The most alarming detail in Rishi Sunak’s coronavirus recovery speech yesterday

Rishi Sunak
Tracy Keeling

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled his coronavirus (Covid-19) recovery plan on 8 July. Though the media is making much of measures he outlined to ‘save jobs’, the most alarming detail rested in what he didn’t say. Namely, the fact that the chancellor only dedicated around 5% of his speech to the climate.

Within hours of his speech, experts revealed the world is likely to hit 1.5C warming within the next five years. Clearly, the UK’s leadership is wholly unequipped to tackle the ecological crisis on its doorstep.

A missed opportunity

In the 5% of his speech focused on a “green recovery”, Sunak laid out his government’s plans to enhance energy efficiency in homes and public buildings with £3bn in funding. He also revealed a £40m green jobs challenge fund, £10m for an automotive transformation fund and £100m in funding for carbon capture technology. That was pretty much the total sum of his attention to the climate crisis. Renewable energy investment (not to mention fossil fuel divestment), adequate nature restoration initiatives, comprehensive green transport measures and more were absent.

Responding to Sunak’s speech, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts Craig Bennett said:

The money allocated to help restore nature falls embarrassingly short of what is needed to tackle the twin emergencies we face: climate change and nature loss.

Bennett also recently took aim at the recovery plan Boris Johnson outlined on 1 July. The Wildlife Trusts, along with the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), wrote a letter to the Observer on the proposals. Johnson’s plan appeared to include undoing protections for the natural world – “newt-counting” as he disdainfully put it. In their letter, the groups said:

Rebooting our economy needs to be done in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the current environmental and climate emergencies. Ripping up important laws and lowering our standards would be a betrayal of previous commitments and reduce our international standing.

Greenpeace’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, was similarly disparaging about Sunak’s offer:

The chancellor made many of the right noises about sparking a green recovery. But instead of digging in to deliver on this promise, he seems to have downed spades with the job only partly done. The government has missed the opportunity to kickstart the green recovery we need.

The only opportunity

New forecasts from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) highlight that it’s more than a ‘missed opportunity’. It’s the only opportunity to avoid climate catastrophe.

Based on climate analysis from meteorological centres in 10 different countries, including the UK’s Met Office, the WMO has predicted there is a 20% chance global temperatures will pass 1.5C warming, above pre-industrial levels, in at least one of the next five years. It also says that annual temperatures of at least a 1C increase are likely between 2020 and 2024. The average temperature increase in 2019 reached 1.1C.

1.5C of warming is the maximum level we can have to avoid the most severe effects of the climate crisis. That’s why 1.5C warming is the target figure in the Paris climate agreement. Exceeding 1.5C in a single year wouldn’t officially breach the agreement. But as the Met Office said, it shows “how close 1.5C is to where we are at the moment”.

The WMO further asserted that the Arctic will face more dramatic warming by comparison. This is not unexpected as the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, with temperatures in the Russian Arctic reaching 38C in June. Meanwhile, the WMO said areas of Australia, South America and southern Africa are going to face even drier conditions this year.

The predictions follow dire CO2 readings from the Mauna Loa Observatory in the US released in June. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere had reached a record level of 417.2 parts per million (ppm) in May. CO2 levels and global warming are intimately linked. Because, as NASA has explained, CO2 is responsible for the vast amount of “radiative forcing” that heats the planet.

Tinkering not transformation

The widespread global shutdowns due to coronavirus appeared to have a minimal impact on CO2 levels. Ralph Keeling, a geochemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said that the CO2 increase could have hit 2.8ppm, rather than 2.4ppm, had the lockdowns not happened. But he asserted that humankind would have to reduce its fossil fuel use by 10% globally for a year in order for the reduction to have a significant impact on CO2 levels. The WMO didn’t take the lockdowns into account in its predictions. But as the Guardian pointed out:

Due to the long lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this year’s emissions drop would not lead to a reduction in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Keeling also explained:

the buildup of CO2 is a bit like trash in a landfill. As we keep emitting, it keeps piling up. The crisis has slowed emissions, but not enough to show up perceptibly at Mauna Loa. What will matter much more is the trajectory we take coming out of this situation.

