It’s Now or Never: Passing the UK Green New Deal After COVID-19

The drastic, collective pause on our everyday routines during the coronavirus pandemic created some unintentional positives for the environment. If the UK government fails to implement the Green New Deal Bill, our greatest chance to mitigate climate change and prevent further loss of life may be wasted. 

Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) was announced on 22 August this year, nearly a month later than expected. Over the last 50 years, the day by which humanity’s demand for ecological resources exceeds the year’s supply has consistently crept forward, as early as July 29th. That was until  2020. As businesses closed, events were cancelled, and travel decreased, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions declined. However, reversing the trend of EOD dates should have occurred as a result of effective environmental legislation and sustained efforts from the government, not as a by-product of the worst health crisis in a century. Through a green recovery, the British government could tackle the crises of unemployment and inequality alongside that of the climate, and the Green New Deal is a pre-outlined plan awaiting approval.  

What is the Green New Deal? 

The Green New Deal Bill (officially the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill) was first introduced in the House of Commons by MPs Caroline Lucas and Clive Lewis in March 2019. It is a ten-year ‘economic and public investment strategy’ which prioritises the reduction of net UK GHG emissions to zero by 2030. This would exceed the UN’s push for net-zero emissions by 2050 and demonstrate Britain’s commitment to mitigating climate change ahead of the 2021 COP26 meeting, to be hosted in Glasgow. Alongside its decarbonisation strategy, the GND sets out an economic plan that would make sweeping changes across British society: creating thousands of green jobs through investment in a green economy, making changes in the energy and transport sectors, food growth and consumption, and the regulation of businesses, fundamentally coordinating long-term social and economic development through the lens of the climate emergency.

Through a green recovery, the British government could tackle the crises of unemployment and inequality alongside that of the climate, and the Green New Deal is a pre-outlined plan awaiting approval.  

Why is the GND relevant? How does it compare to the current government’s plans? 

By investing in “£100 billion annually for the next ten years”, the GND vastly eclipses the government’s economic recovery plan, which will make just over £3bn available for green initiatives. Criticism of the government‘s goals pertains to the short-term prioritisation of jobs in the wake of coronavirus, which has left 730,000 unemployed, and the lack of focus on a green economy. The Conservatives’ plan pales in comparison to Germany’s allocation of £36bn for a sustainable recovery, constituting a third of the country’s overall spending plan. This is perhaps a result of the German Green party looking set to become the second largest at the next Bundestag elections; a demonstration of an effective proportional voting system. With just one twelfth of the UK’s total £37bn recovery strategy apportioned to environmental initiatives, Boris Johnson’s superficial promise to ‘build back greener’ remains overshadowed by the growing unemployment crisis. In contrast, the GND would accommodate both employment and sustainability issues. One of its proposed methods includes restructuring the standard working week to four days, reallocating working hours and improving work-related mental health, which would allow people the time to give back to their communities and engage in politics. 

Concern over the government’s myopic attitude towards the climate crisis is compounded by the surge in single-use plastic waste due to Coronavirus.

It is estimated that 194 billion disposable masks and gloves are currently consumed globally each month, adding to the already critical level of plastic pollution.

One environmentalist found 177 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) during a one hour litter pick in Cornwall. Government regulation of PPE production and waste management will be vital to the prevention of further health risks and biodiversity loss in our oceans. France, for example, already fines £60 for littering in the street, and this could double in order to combat the rise of face mask and glove pollution. As a Bill introduced prior to the pandemic, the GND does not have direct proposals related to PPE waste. However, it is yet to go through a second reading at Westminster, meaning that a review could see this addition. Despite our limited timescale to act against climate change, if the Bill passes on to the committee stage, COVID-19-specific amendments could be debated and relevant clauses adapted. Subsequently, the GND could become a long-term government strategy that deals with both the economic fallout of coronavirus and the ever-pressing issues of the climate crisis.  

It is important to note that despite our delayed overshoot this year, the temporary drop in emissions will not be significant in slowing the rate of climate change and cannot replace urgent government action. The World Meteorological Organization has already suggested that the target “to limit the [global] temperature increase … to 1.5 degrees Celsius” this century – as established in the 2016 Paris Agreement – has a 20% chance of being broken by 2024. Therefore, whilst the British government attempts to stimulate the economy out of a lockdown-fuelled recession through short-term schemes like Eat Out to Help Out, the implementation of a Bill that intersects sustainability and economic COVID-19 recovery remains paramount. But, the government’s current commitment to a green economy is severely limited; a delayed action that may have devastating and potentially irreversible consequences for our planet. If the Green New Deal rallied enough Parliamentary support, it would pave the way for a strong, decarbonised economy and, crucially, help avoid the worst ramifications of a rapid global temperature increase. 

Art by Oliver Walter

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