Commentary

The treasury is burning

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HM Treasury
Photo by HM Treasury on Flickr

Greta Thunberg is speaking truth to power, the CCC is about to report on net zero emissions, but, asks E3G's Ed Matthew, is the Treasury listening?

As Easter temperatures soared to record levels last weekend and moorland fires blazed, the political temperature on climate change also rose dramatically.

The Extinction Rebellion protests reached a climax with over 1,000 arrests and Greta Thunberg arrived in Parliament and did what she does best, speaking truth to power.

Greta is hard to ignore but the question is whether those in power will listen.

She called the government's support for fossil fuels and airport expansion "beyond absurd", going on to say: "This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind."

She reminded our politicians of the UK's "mind blowing historical carbon debt", built up since the start of the Industrial Revolution and the failure to account for all the emissions from imported goods in the UK's carbon budgets.

The UK's politicians, who love to boast about their global climate change leadership, had been wrapped over the knuckles for their collective failure. By a child.The pressure will continue to build next week when the Committee on Climate Change delivers their net zero report. This blockbusting publication from the UK's climate change gurus will set out their recommendation for how soon the UK needs to reach net zero emissions, to be compliant with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

An alliance of major charities is calling for a net zero target of 2045 and opposition parties lined up this week to pledge that at a minimum they would implement the Committee's recommendations. The government is now under immense pressure to do the same.

We need the government to embrace a truly ambitious, 1.5C compliant net zero target, which is already supported by over 60 Conservative MPs and 150 opposition MPs. But the truth is that ultimately it will never be reached unless the Treasury puts climate change first.

The word on Whitehall before the dramatic events of the last week was that the Treasury had zero intention of increasing spending on tackling climate change. That's right. Zero. Our house is burning and what the Treasury doesn't seem to understand is that if it burns down, the Treasury and all their economic development plans will burn down too.

The Treasury doesn't even have plans to get funding for home energy efficiency back up to the levels it was before it 'cut the green crap' off energy bills, despite this being the most cost-effective form of climate funding. As a result, the installation of energy efficiency measures in UK homes has crashed by 95 per cent. Reversing this funding cut is the most basic test of whether the Treasury is in any way serious about tackling the climate emergency. As things stand, they are set to fail it.

And why? Because the Treasury has no strategic objective to ensure their decisions are in tune with the Paris Agreement on climate change; Treasury ministers have not prioritised investment to build a zero carbon energy system above public investment in new roads and a high speed railway line almost nobody wants; and the Treasury does not care that by slashing support for energy efficiency they are increasing the energy bills of UK citizens for years to come.

Chancellor Philip Hammond may have announced a handful of new green policies in his recent Spring Statement - including a Future Homes Standard for properties built from 2025 - and signed up to the nominally impressive Helsinki Principles, with their commitment to bringing fiscal policies in line with the Paris Agreement. But the Treasury's underlining priorities shift at a glacial pace and currently too many Ministers and mandarins remain fixated on high carbon infrastructure and growth models.

This must change. We will never reach net zero in time unless climate change is put at the heart of the Treasury's remit and all spending and investment plans are filtered accordingly. Promising to just introduce a zero carbon homes standard in six years time does not cut it.

When the Committee on Climate Change make their net zero recommendation next week, the Treasury should be the first out of the gate to embrace it. Then the Chancellor must pledge to put our tax money where his mouth is to ensure we achieve it.

Speaking truth to power. It's infectious.

This article originally appeared in BusinessGreen here.