The UK’s trajectory is now crystal clear. The country’s leaders are tinkering rather than transforming. They’re not offering a green recovery, but a ‘business as usual’ recovery. Given “how close 1.5C is to where we are at the moment”, that should alarm us all.

Featured image via the YouTube – The Telegraph

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  • Show Comments
    1. So. What’s new? The 46% of those that voted in the December ’19 election and somehow gave us a Con Slam Dunk didn’t vote for a greener world. They voted for simple solutions – an oven ready Brexit and ideological protection from the arduous task of reversing the ecological catastrophe. Are we back to 1977 and the ‘No future’ chant for our young people?

    2. Climate change is natural and has nothing to do with our carbon emissions. Of course we need to treat the natural world with the respect it deserves and change our economic model from one based on consumption and greed to one that ensures a decent quality of life for everyone on the planet. The ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘zero carbon’ slogans are scams – part of the massive scam that is the “Green New Deal”, which is primarily a way of saving the corrupt financial and banking systems.
      And don’t forget the population reduction agenda … If you have any sense you will steer well clear of any Gates-funded vaccines.

    3. The current UK government is intent on wrecking things. Their objectives are to smash a wrecking ball through

      (1) the UK relationship with the EU (and its regulations on environment, human rights, taxation and other forms of social justice)
      (2) to do so even if it destroys the UK (brexit is primarily driven by ‘little Englanders’ who want the other UK nations either totally passive and rubber-stamping decisions made in Downing Street or else cut loose to go it alone and, it is implied, drop off the radar, or indeed the planet, as far as little Englanders could care)
      (3) to do so in order to reduce England to a low tax, ‘small state’ nation which provides a safe haven for the very rich (police and legal services focused on defending property rights and the personal safety of the wealthy, while keeping the poor underclass suppressed and powerless) – this is the ‘Singapore 2.0’ fantasy pushed by some of the brexiteers (while they sell ‘Empire 2.0’ to the hoi polloi to milk ‘popularity’ aka xenophobia and racism to gain prole votes and the political power to bring about their ‘Singapore’ coup).

      This ‘wrecking-a-path-towards-a-new-England’ is a delusional political ideology that denies reality. Amongst all the other denials is the total disregard for the environment, for the climate crisis, for the biodiversity crisis. Their Singapore 2.0 would take decades to achieve, if it could ever be achieved, and meanwhile climate crises and environmental catastrophe would have transformed the planet so that Singapore 2.0 would be completely adrift from the new reality and utterly pointless. The whole thing is just fantasy to put a gloss on the naked greed of asset-stripping and pretend it is for some more noble cause.

      Of course, Sunak does nothing for ‘greening’ the economy except a few superficial token schemes to give money to the already well off to help them insulate and improve property they can already afford to improve (whilst leaving renters, and the poorest in society to live in the worst and least sustainable, least ‘green’ low grade housing) – here ‘green-washing’ is just a way to pretend a party political bribe to Tory voters is somehow ‘principled’ and ‘helping the planet’. It just uses tax money to drive more consumption and more wealth hoarding – the poor subsidising the rich as usual.

      The important point to recognise, I think, is that you cannot wreck your way to nation-building. The brexiteers are very capable wreckers. They have smashed everything they have touched. But they have not shown the least ability to imagine, plan, implement the details of rebuilding. Cummings runs this government. And every thought Cummings has is found from books he has read but not understood. His mediocre brain has never had an original or creative idea – he cannot build anything, and he vaguely knows it, which is why he is desperately trying to hire in ‘ideas people’ to create policy for him. But the only ideas people likely to respond will be as mediocre as Cummings. He is drowning and all he will find to help him swim will be swimming wings made of lead.

