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Whoever wins this ‘climate election’, our planet needs more than just bold pledges

Sue Ferns · 3 November 2019

This election is shaping up to be one of the most critical moments in recent British history. When voters go to the polls on December 12th, the choices they make could radically alter the political and economic trajectory of the UK

Action on a slew of critical policy issues is long overdue, and whilst Brexit has understandably dominated much of the conversation, for a growing number of people this is also a ‘climate election’ and a timely opportunity for the UK to take real action to halt the devastating rise in global temperatures.

The urgency of the situation has been hammered home by the flooding in Yorkshire and the Midlands, as the Met Office confirms that climate change is already leading to heavier rainfall and increased flood risk in the UK. In July, the UK Committee on Climate Change said they were “shocked” by the complete lack of government preparations for the flooding and extreme heatwaves that climate change will bring.

The stark reality of a hotter planet is no longer conjecture — it is now a lived reality for millions of people in the UK and around the world. Propelled into the public consciousness by dramatic protest actions across the UK this year by groups like Extinction Rebellion and the youth climate strikers, action on climate change has rocketed up the priority list for many voters, as recent polling by YouGov has underlined.

As a result, all the major parties are making headline-grabbing proposals on climate action and we have already seen a raft of policy proposals on energy and environmental issues, from Labour’s pledge to spend billions upgrading the UK’s housing stock, to Tory promises of a post-Brexit ‘clean energy revolution’. But are these pledges just hot air, or will they amount to a credible response to the threat of climate change?

Prospect members can be found in the energy supply industry, cutting-edge public science labs, and working in environment protection, and have the experience and technical expertise to contribute to practical solutions. Prospect has made the climate crisis a key campaigning issue, and we have already outlined some of the steps we think need to be taken to secure a low carbon future, and to accelerate the renewables revolution. We have been clear that any credible climate action plan needs to include the following elements:

· A green energy revolution that works for everyone: The UK’s free-market approach to clean energy has proved costly, unfair, and inadequate. The roll-out of renewables has faltered, while new nuclear projects have been shelved. If net-zero is to be more than just an aspiration, we need to develop a real green industrial strategy for the UK, funded by direct public investment. This will be cheaper, fairer, and will deliver a much faster roll-out of both renewables and the new nuclear projects that can ensure energy security, while directing jobs and investment to UK communities.

· Just transition and good green jobs: As Prospect, and other unions have argued previously, the government must commit to a just transition for energy workers that includes financial support, training and other appropriate assistance for those whose jobs are impacted by decarbonisation. Action is also needed to ensure that the low carbon economy is generating high quality jobs — some offshore wind contractors have already been caught paying workers well below the minimum wage.

· A renaissance in UK science: Spending on public science in the UK has been cut drastically over the last decade — funding for renewables R&D has fallen 70% since 2010, for example; to ensure the UK can remain on the cutting edge of energy and climate research the government must commit to restoring funding, while expanding public research capacity in promising new areas like energy storage and carbon capture.

· Preparing for a hotter planet: key public agencies responsible for protecting the natural environment and planning for a hotter climate have seen their budgets and staffing levels slashed since 2010. Natural England, responsible for protecting biodiversity, has had its budget cut by around 60%, while the Environment Agency has lost almost a fifth of its workforce. These cuts risk fatally undermining our efforts to prepare UK communities for a hotter and wetter world, and any credible climate action plan must include a commitment to reversing them.

Climate change is likely to be the defining political issue of the next decade, and the pledges made by the major parties underscore the growing salience of this issue for voters. Prospect will be among those campaigning for real action from whoever wins the next election; only by holding politicians’ feet to the fire can we ensure that climate pledges become real climate action.

Sue Ferns is the senior deputy general secretaryof Prospect Union.