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Latest 22 February 2024

Caroline Lucas: The Tories are either lying or are asleep at the wheel

The Government’s own assessments of its net zero strategy show an administration that is already failing in the fight against the climate crisis, says Caroline Lucas.

When Rishi Sunak made his U-turn on climate policy last September, he declared the country was “proud to be a world leader in reaching net zero”. But behind the scenes, the Government was only too aware that the policies we have in place to deliver on that global commitment, enshrined in UK law, are nothing more than a fantasy fiction.

For a long time, we have been calling on the Government to reveal their detailed assessments into whether the UK’s current policies will be enough to get the UK to net zero by 2050 – requests which have been doggedly refused. Now a legal challenge in the High Court from Good Law Project, Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth has forced the Government to reveal their risk tables as part of the public record.

And I can see why Ministers have been so desperate to keep them under wraps. By the Government’s own account they are relying on technology that has “never been deployed at scale”, is “not… possible at current funding levels” and is beset with “inherent uncertainties and risk”.

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Technologies for removing greenhouse gases are central to the Government’s policies for meeting net zero. Their strategy relies on these technologies removing around 80 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year by 2050 – more than the total emissions from the entire power sector in 2020. This means the UK will have to develop an entirely new industry, at scale, in a couple of decades.

The Tories are putting their faith in fairytale technologies, but things are just as bad when it comes to policies built on solid ground. Take onshore wind – a proven technology that could have been cutting household energy bills for more than a decade. The Tories claimed they had removed the barriers last year, but the risk tables show that the rollout of onshore wind faces “critical blockers”, supporting the damning view of industry leaders that England is a “godforsaken” country for onshore wind.

When it comes to policies with instant impact, the risk tables show the Tories just don’t get it. Millions of ordinary people will lose out if we fail to deliver net zero policies which include forcing landlords to improve insulation in rented homes, or building homes that are fit for the future – something on which the risk tables admit the timeline will be tight.

Everywhere you look, the risk tables reveal a government that has set targets without the concrete plans, policies and investment to achieve them. It is little wonder we are already falling behind. So when Sunak stood up and claimed he was proud of being a “world leader in reaching net zero” he was either lying or asleep at the wheel.

In that same, shameful speech, Sunak asked for a “better, more honest debate”. Now we can see the gap between his rhetoric and his delivery, it’s time to be honest about the challenges we face in meeting the UK’s climate change commitments and responsibilities. It’s time to do better, grasp the economic and social opportunities that a just transition affords and confront the climate emergency head on.

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