Government spending plans include few measures to tackle the climate crisis and represent a “missed opportunity” to drive the deep emissions cuts needed to put Britain on track for net zero, the WWF has warned in a new analysis.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s autumn budget will instead drive up climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions with the impact of over 38 million tonnes of CO2, it says.

The charity’s “net zero test” examines new UK spending and investment decisions announced in the 2021 Autumn Budget and Comprehensive Spending Review, and warns that over the next four years any “climate positive” spending – of which there is little – will be undermined by £55bn worth of spending on high-carbon, “climate-negative” policies, such as investment in new roads and the cut to air passenger duty for domestic flights.

Nonetheless, the analysis found that the overall spending package does have “the potential to reduce net emissions” by 745 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, but only over a 25-year period, and assuming future spending plans align with net zero.

But even then, this reduction amounts to less than 12 per cent of what would be needed to bring the UK in line with the Climate Change Committee’s Net Zero Pathway.

The charity is urging the government to adopt its own “net zero test” for future public spending, and is calling on the Treasury to invest sooner rather than later in the green transition which they say will be more cost effective and help to safeguard against energy price rises.

Isabella O’Dowd, the head of climate change at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), said: “The science is clear: without urgent action we face climate catastrophe. The latest UK government spending package was a missed opportunity to prioritise the deep, rapid emissions cuts we urgently need and instead risks relying on technologies of the future to drive down emissions.

“Adopting a net zero test will help to lock in a climate-positive trajectory as well as improve transparency, ensuring future public spending adds up to a greener future.

“Investing to cut emissions as quickly as possible is also cost effective, reducing our reliance on volatile fossil fuels, creating green jobs and increasing the UK’s resilience to the physical and economic impacts of climate change.”

The charity said its own research indicates that new investment in green infrastructure “could unleash a wave of green private sector spending”, unlocking £90bn of annual benefits.

These would include thousands of high-quality green jobs and new export opportunities, as well as helping to reduce the looming spectre of energy price rises.

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