Why care should be at the heart of climate policy

This post is by Sarah Olney MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the climate emergency, business & energy and transport

I recently visited Dose of Nature, a charity in Kew established to promote the mental and physical health benefits of engaging with the natural world. Through educative activities and hands on experience, the charity’s work feeds into popular narratives of natural settings as places of refuge and comfort in times of psychological distress that can inspire wonder, serenity and peace.

As the member of parliament for Richmond Park, a constituency which boasts the largest Royal Park in London, with uninterrupted views of St Paul’s Cathedral, I am fortunate enough to take solace from landscapes that have inspired many, including the English Romantic painter, William Turner.

The upheaval of the past seven months has reminded me, as well as many of my constituents, of the beauty that lies on our doorstep. The renewed passion for green space that has swept communities across the UK has also served as a stark reminder of the growing fragility of such spaces.

A gear change for the Lib Dems
Since Sir Ed Davey became the leader of the Liberal Democrats in August, care has had a central role in our party’s agenda. As a concept, care perhaps does not spring to mind as a suitable party platform. Yet, I strongly believe that this gear change is right.

Care is not weak, but impassioned and human. Care, for both people and planet, is a prerequisite to address the climate emergency. If executed properly, a green care plan can not only tackle the climate and nature crisis but can pave the way for greener, happier living. The policies we propose, to mitigate and adapt to climate change, will support emerging technologies, help establish industries and create green jobs.

The Lib Dems are committed to cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent by 2030. We would legislate to achieve net zero emissions by 2045, rather than the existing 2050 target, and would accelerate the development of renewable power, reaching at least 80 per cent of electricity generation by 2030.

Renewable energy must be at the heart of any plan to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Investment in cutting edge technologies, like tidal and wave power, energy storage, smart grids and hydrogen fuels will improve the UK’s energy security and resilience, reduce our dependence on imports of fossil fuels and protect consumers and businesses from oil and gas price shocks.

Green investment is needed to support the poorest in society
In the short term, the investment needed to replace Britain’s ageing power stations and to insulate our notoriously energy inefficient buildings will help to revive the economy. Properly insulating homes by 2025, for instance, would rapidly create high quality jobs. Such investment would also support the poorest in our society, who are most likely to be affected by climate change yet the least able to adjust to it.

The scale of the climate emergency calls for ambition that only a care agenda can incite. This care must be channelled strategically, nevertheless, to aid responsibility and accountability. Since the axing of the short lived Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), responsibility for achieving the net zero goal across government has been somewhat hazy. The pursuit for net zero should run like a vein though all departments. DECC lacked the powers necessary over housing, transport and more, so the creation of a new Department for Climate and Natural Resources, and the introduction of a requirement on all public bodies to report on climate risks to their remits, would ensure that climate objectives are a top priority for central government.

Local authorities should be required to plan for zero carbon
Having said that, as a party that advocates the sharing of authority between central and local government, we are pragmatic about using government intervention. We understand the value, and the necessity, of community and local authority action, and would like to see powers and funding devolved, creating a statutory duty on all local authorities to produce a Zero Carbon Strategy to meet it, including local energy, transport and land use.

Uncoordinated policies, failure to gain public consent for measures and a lack of delivery capability will not lead to changes that are needed. The Environment Bill, which is part of the government’s 25 year environment plan, illustrates this point. While it rightly shifts legal responsibility for tackling air pollution onto local authorities, it is not equipping them with the necessary resources to do so.

Lib Dem controlled councils are showing what can be done when suitable resources are harnessed. Most have declared a climate emergency and some have published a Climate Action Plan. Cornwall, for instance, was one of the first councils to declare an emergency and construct a plan, including innovative work around geothermal energy to fuel its vehicle fleet. Similarly, in Lewes in East Sussex, every new building, residential or commercial, is now expected to have a renewable energy scheme and electric vehicle charging points for their parking spaces.

Given that we are the last generation with the capability to avoid the worst impacts of climate breakdown and its costly damage to social and economic well-being and nature. A shift towards polices underpinned by the principle of care, at both the local and national level, could not be more apt.

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