      These wreckers can smash Britain, and individuals, like Sunak, in public office with private investments, will make millions or indeed billions from ‘chaos’. But that is not creativity. It is just continuing the same old ‘crisis capitalism’ on a loop – ‘carpet-baggers’ have ‘asset-stripped’ to fabulous wealth for centuries, nothing new here. Asset-stripping is not nation-building. It is not a ‘green new deal’ nor anything close to it.

      The current government will smash everything until it destroys itself. They are like a plague of locusts. They will consume every green thing. When they have consumed their food, stripped every asset, they will destroy themselves – they will either be thrown out of office or choose their moment and resign (and then make money from their memoirs). Only after the locust are gone, is it possible to rebuild a nation, to regreen the land. Those who rebuild will not be locusts, but those who were able to wait out the plague, preserve their resources, keep the seeds of a better world in safe store, and then come out and make a fresh start when the time was right.

      The bible talks about a season for everything, a time to destroy, a time to build. Whatever you think about the bible, there is wisdom in those words. This is the Day of the Locust and it is a time of destruction. Any attempt to build in such a season will fail. I think Corbyn failed not because his policies were intrinsically bad but because his timing was bad. He tried to plant seeds of change while locusts were killing everything. That is futile and reckless. You keep your seeds for *after* the plague has passed. When the locusts die off, you plant your seeds in soil fertilised by millions of dead insects.

      Sunak (like every brexiteer) is a locust, not a visionary, not a preserver of what is precious, not a builder of a new nation, not an advocate of ‘green’ values. You cannot expect a locust to change its nature. I suppose it might be possible but it would take a miracle. You must expect harm from locusts not help, and do what you can to mitigate it, to protect all you can during this time of affliction.

      Opposition political parties have to recognise that the brexiteers are ‘locusts’ and ‘wreckers’, They have to decide if they are also locusts – in which case they must clamour loudly for more destruction as Lexiteers do – or are on the side of those who preserve, restore, rebuild, re-new, re-green – in which case they have to start imagining, planning, preparing for the new nation they will create once the wreckers are finished.

      If they are against the locusts then they have to plan towards the inevitable day when the locusts run out of things to destroy, and are then forced to destroy each other. Locusts wreck stuff. They wreck others first and then when they have no displacements they turn on themselves. The Opposition hardly need to attack the Locusts, they just have to leave them to ruin themselves. But what they must do during this time of ruin is reassure people that (1) the destruction will end (2) the best of the old will be preserved by the opposition and their supporters (3) a better new will be created on the ashes of the old by these same people (4) the wreckers i.e. British government, will not, indeed cannot, do anything but wreck, only those opposed to the wreckers have the vision and competence to rebuild (5) people cannot trust the government on anything except destroying things, but they should be able to trust those opposed to the government – no least the ‘ordinary people’ themselves who surely know what needs doing and can self-organise to do it – on preserving the good from the past and re-building a better future.

      As for NGOs, charities, green activists – points (1 – 5) apply to them as much as to political parties e.g. Labour under Starmer, SNP under Sturgeon etc NGOs etc must name Johnson and his government as brexiteers/wreckers/locusts, and explain to the public that these wreckers will not protect the environment because it is beyond their capacity to do so. But while the government is destroying, the green movement will be preserving, planning, preparing to rebuild as soon as a change of government makes it the right time to act.

      The time of the Locust is the time to endure, then come back strong after the plague has passed.

      Not willing to sit it out? Want to actively challenge govt policy now? You are welcome to try but the Corvid-19 experience shows this government ignores criticism, demands to sack incompetent people are ignored, demands for public inquiries refused. There are u-turns but they only occur on a whim, driven by Johnson’s vanity and desire to be popular – e.g. u-turn on ‘free meals for needy children during summer holiday’. But the cost of these free meals was trivial – Sunak allocated more money for his meals-in-restarants-money-off-vouchers scheme for the middle class. Which shows where the govt’s real focus lies. A meaningful non-gimmicky u-turn on environment done for more than a morning’s positive news coverage? I think you are dreaming. But I hope you can prove me wrong.

      Locust or Sustainer – people have to identify who they are and thus whether this time is for them or their turn comes next, as it surely will.

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