The Climate Emergency

Environmental campaigner, marine ecologist and Arran resident, Sally Campbell, assesses here the lack of funding currently being invested in tackling the climate emergency and suggests that after the election next month, whoever is in government will need to start making extensive but in no way unimaginable changes in public expenditure and to the country’s tax systems to start moving towards a green economy.

“The open sea, the Arctic, the Antarctic and the high mountains may seem far away to many people,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC*. “But we depend on them and are influenced by them directly and indirectly in many ways – for weather and climate, for food and water, for energy, trade, transport, recreation and tourism, for health and wellbeing, for culture and identity.”

“If we reduce emissions sharply, consequences for people and their livelihoods will still be challenging, but potentially more manageable for those who are most vulnerable,” Lee said. “We increase our ability to build resilience and there will be more benefits for sustainable development.”

So what is the UK Parliament doing…nothing, at the moment, due to the Election. But the UK government needs to invest money now in order to tackle the climate and nature emergency. It did commit to a legally binding net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050, and promised to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation. Too slow I say. Ministers were soon seriously off track to actually delivering on these promises. In a climate and nature emergency, what really matters is action, not just words. Fluff and no follow through are a recipe for going nowhere.

The new government after the election needs to put its money where its mouth is and invest now to help deliver the solutions we urgently need if we are serious about tackling this climate emergency. Our buildings need to be insulated, our transport systems need to be electrified, our forests and oceans need to be protected and restored, and there needs to be support for workers and communities to transition to cleaner jobs and clean energy. But these things can only happen if we properly invest the funds to do that.

Recently Greenpeace has worked closely with CAFOD, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Islamic Relief, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, the RSPB and WWF to calculate how much money is needed to deliver these solutions and get us on track to a greener and fairer economy. “Public spending on climate and the environment needs to see an investment of at least £42 billion per year over the next 3 years – around 5% of overall government spending.”

To give you an idea, that is roughly the same amount currently spent on secondary education and defence and works out at around 5% of overall government spending. Like education, spending to tackle the climate and nature emergency should be considered as a long term investment in the future. As well as creating thousands of jobs, investing in the right infrastructure will make Britain a cleaner, healthier and safer place to live. Warmer homes will cut energy bills. Cleaner air will cut costs from air pollution and help save lives. Better public transport will ease congestion. Nature restoration will reduce flood risk, boost tourism and improve mental health. Furthermore, experts have shown that the economic costs of not tackling climate change would be much greater than investing and dealing with the problem straight away.

A lot of the money that is needed could be made available from phasing out £10 billion worth of fossil fuel subsidies, and redirecting funds from high-carbon projects such as road building (£25 billion) and Heathrow expansion (£16 billion), which make net zero more difficult and expensive to reach. The government could also introduce a reformed tax system to help shift behaviour away from polluting activities, while helping to address adverse social consequences of the transition. For example, a frequent flyer levy would ensure that the burden of aviation tax falls on those who fly frequently. The sums are simple: if we invest a small percentage of the UK’s overall expenditure now, we can tackle the climate and nature emergency and set the path towards a greener and fairer economy.

*The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

Sally Campbell
November 2019