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‘Economic emergency’ puts the brakes on Boris Johnson’s green agenda


Outraged climate activists are blaming Rishi Sunak, the UK Chancellor, of eroding Boris Johnson’s plans for a ‘green industrial revolution’.

In his so-called Spending Review, Rishi Sunak, the UK Chancellor, yesterday announced that Britain’s ‘economy emergency has only just begun’ and that it will negatively affect Britain’s finances for decades to come. Obviously, Sunak hardly mentioned the climate issue at all.

The Spending Review and its relegation of green issues to the bottom of priorities confirms reports that the Treasury is at odds with Boris Johnson’s green hobby horse. Ten days ago, the Observer reported about the growing row about Boris’s green agenda.

Boris Johnson’s plans to relaunch his premiership with a blitz of announcements on combating climate change and the creation of tens of thousands of new green jobs are meeting stiff resistance from the cash-strapped Treasury, the Observer has been told.

Senior figures in Whitehall and advisers to the government on environmental issues say negotiations on the content of a major environmental speech by the prime minister are still ongoing between No 10, the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy with just days to go before Johnson delivers the keynote address. […]

But many of these pledges involve long-term financial commitments of funding and subsidy which the Treasury is reluctant to make until the extent of the bills from the Covid crisis are better known.

“The Treasury is fighting back hard against a lot of the green plans and there is a battle going on with No 10,” said a source close to the talks. “The PM wants to get on with it, with plans for the long term, but he is meeting a lot of resistance. You would expect that from the Treasury but with Covid it is of another order.”

With the economic and financial crisis accelerating and an astronomical debt mountain building up fast, it is becoming absolutely obvious that Britain won’t have the finances for years to come to splash out on costly Net Zero plans.

Even BBC’s in-house climate campaigners are beginning to realise that the financial constraints will ultimately lead to further dilution, delays and U-turns.

The UK chancellor’s Spending Review has been accused of undermining the prime minister’s “green” vision by pushing ahead with a £27bn roads programme.

After several speeches in which Boris Johnson pledged to rescue the economy by “building back greener”, Rishi Sunak’s speech on Wednesday barely mentioned the climate.

He said he was pursuing the nation’s priorities.

Mr Sunak put detailed numbers on the PM’s recent green technology plan.

But he offered no increase on the £12bn Mr Johnson says the government has mobilised to tackle climate change – even though the sum is much less than what’s been agreed in France, Germany and others.

Environment groups are most angry at the roads programme. The chancellor said it would ease congestion, improve commute times and “keep travel arteries open.” It was essential, he said, because people are shunning public transport during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Campaigners said it would attract more traffic and increase emissions, when the PM says they should be falling.

Friends of the Earth’s Mike Childs said: “He (Mr Sunak) has completely undermined the Prime Minister.

“With billions of pounds earmarked for a climate-wrecking road-building programme and inadequate funding for home insulation, eco-heating, buses and cycling this strategy falls woefully short.

“We need to head off the climate emergency. Ministers must ensure every major development is in line with meeting the net zero target.”

The union boss Manuel Cortes general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) accused the government of “abandoning all pretence of ambition over decarbonisation”.

He said: “The Spending Review was a moment to unleash the green economic revolution, but Sunak failed.

“Instead of grasping the nettle and resetting our country on an economic course based around green jobs and investment – we had barely a mention on the climate crisis we face.”

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