Green revolution or missed opportunity?

By Heather Jameson | 24 November 2020

Despite the grandiose title of a Green Industrial Revolution, Boris Johnson’s plans to tackle climate change are far less revolutionary than the action needed to halt the impending environmental disaster, according to the experts. But it is a start.

When the Prime Minister unveiled his blueprint last week – complete with a pledge of 250,000 extra jobs, a 10-point action plan and the promise of using green investment as part of the levelling up agenda – much of the media attention focused on plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

And while local authorities are central to the green agenda, the Prime Minister’s blueprint had just one mention of councils’ involvement, and that was to declare they would be assessed on their performance on active travel.

Instead, it concentrated on the role of central Government, with a massive ambition for technological solutions from the private sector, to address our environmental problems.

According to local government insiders, it just isn’t enough – either on the scale of the ambition to tackle climate change or on the partnership with local government.

Chief executive of the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), Paul O’Brien, was blunt. He said: ‘Local government needs to be at the heart of a much clearer all-encompassing vision which is matched by devolving powers and significant financial resources.

‘Anything less and Mr Johnson will stand accused of a Greenwash rather than a Green industrial revolution.’

Strategic director for climate response at Local Partnerships, Jo Wall, suggested the announcement was a bit of a missed opportunity. She told The MJ some aspects of the 10-point plan were ‘useful’, but added: ‘There is a lot more they could have done. There is an underlying assumption that technology will solve all our problems, with no change for the man in the street – and that is just not realistic.’

Tackling climate change is going to hurt, and the Prime Minister has failed to convey that all-important message.

When it comes to the investment, Ms Wall suggested the £12bn budgeted for the announcement was rapidly overshadowed by the £16bn defence spending announced the following day. The relative figures call into question just how seriously the Government is taking its green revolution.

‘We can’t carry on as we are. The reality is, we really need to move forward on environmental issues, and we need to move at scale and pace,’ Ms Wall claimed. And when it comes to the involvement of local government, it is crucial. ‘Climate will largely be dealt with on a local level,’ she said. ‘It’s about how we live our daily lives.’

But group editor of Environment Journal, Jamie Hailstone is more positive about the role of local authorities in Mr Johnson’s plans – even if they weren’t explicit in last week’s announcement. ‘There are implications for local government. Councils will have to pick up the pieces of the policies in the time honoured fashion.’

While there are lots of aspect of the plan that will fall to local authorities to deliver – from active travel, to heating in newbuild homes, to zero carbon public buildings, to planting more trees – there is still a lack of detail. ‘I don’t think it goes as far as some would like it,’ he told The MJ. ‘It has been felt for a long time that the Government wasn’t doing a lot on the environment for a long time, but this is a step forward.’

The 10 points

The Prime Minister’s 10 points, which are built around the UK’s strengths, are:

1. Boosting offshore wind power

2. Generating low carbon hydrogen

3. Advancing nuclear as a clean energy source

4. Accelerating the transition to electric vehicles

5. Making cycling and walking more attractive

6. Research projects for zero-emission plans and ships

7. Making homes, schools and hospitals more energy efficient

8. Become a world leader in carbon capture

9. Protecting and restoring the natural environment

10. Developing cutting edge technology and making London the global centre of green finance

We need a detailed green recovery map

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