This momentum of growth represents the death of green toryism | Philippe Inman
Kwasi Kwarteng’s race to grow means freeing the city’s bankers and property developers from the taxes and regulations that prevent them from paving what remains of Britain’s green, pleasant land.
The humble cement mixer will be elevated to the rank of exalted. There will be more executive homes built on greenfield sites. More distribution sheds scattered along busy A-roads. And more urban renewal of the kind that involves demolishing buildings in a plume of dust and carbon emissions and replacing them with something not much better, at least not in environmental terms.
At no point in the Chancellor’s speech on Friday did he mention the need to get to net zero, or how his plans would help our ailing planet while doling out billions of pounds in tax cuts to households and businesses the most rich.
At least Boris Johnson’s administration has plans in place to get to net zero, and Michael Gove has considered ways to reverse 70 or more years of severe biodiversity loss.
As Fiona Harvey documented in the GuardianJohnson’s premiership brought “more major environmental legislation and arguably more progress in tackling the climate and natural crises than either of his Tory predecessors in the past decade.” . It’s a low bar when David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne have done their best to launch nearly every green initiative in the long grass, but Johnson has put in place the Farm Bill, the Fisheries Bill and environment law, coupled with plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars, will create an offshore wind boom and protect a third of the UK’s land and seas.
Johnson’s legacy, however, is largely rhetoric and very little action. That’s the message from those who attended committee meetings to put meat on the bones of its “10-point plan for a green industrial revolution” only to find themselves in nothing more than a talk shop. A member of Johnson’s Green Jobs Delivery Group, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that if the discussion ever widened beyond the number of millions of trees that can be planted in the UK, a strategy might have emerged.
It didn’t matter that senior executives from Siemens, BMW and E.ON sat around a table with the head of England’s colleges and representatives of major industry lobby groups – the discussion was still not moving forward.
At the time Liz Truss sacked the minister in charge who chaired the delivery group, Greg Hands – whose green credentials were polished when he resigned from a ministerial post in 2018 over Heathrow expansion plans – the group seems to have only made a program for the next meeting.
Planting trees is indeed an important issue for urban landscapes, as well as for a countryside plagued by drought. Economically, there’s good reason to bring it up, too: the UK imports 80% of the wood needed for items ranging from toilet paper to construction timber, while well-managed forests could fill the void. .
Yet this was just one initiative among many, and a change that was poised to ripple through major industrial and commercial sectors could not happen while political attention was elsewhere.
Green Tories want us to think the party still cares after Truss appointed Graham Stuart as Deputy Minister for Climate Change. Stuart was one of the leading voices urging Theresa May to enshrine net zero in law. He was also involved in the globe group of legislators pushing for mandatory climate action laws to be passed by national parliaments.
But a junior minister – well-meaning and well-connected though he is – is clearly just a front in a government that wants to bring back fracking, produce more North Sea oil and tear up planning laws.
Perhaps Truss will prove a champion of green politics: she has spoken repeatedly about the need to act on the climate crisis during her leadership campaign and has pledged to attend COP27 in Egypt and the 15th Biodiversity Cop in Canada.
Except that the new prime minister, as environment secretary, has cut subsidies for solar farms. It has also shown little appetite for accelerating an upgrade of the electricity grid to accommodate more renewable energy providers, or to support major manufacturing industries as they transition to net zero.
Without a prime minister and cabinet that understands the risk of a growth spurt – which generates even more carbon – it will be up to protesters and fracking nimbys to stop the UK from backsliding. They will have to be on the streets in force to block what, in most cases, will be disastrous and unwarranted initiatives.