When “Make America Great Again” became Donald Trump’s slogan, many of us on this side of the Atlantic laughed: “Great at what exactly?” But in the past few years, the Tories have become obsessed with a similar idea – we have to be “world-beating” at everything.
Whether it was the promise to make our financial sector the best in the world after Brexit, last year’s shambolic Covid-19 test-and-trace system or Priti Patel’s terrifying mission to make Britain’s borders the cruellest in Europe, politicians in the UK are keen to keep up this maximalist rhetoric.
And now, with COP26 happening on our doorsteps, we’re predictably “setting the most ambitious target to cut emissions in the world.” But is it all hot air? And if so, how long can the UK keep up with the green-washing before everyone realises the only thing we’re consistent with is hypocrisy?
Giving credit where it’s due, at a glance, the UK’s renewable sector hasn’t performed too badly. 2020 was a record-breaking year for the production of renewable power and the UK has set a target for all its energy to be from 100% renewable sources by 2035.
Yet it seems we’re already running behind on meeting some of these targets. Plus, the often-cited push for more green energy will not single-handedly resolve the climate crisis, nor does it mean that we’re actually going to wean ourselves off of new fossil fuel extraction projects any time soon.
If this government was really committed to net-zero by 2050, then why, according to Friends of the Earth and the New Economics Foundation, are 40 UK coal, oil and gas projects in the pipeline for approval by 2025? Combined, these developments would emit almost triple the UK’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions over their lifespan. Having been told that no new fossil fuel developments should be approved if we are to meet the 1.5C targets of the Paris Agreement, this news is a direct contradiction of our promises. But this isn’t surprising from a government whose climate advisor suggested not rinsing your dishes before putting them into the dishwasher to save the planet a few months ago.
Then there’s all the other shit we’re continuing to do that will directly counteract any environmental efforts.
Firstly, there are the international off-shore fossil fuel projects, such as the £750m plan to fund a gas export terminal in Mozambique that the UK continues to support. Just because these things are not happening on UK soil, doesn’t mean the country isn’t accountable.
We’re also not coughing up anywhere near enough money when it comes to paying our fair share of climate financing for the loss and damage already being caused in the Global South. What else could we expect from a country that still doesn’t recognise responsibility for the harm it caused to its former colonies? With so many foreign-aid cuts, something makes me think the government won’t grow a conscience overnight.
We haven’t made enough commitments to reinstate our biodiversity and commit to rewilding projects either, a vital part of environmental recovery.
Then there’s Britain’s financial sector, which according to a Greenpeace report, is responsible for financing nearly double the UK’s annual carbon emissions. Could we push for more regulation of banks? Please, no one would ever want to sacrifice the pride and joy of our economy – especially post-Brexit.
And to top it all off, the UK’s own climate advisors reckon we won’t be able to meet our own climate plans. Brilliant.
One thing is clear: we shouldn’t fall for the sweet talk anymore, especially when the whole world is watching us in Glasgow. The climate conference feels like the last hope for the global community to come together and save humanity from the impending climate crisis. We know that we’re running out of time, and that natural disasters triggered by global warming and the loss of biodiversity are already happening. Instead of listening to what politicians claim to be doing, let’s listen up and challenge their hypocrisy instead.