The great tragedy that scientists have been warning us about for decades that governments around the world haven’t done enough to prepare for has finally hit us. No, not climate change, the other one. I was very much in two minds about writing this blog – after all, what hasn’t been said about Covid 19 at this point, including its parallels and links to the climate crisis. However, conversation about the economic recovery, including the green recovery, seems to have waned, in part because cases continue to rise in what may well have been classed as a second wave by the time I reach the end of this. So, allow me to take the next few hundred words to check in on how the green recovery is doing, and what we should be asking from it.
We’ve seen a raft of green announcements from the government over the course of the year, even at a time when the phrase ‘Covid 19’ would have brought up some very blank Google searches. The decarbonisation of transport is being increasingly looked at, due to the Department of Transport’s mega-plan in that area. Part of the government’s green plans have unusually included retrofits, £2bn worth in a new scheme, the Green Homes Guarantee. However, this fall far short of the £9bn promised in the Conservative party’s own manifesto, and many more than the £35-65bn-ish to 2035 some experts say is required. If this is ‘phase one’ then all well and good, but there has been little noise about a ‘phase two’, nor the serious questions of how to decarbonise heat. Hydrogen and CCS have got some long overdue investment too, but there still isn’t much of a strategic plan. When can we expect pilot projects? What is the market going to look like by 2030?
There’s also the matter of research and development announcements, which the government seems very fond of. While R&D announcements are always welcome, they are not a substitute for actual action. It’s worth noting that the biggest announcements this year from the government have been the 40GW offshore wind target, large public transport infrastructure announcements, bringing forward the 2040 internal combustion engine ban, and onshore wind and solar becoming eligible for future investment – all of which happened before the Covid crisis. Oops. (Although to be fair, since the first draft of this the government did make some noise about a 2030 petrol and diesel ban, only to push it back further in the year – so we’re still left waiting to see). What we’re left with are some fairly sporadic if welcome announcements which do little to tie into a wider plan.
So what should we be asking from a green recovery, if not this? A question that springs to mind to me is, what’s changed? Are we going to stop asking for renewables, or ask for five times as many now there is an economic and health crisis? Neither is the answer – renewable projects are essential, and the volume requested by environmentalists before was based mostly on practical necessity, not political calculations. So really, all the green recovery does is give a platform to ask for the the same demands as before, not a raft of new more radical demands because we feel like it. Renewables, interconnection, storage, electric vehicles, public transports, retrofits, low carbon heating, energy and resource efficiency – none of these have changed because of the economic recovery. The only thing that has changed is the opportunity – a fantastic chance to battle a major threat even in the darkest of times. That’s all the green recovery is, nothing more. It’s not a cheat code to unlock secret powers or make the previously impossible possible. It’s that, if the government yet again kicks the can down the road on heat decarbonisation, or yet again produces a transport plan that buckles on ambition at the last minute, it will be a spectacular and disastrous waste of an already disastrous year. The green recovery doesn’t allow us to go net zero tomorrow, nor does it completely change what need to happen to get us there. It’s a more emotional concept, one of a phoenix rising from the ashes, finding hope and strength in the face of adversity. And that’s completely fine, in fact it’s beautiful. The green recovery is rallying speech when all seems lost, our call to arms after defeat. At the very least, it’s an opportunity to remind us that we can do better. Because the world continues to spin new crises, and the climate flavoured one will endure for far longer than our current situation.