Public confidence in the political establishment is at an all-time low here in the UK — but, lessons learned from abroad can give us hope on climate action, says Jim McClelland.
Do you know your colours? Outside of the worlds of visual art, fashion and interiors, it is fair to say that not everybody in Australia, for instance, might have been completely familiar with the blue-green hues of teal, prior to this year.
But, things can change, fast.
The future is not just green, it’s Teal
In the 2022 federal election, so-called 'Teal independents' were in the vanguard of a radical movement to change politics Down Under, for the better, forever.
One recent poll even placed the climate emergency bottom of the list of priorities for Tory party members
Climate front and centre
Most, but not all, were backed by Climate 200, a community crowdfunded initiative convened by committed climate philanthropist and clean-tech investor Simon Holmes à Court.
With an army of almost 19,000 volunteers to call upon, these were the changemakers that inspired nearly 1 in every 3 Australians to vote for an independent or minor party. Climate was placed firmly front-and-centre in the public and media debate.
The resulting sea-change at grassroots level successfully ended the bid of the Liberal-National Coalition to win a fourth term in office and catapulted the Labor government of Anthony Albanese unexpectedly into power, almost by default.
Out went former PM Scott Morrison — reluctant last-minute attendee at COP26 and retrogressive fan of dirty power. He was the man who once brought a lump of coal into Parliament, in a stunt that fuelled the (bush)fires of climate sceptics and deniers.
Make no mistake, this was regime change in action, at the ballot box.
One vote worth $373bn in climate action.
Passed by one vote
Barely three months later, across The Pond, the United States Senate finally passed The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) by one vote, enabling President Biden to sign into law a bundle of climate, healthcare and tax measures that together raise revenue worth $737bn.
According to analysis by the Rhodium Group, the basket of measure could drive net greenhouse gas emissions in the US down below 2005 levels by around 40% by 2030.
In truth, the final scaled-down draft amounts to only 20% of a $3.5tn monster package that was originally proposed.
Nevertheless, it is still set to invest a whopping $373bn into the fight against climate change, which represents the largest federal funding round of its kind, in the history of the United States. It is a very big deal. Period.
UK: The heat is on and bills are up
So, where does that leave the UK?
Despite the fact that skyrocketing gas bills are making the cost-of-living crisis the dominant topic of discussion in the Conservative leadership election, climate change and action are still languishing very low down the vote-winning agenda for the two remaining candidates.
One recent poll even placed the climate emergency bottom of the list of priorities for Tory party members.
As ever, inflammatory talk of cutting EU ‘green tape’ to free up spending and reduce the tax burden on individuals and households still serves to excite a hard-core element of right-wing voters, eager to light a bonfire under environmental regulation.
A 10-point plan
All of this perhaps seems a far cry from the promise of the UK Government’s 10-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, last updated back in November 2020.
Part of the drive towards Net Zero by 2050, the Plan was billed as fit to create and support up to 250,000 highly-skilled jobs and it ranged in scope from heat pumps to hydrogen.
Admittedly, the figure of 600,000 heat pump installations every year by 2028 attracted strong criticism for being so optimistic as to be almost mathematically unsound.
By contrast, the target of 5GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 — since expanded upon with the launch of the Hydrogen Strategy, last August — drew fire for being disappointingly under ambitious and arguably proved something of a damp squib.
Despite all that, market momentum remains stubbornly buoyant, as evidenced by the Government recording the largest ever funding round for its renewables auction, just last month. The fourth-round allocation for the Contracts For Difference (CfD) scheme delivered almost 11GW of clean energy, enough to power 12M homes.
Evolution, extinction and the climate emergency
Of course, we are not where we want to be right now. When it comes to climate action, political expectations are not high, here in the UK, at present. Yet, the lessons of our fellow English-speaking world citizens in the US and Australia should give us hope, at least.
As the saying goes, ‘a week is a long time in politics’ — transformation happens fast.
Only last year, Donald Trump was in the White House and climate science under attack.
Scott Morrison, meanwhile, was awarding himself no fewer than five ministerial portfolios on the sly. Fast-forward to summer 2022 and both dinosaurs appear politically extinct, for now.
Whatever your party or persuasion, climate is political — and that’s not always a bad thing.
So, dig out that soapbox, take a stand and raise a fist in peaceful protest, for the planet.
As the late American Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis famously once said: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble”.