LAST week, I attended an extraordinary meeting of Salisbury City Council to review the government’s approach to climate change, in particular its stated goal to reach net zero carbon emissions target by 2050.
As councillors tussled over our answers to various questions, including ‘What are the biggest barriers you face in decarbonising?’, I was left with a sense of impending doom.
In its June assessment, the UK’s independent adviser on tackling climate change, the Climate Change Committee, stated that ‘Current [government] plans are unlikely to put us on track for Net Zero by 2050’. It went on to detail areas where the government has credible plans to make progress (electricity supply, transport), and others where we are woefully behind (low carbon heating, energy efficiency).
The Climate Change Committee tracks government progress on a monthly basis and currently states ‘only 39% of the required emissions savings are backed up by credible plans or policies’.
Confronted with 300 indicators for tracking progress in reducing emissions, I find myself pondering: when will we stop asking how to address the climate crisis and instead transition into real commitment and action?
Take the current energy crisis. Due in part to the war in Ukraine, we have all seen an immense jump in the cost of heating our homes and businesses. Rishi Sunak, as Chancellor, responded by lending households £400 to help with the cost of heating this winter, costing £60bn. This payment neither makes a significant difference to families who have seen their bills skyrocket, nor, importantly, does it address the fundamental issue of our cold, energy inefficient homes.
A national programme of home insulation, higher energy standards for new builds, and a rapid acceleration in heat pump installation would help to address the net-zero target while at the same time making it cheaper to keep our homes warm. It would also reduce the UK’s exposure to tyrants like Putin.
Another example is car dependency. We know this is a key way to address the climate crisis and improve air quality in Salisbury. Yet, according to the Climate Change Committee, ‘Public transport costs have risen faster than car travel, and there are no clear plans to address this’.
The expertise is out there in organisations such as Sustrans and best practice models exist. Investment in more reliable public transport and measures to make walking and cycling safer have the dual benefit of reducing carbon and making our communities healthier and more pleasant places to live and work.
It is time to stop searching for solutions and to start implementing the ones we know work. It is time for real ambition from our government – a national programme to urgently address the climate crisis.