Late on Tuesday evening, Theresa May announced that she would be writing into legislation a commitment for the UK to achieve zero net emissions by 2050. This makes the UK one of the few European countries with legislated commitments to going carbon neutral after the likes of Norway (2030) and Finland (2035).
The commitment doesn’t need to be voted in by MPs because it is an amendment being put down as a statutory instrument. I don’t truly understand what that means either but like the fact that it doesn’t need a vote, given the lack of action on the climate emergency by this Conservative Government.
A Positive Move, Right?
Normally, an announcement like this that puts a solid commitment to act on the climate emergency into law would have me feeling pretty positive. However, the commitment has a loophole that gives the UK the opportunity to buy carbon credits which essentially shifts the burden of reducing emissions to developing countries. So really the UK doesn’t actually have to be carbon neutral by 2050.
When the idea of a 2050 target was postulated recently the chancellor estimated that the cost of achieving it would be around £1 trillion. Where he got that figure from I have no idea. Also, if that’s the cost of reducing our impact on the climate, what would the cost of not acting and having to adapt to the worst impacts of the climate emergency?
Knowing the Conservative government’s recent record of cuts, that money would be squeezed from the poorest of society with further cuts to local councils and welfare instead of from the huge subsidies the fossil fuel industry currently receives at the taxpayers’ expense.
A Legacy Overshadowed by Brexit
The move by Theresa May to write in this commitment into binding legislation is her attempt at forming a legacy beyond Brexit. After taking over from Cameron in 2016 after the result of the EU Referendum, Brexit was always going to dominate the political agenda in the following years. Now, in her final days as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, May is looking to push through as much legislation as she can just to try and say she achieved something else.
The result of the referendum was very close with only a marginal win for the Leave campaign. Whether the electorate knew what kind of Brexit they wanted, or even what it meant with the incredible number of lies used by the Leave campaign, May was unable to deliver anything close to what was wanted in Parliament or by the people – even after trying to push her deal through four times…
Too Little Too Late
Whether she wants to be remembered for Brexit or not, she very likely will. Small pieces of legislation won’t change her perception, certainly not mine. As difficult as finding a Brexit outcome that a majority would be happy with there are now millions more people living in poverty since she took over in 2016. Child poverty has increased. Homelessness has increased. The violent crime rate has risen alongside huge cuts to the police force. The NHS is close to breaking point after huge funding cuts (one cash injection doesn’t change the huge stress put on our National Health Service). And let’s not forget that she called a snap election to reaffirm a parliamentary majority – despite already having one – only to lose it and have to side with the Northern Irish DUP.
I’d love to get excited about commitments to take action on the climate emergency but I feel that this is nothing more than an attempt to build a legacy beyond Brexit and could potentially be undone as quickly as May has pushed it through. Not only that, the societal and environmental damage that the Conservative Government under May and Cameron far outweighs this commitment.
So I don’t know what piece of legislation you have planned next before you leave, Mrs May, but no matter what it is Brexit will be your legacy and something you won’t be able to escape from.