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Leader comment: COP26 and the green vote

22 October 2021

THE collection of policies announced by the Government on Tuesday as part of the UK’s contribution to fighting climate change deserves to be received positively. As we have seen in other areas, this is a Government that responds conservatively and late to crises, part of a general philosophy of reducing its involvement in regulation, international affairs, and, well, government. The moves that it has made towards decarbonising the UK economy are thus far more advanced than might be expected: the subsidy scheme for heat pumps to replace gas boilers (we assume that the subsidy can increase as the industry gears up); the development of a better charging network for electric cars and support for their manufacture; the investment in tree-planting and peat restoration; the carbon-capture plans; the greater use of hydrogen, and further investment in renewables. These are the sorts of incremental changes that are needed to turn a complex economy along a new zero-carbon path. The fact that they are incremental, is, however, because they are proposed by politicians, conscious that they are making decisions on behalf of an electorate who are as conservative as they, living in an economy battered by Covid, reluctant — and often unable — to pay either higher household costs or higher taxes. Every political instinct, therefore, acts as a drag.

The COP26 gathering in Glasgow in a week’s time has clearly prompted this latest round of policy announcements — and similar, though often vaguer, political declarations around the world. The governments of the most polluting countries know that they will be confronted by representatives from regions of the globe where the effects of the climate crisis are already harming their ecology, their environment, and their citizens. COP26 has a far wider importance, however. It must convince electorates around the world that there is no alternative to immediate action to halt greenhouse-gas emissions. There are, of course, many whose understanding of the crisis is far in advance of the politicians’, not least the Christians who have been on the road to Glasgow since mid-summer. We feature much of this advanced thinking in this issue, and the Green Church Showcase, launched during COP26, will highlight just a few of the initiatives that are taking the Church towards its target of being net zero by 2030.

But it is only by convincing governments that inaction in the face of the impending disaster is a vote-loser will we see from them the speed and radicalism that are needed to reduce global oil and gas extraction (still more than double the amount needed to hit the 1.5° target); discourage air travel (not mentioned on Tuesday); contribute to the task of insulating domestic housing; and introduce tougher regulation of industry, and all the measures that they instinctively shy away from out of fear for their political futures. They need to hear that their political future depends on securing a future for everyone.

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