Why should climate campaigners be involved in the battle against austerity? We are as likely as anyone else to be moved by the plight of disabled people whose support is being slashed, or to campaign to protect our NHS. But austerity is also taking us in the wrong direction in another fight. A fight that involves everyone on the planet and places our generation at a tipping point in human history: the last-ditch attempt to avoid catastrophic climate change.
To see why, imagine a government that took on board the science of climate change and was determined that the UK would do its fair share to cut our greenhouse gas emissions. The One Million Climate Jobs report from the Campaign against Climate Change sets out what that could look like – a programme of massive public sector investment in jobs to transform the UK into a low carbon economy. This would be a million Government jobs in renewable energy, in increasing energy efficiency by insulating homes and public buildings free of charge, in hugely expanding cheap public transport to get people and freight onto cleaner forms of transit, and in developing the skills needed through education and training.
Now contrast that vision with our current government’s approach of cuts at all cost. In theory, the UK should be a world leader in tackling climate change. The 2008 Climate Change Act (which was then supported by politicians from all parties) commits us to legally binding emissions targets. But without sensible policies to achieve these targets, the Climate Change Act risks becoming a meaningless piece of paper.
Nowadays, voices within the Conservative party who would take climate change seriously are all but drowned out by the unconcerned and cynical. And the ideology of austerity is in itself a huge barrier to action – how can we invest for the future if we are forced to cut?
Onshore wind, the cheapest form of clean energy, has been targeted not just for money-saving cuts but the likely complete removal of subsidies. This is a deliberate attempt to destroy the industry in order to appease anti-wind backbench MPs in shire counties. It will mean one of two things – either the abandonment of our climate targets or meeting them through more expensive means, pushing up fuel bills.
With the poorest-insulated houses in Europe, thousands die each winter in the UK from cold homes, as we waste energy and money burning fossil fuels just to heat the air around our homes. Under the coalition, home insulation was a disaster, with Green Deal loans taken up by so few that new cavity wall insulations fell in 2013 to a quarter of previous levels. Now, in the first round of departmental cost-cutting under the new government, the home insulation budget has been cut by £40 million.
Local authorities, with their budgets slashed, are less able to deliver on climate action plans, or to protect their communities from the impact of climate risks such as floods. And the Department for Energy and Climate Change itself has had its staff budget cut by 90%.
But not all types of spending are facing the same squeeze. It is well established that the majority of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we are not to wreck the climate. But Osborne always seems to find money for tax breaks for oil and gas companies to extract every last drop, whether from the North Sea or fracking Lancashire shale.
Article Written for the People’s Assembly by Claire James, Campaigns Coordinator atCampaign Against Climate Change