and you would have thought that, finally, the levelling up Bill might give us an idea of what levelling up actually means. Moving from the intangible levelling up to very real regeneration, I note that the Bill is another missed opportunity to make the planning system fit for the 21st century.

Continue reading “Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill Second Reading”

A green approach to the Energy Bill

Something Greens are always very concerned about is marketisation and financial engineering around environmental issues. The UK has a long and dangerous track record of mismanaging this. In the same way that financial engineering around mortgages caused the 2008 financial crisis, there are risks that bankers will abuse the climate crisis as an opportunity to get filthy rich while destroying the very systems we are working to protect. It has been done before.

Continue reading “A green approach to the Energy Bill”

Life at 2 degrees of warming

COP27 failed to make progress on reducing emissions and the awful reality is that our current economic and political system can’t deliver the necessary change, quickly enough. So have you started wondering how everyday life is going to change in the next ten years due to the climate emergency? It is a timescale that many of us can grasp. My grandchildren will be in their late twenties and I will be retired and struggling to keep the allotment in shape. What will your life be like and what will be the new normal?

Continue reading “Life at 2 degrees of warming”