We are at a climate crisis crossroads – we have to reshape the country profoundly

Reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is the right – and smart – thing to do. Britain must play its part in protecting our planet

Justine Greening
Sunday 13 September 2020 15:56
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What is causing the climate crisis, and how do we stop it?

In recent times, we’ve seen the government struggle to plan for the next week, let alone next month or next year. But on one vitally important issue we have some certainty.

This country has passed a law that commits us to reaching net zero by 2050, which signalled our dedication to balancing carbon emissions. While some might say this is too slow, we can all agree that the direction is the right one.

So in spite of all the uncertainty around us, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that on this most fundamental issue we have a clear sense of where we’re going.

Reaching net zero is the right thing to do – Britain must play its part in protecting our planet.

From investment in hydrogen to replace natural gas and the use of lower carbon biomass instead of traditional coal power, to the study of innovative carbon capture solutions reducing emissions from industrial processes, Britain can lead the way in the green energy transition.

And reaching net zero is the smart thing to do, because it’s how we can deliver the high-skill, high-salary, high-productivity economy that politicians of all political colours say they want for our country. Crucially, if delivered the right way, a net-zero economy can turbocharge the government’s levelling up agenda.

For decades opportunities have become clustered in certain areas, and for certain groups; while the lack of opportunities has intensified in “cold spots” throughout the UK. The green energy transition will require new skills, and a new supply of talented people to power it. It’s a chance to dispel the inequalities and cold spots of old. We’re at a crossroads, albeit amid a crisis, where things can become better. There really can be a socially “just” green transition.

I first said in 2014 that the agendas of planet and people are two sides of the same coin. And both require government, businesses and communities working collectively. No group can deliver this alone because we’re creating a brand new ecosystem for our economy – one operating on a different and better premise than today’s in relation to two vital aspects – how it affects our planet and how it affects our people.

Government must provide the right, stable investment climate, unlocking funding to transition our energy sector and allowing new green economy sectors to flourish. And it must create an education system that can look to the long term, building a talent pipeline with the knowledge and skills these new green economy careers need, so young people can grab the opportunities being created. We shouldn’t forget that a 30-something adult working in one of the net-zero careers of 2050 is only just being born right now.

Alongside investment, the private sector and purpose-led businesses must show real leadership, demonstrating that they have sustainable plans on both net zero and levelling up opportunities. It’s what responsible business and the ESG (environmental, social and governance) agenda is all about and goes far beyond traditional corporate social responsibility.  

Through my work on social mobility, as an MP, as education secretary and now outside parliament, leading a business coalition working on the ground, I know that business has a crucial role to play in delivering grassroots change. Every business in our country can be a force for good in helping us achieve net zero. That’s why I have launched the One Planet Pledge. By being part of the pledge, companies and universities are setting a date to get to net zero. In doing so they are making a public commitment to the people they serve.

Smart businesses aren’t waiting until the last moment, they’re seizing the opportunity to be at the forefront of this people and planet revolution that can help us reinvent Britain for the better.  

Levelling up and net zero have behind them the same ethos and values, of recognising the value of an individual and country’s place in a wider world. It’s an ethos that understands that with a shared place in the world comes a shared responsibility to one another.

As an African proverb rightly says: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”

Going together means Britain, including its businesses, collectively taking a lead on tackling the climate crisis and providing stewardship for our planet. And going together also means creating a fairer version of Britain. Today’s version with such disparity on access to opportunity for no other reason than a person’s background and circumstance is the antithesis of how a modern Britain should run. It must change.

Not every generation has the need or the chance to reshape its country so profoundly.

We are the generation that can put right the wrongs of the past – both on our planet and also for our people. That’s our opportunity. We have to grasp this moment.

Justine Greening is a former secretary of state for education, a former secretary of state for international development and founder of the One Planet Pledge

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