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How can Boris Johnson commit to a greener future without mentioning the word 'climate' in his speech?

Layla Moran
·3-min read
Getty Images
Getty Images

We were told Boris Johnson’s speech would set out a “New Deal” for Britain. But the only thing that's “Rooseveltian” about these spending plans was that they belonged to the last century, not 2020.

They showed nothing like the scale of ambition of that we need to tackle the climate emergency. Beneath the rhetoric about the need to “build back greener”, there were precious few concrete commitments to doing more to protect our environment. Tellingly, the word climate was not even mentioned once in the entire speech.

Given that time is rapidly running out to tackle the climate emergency, this lack of ambition was astounding. Last week, the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change published a report calling for urgent action to ensure the UK meets its target of net zero emissions by 2050. Suggested measures included a national plan to insulate the UK’s homes, encouraging the switch to electric vehicles and investing in green infrastructure to make it easier for people to walk, cycle and work remotely. But rather than acting on any of these issues, Boris Johnson simply reheated old funding commitments and announced another £100m of funding to build more roads. This was typical of the spin over substance that we've come to expect from this government.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to change course and ensure that we do invest fully in tackling the climate emergency and building a greener future. This pandemic has served as a wake-up call that we cannot go back to how things were. The country is now faced with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the transition to not just a carbon neutral, but also a carbon negative, future. It’s crucial that we seize this opportunity with both hands.

First, we need to see a massive investment in retraining and skills to create green jobs and ensure that communities aren't left behind. The government needs to realise that our infrastructure is comprised of human beings, not just bricks and mortar. Moving to a zero-carbon economy will need a zero-carbon workforce, with people trained to work in jobs from fast-growing sectors like offshore wind to installing home insulation. We should also set up a new “Green Youth Corps”, that provides opportunities for young people to volunteer with environmental organisations and charities.

Second, we need to ensure that polluting sectors like the car industry and aviation are given green bailouts, with financial support linked to strict environmental conditions. Since the coronavirus crisis, large airlines and car manufacturers have been given billions of pounds of government-backed loans to stay afloat. This support has been important to protect jobs in these industries, but it should be linked to reducing carbon emissions and investing in greener technologies.

That would follow the example set by other countries such as France, which has bailed out its car and aviation industries but set them strict green conditions. This should be combined with a significant boost to subsidies for electric cars and other even greener forms of transport like cycling.

Third, we need to listen to people and build a shared vision of how we move forward as a country together. For example, I’m taking part in the Time is Now Virtual Lobby, where I’ll be discussing environmental issues with my constituents to understand their concerns and hopes for the future.

Events like this give me hope that the fight will continue. Boris Johnson’s speech was a huge missed opportunity for change. But millions of people in this country are still passionate about protecting the planet and building a greener future as we come out of this crisis. We need to harness that energy, and together rebuild an economy that grows stronger because it puts the environment and people first.

Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and a candidate for the party’s leadership

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