Mark Dolan: If Cop 26 isn’t a collective global effort they can cop right off
Change cannot be done at the expense of the financial stability and security of the country.
Cracking journalism from the Observer today. Leaked documents seen by the paper reveal a huge rift between Boris Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, over the potential economic effects of moving towards a zero-carbon economy, just weeks to go before the Cop26 climate summit.
As the PM prepares to position the UK at the head of global efforts to combat climate change and curb greenhouse gas emissions as host of the Glasgow meeting, the documents show the Treasury is warning of serious economic damage to the UK economy and future tax rises if the UK overspends on, or misdirects, green investment.
Look, I'm all for saving the planet. It's pretty clear we are chucking mountains of plastic into the sea, air quality needs to be improved and we have a moral obligation to preserve the remarkable ecosystem we have inherited and avoid handing future generations a wrecked planet. But action on the environment is not a matter exclusive to individual nation states.
The environmental challenges that we face, which by the way are open to scientific debate, cannot and will not be tackled by countries acting in isolation, investing huge amounts of money, impacting both their economy and their peoples’ way of life. Not when others do not pull their weight. Acting in isolation is like taking a hygiene shower before getting into a public swimming pool, only to find that others are happily relieving themselves in the water.
The Queen is not one to intervene in politics, but she was overheard last week bemoaning the fact that there's a lot of talk about environmental issues but very little action. This was clearly a dig at countries like China who continue to pollute on an epic scale, and whose president can't even be bothered to turn up to the Cop 26 environmental summit.
I wonder whether Boris’s overnight conversion to the climate change cause is born out of pressure from his partner Carrie, the real Deputy Prime Minister. Or is it another example of a Boris Johnson vanity project. Like his dream of a tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland, or the ill-fated garden bridge that cost London taxpayers billions and never happened. Boris loves an expensive grand project and they normally end up in the merde. I would like collective global action and I think it's remarkable what could be done if we pooled our resources and moved together, but it's exactly like pursuing massive companies that don't pay enough tax.
Again that cannot be on a state by state basis, it would have to be global, otherwise companies will just run from one territory to another. Which they do. Setting up their headquarters in Uzbekistan or Timbuktu.
Boris Johnson doubtless has huge qualities he's bright, has a keen wit and is an election winning machine. And he ended four and a half years of Brexit misery. And he's been fractionally more pro freedom than some of his European counterparts in the course of this pandemic. But I do worry about Boris and money.
This is a guy who can't even keep his own personal finances in check, a man so broke he’s got to borrow money for wallpaper and a man so bad with numbers, he can’t be 100% sure how many children he’s got. But frivolity in your own personal finances cannot be the template for how you run the country. Any Prime Minister and Chancellor has a duty of care not just to the health of the planet, but the health of the economy. And if you crash the economy, you crash the environment, because there will be no funding for green investment, no money for solar panels wind farms, regenerative wave technology, electric car charging points, green boiler subsidies, research and development and the rest.
For too long now the economy has been the whipping boy of government policy, the punch drunk victim. It can only take so much. We shut down the economy for a year and a half, exploded our national debt, created a budget deficit that will be with us for years all in a failed attempt - in my view, others disagree - to stop a virus. Crashing the economy now to boost our green credentials, whilst India, Brazil, China and the United States continue to party like it's 1999. The economy should have been a priority during the pandemic, because a damaged economy is damaged lives and lost lives.
The University of Bristol predict that half a million people will die prematurely as a result of creating the biggest recession in three hundred years. Well this will be a drop in the ocean compared what could happen if Britain's robust and world-class economy is sacrificed at the altar of zero carbon.
As individuals we must do our bit. We need to stop wasting enormous amounts of energy have a clean a car, a greener office, cycle and walk a bit where possible and yes even insulating your home should to be encouraged. But not by lying down on motorways. But making a difference. Change, which I do believe is urgent and essential, cannot be done at the expense of the financial stability and security of the country.
It's only a decade since we saw the sovereign debt crisis, in which countries like Greece were no longer able to service their bills and countries like Italy frankly continue to teeter on the brink.
In all matters of state, when you want to improve the living standards of citizens, secure your defences from attack, help the environment, invest in public services, educate children, policer the streets, house and feed people, it all boils down to the same thing.
There's just only one thing you have to worry about. There’s only one thing that makes or breaks all of this. It's the economy, stupid.
And if Cop 26 isn’t a collective global effort, they can cop right off.