As the U.K. Prepares to Host COP26, Its Own Budget Falls Short on Green Initiatives

The U.K. will host the U.N. Climate Summit in its first two-year history next week as Covid-19 is overthrown. Ahead of the summit, on Oct. 27, Britain’s Finance Minister Rishi Sunak,The long-awaited national budget was finally published. The U.K. government had one last chance to put an end to its criticisms and to match the newly published net zero strategy to the expenditure commitments necessary to achieve a zero-emission future. This was the U.K.’s last chance to make its case.
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But no one—even the government’s harshest critics—would have expected a national budget so bereft of detail on how the U.K. will use its financial might to tackle the climate crisis. For the 70 minutes that Sunak spoke, he failed to mention the word ‘climate’ once.

It is easy to see why the U.K. can be considered a world leader in climate change. It is the G7’s first nation to establish a net zero carbon emission goal by 2050. The government has also developed a plan to reduce carbon emissions. Yet, for those who follow Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government closely, these glittering targets and flashy speeches start to look like the Emperor’s new clothes when examined more closely.

Unfulfilled promises

The government’s rhetoric around tackling climate change has accelerated, but its actions tell a different story. Take the ‘Green Homes Grant’ that it announced in 2020. This would have provided both climate justice and emissions reductions, even though thousands in the U.K. are still suffering from extreme energy poverty. Only months after, the government scrapped it and has this week proposed a weaker replacement. Over 24 million UK homes must be retrofitted. These could lead to green jobs for thousands and warm homes for many millions. However, the government is no longer talking about retrofits. Instead, it promises to only pay for heat pump installation in an estimated 30,000 homes per year.

But the decision to slash air passenger duty on domestic flights really sums up this government’s approach to climate change. At current rates of growth, aviation will take up half of the U.K.’s carbon use by 2050, despite serving only a slither of the U.K. population. Only 8% of U.K. citizens flew domestically in 2019. With statistics like this, you have to wonder who the Chancellor thinks he’s helping?

We can also see their stubbornness to build new fossil fuel projects at a time when it is necessary for us to wind down our production and consumption and shift workers from the old industries into the ones that will create the future. It is this: Cambo oilfieldThis government will give green light for development in North Sea. It shatters any hope that the U.K. can be a leader on climate change. Cambo contains over 800 million barrels of oil and will be extracted over a 25 year period—far beyond the time when the U.K. should cease burning fossil fuels. This isn’t climate leadership, it is climate hypocrisy.

Add to this the fact the government has refused to withdraw support for future airport expansion—and has cut the U.K. aid budget that provided financial support for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects worldwide—and we begin to see a very different picture emerging. Sunak’s was a budget that played to bankers quaffing sparkling wineshort-haul airlines and auto drivers. They don’t take seriously the severity of our climate crisis.

The appearance of climate delays

The tone of the speech was perhaps more concerning. Sunak (official title: Chancellor of Exchequer) could have used the chance to boost our economy by creating millions of green, well-paid jobs for those whose livelihoods and lives have been destroyed by the pandemic. Instead, he insisted he wouldn’t be the Chancellor of big spending forever, and promised that he would cut taxes. Although there were some expenditures in the budget, it was not the same as the direction of travel. Austerity EconomicsIt was evident that the past decade had been a success. The U.K. cannot become a ‘climate leader’ without the necessary investment to make it happen.

Sunak was not interested in meeting the historic occasion with financing. He seemed uninterested about the future of the planet, and the communities that are already suffering from climate disaster. Instead of seeing leadership, we saw a shuffling of responsibility.

The tactic of climate delay is a type of climate denial that uses rhetorical techniques to distract targets, but without substantive policies. These opponents of climate change are using a more complex approach to create the illusion of any action. Other countries such as the U.S. are able to position their budgets in order to deliver large on green spending that delivers good jobs—albeit facing their own hurdles—it will soon become harder for those like the U.K., who are hell bent on keeping the purse strings closed, to hold onto this illusion.


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