Democracy across the Atlantic may have taken a knock in recent months but the will of the people won out in the end. Now, the USA and indeed the world is grateful to have a liberal Democrat occupy the White House.
In early moves soon after his January inauguration, the US’s new president, Joe Biden, gave clear indications of his green intentions.
On the afternoon of his inauguration, on January 20, he officially accepted the Paris Climate Agreement from which his predecessor had withdrawn. In addition, he made clear his policy and plans to move the country away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energy, to cleaner air, and reducing pollution.
From our perspective, it can only be good that the US has a renewed commitment to tackle change and a determination to champion other green causes.
In the UK, the government cannot be said to be taking the green agenda seriously. In January it announced (drum roll and big fanfare, please) a 10-point green recovery plan which has a tremendous budget of (wait for it) £5 billion (music slows and splutters to a halt). Tremendous in whose eyes, I wonder. Certainly not mine.
And the media has collectively pointed out that climate experts say the plan falls far short of what is needed to get he UK down to net emissions by 2050, which is what we signed up to achieve.
True, the government plan does include a commitment to ban sales of new petrol and diesel fuelled cars after 2030, but a plan, a commitment, does not make it happen. They are just words.
Indeed, Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change spoke disparagingly about the Johnson government’s efforts. He said: “It is a vision, it is not a plan. The following 12 months is where the real hard work needs to be done.”
So, what are Boris’s top green priorities that made it to the government’s 10-point plan? They are:
1: Advancing offshore wind
2: Driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen
3: Delivering new and advanced nuclear power
4: Accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles
5: Green public transport, cycling and walking
6: Jet zero and green ships
7: Greener buildings
8: Investing in carbon capture, usage and storage
9: Protecting our natural environment
10: Green finance and innovation
We in the Lib Dems are not impressed. We have a plan for a super-ambitious Green Economic Recovery – to provide the jobs people need, and the technology our economy needs, in a bold bid to fast-track the UK to net zero.
Our leader Sir Ed Davey is being forthright in insisting that Britain needs a £150 billion public investment programme, to fire-up progress to UK Net-Zero, to help British people and business to become global leaders in key future technologies. Of course, Boris won’t spend what is needed.
Across the channel, the EU went public with its European Green Deal in December 2019, yes 2019, when it was agreed by the College of Commissioners.
Speaking at that time, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen described it as being both a vision for a climate neutral continent in 2050 and a very dedicated roadmap to this goal. It is 50 actions for 2050.
Hm, is it just me, or does 50 actions in Europe’s Green Deal seem more in line with what we need than Johnson’s 10-point plan?
Mrs von der Leyen said: “Our goal is to reconcile the economy with our planet, to reconcile the way we produce and the way we consume with our planet and to make it work for our people.
“Therefore, the European Green Deal is on the one hand about cutting emissions, but on the other hand it is about creating jobs and boosting innovation.
“I am convinced that the old growth-model that is based on fossil-fuels and pollution is out of date, and it is out of touch with our planet. The European Green Deal is our new growth strategy – it is a strategy for growth that gives more back than it takes away.
“And we want to really make things different. We want to be the frontrunners in climate-friendly industries, in clean technologies, in green financing,” she said.
Being British but living in southern Spain as I do, the view from my window of my rural home is of fields and fields of arable agriculture producing multiple crops a year of fruit and vegetables.
Unfortunately, Spain’s recent history of sustainability, protection of natural habitats, and environment generally have been sadly unsuccessful. In fact, the policies they have had can be said to have been largely ineffective and, I would say, lacked any real ambition.
Today, though, things are looking better and greener. This is because two years ago the country’s council of ministers, led by the prime minister, produced the Strategic Energy and Climate Framework.
This included the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan 2021 – 2030, which is in line with an EU goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and current rules for sharing out.
It also put forward a proposed bill on Climate Change and Energy Transition, which is now law.
This was accompanied by a strategy of support designed to ensure that individuals and regions make the most of the opportunities created.
Together, this introduces a more solid and strategic framework for the decarbonization of Spain’s economy. But is it enough?
I suspect that in Spain, as in Britain, it is not. But only time will tell. In reality as a member state, Spain will be pushed, cajoled, encouraged, and maybe helped to meet the EU standards and targets while the UK, now post-Brexit, will be floundering in rough seas of its own making.
Of the main British political parties, only the Liberal Democrats care enough to put forward a well thought out green recovery deal with realistic budgets.
What we are talking about is saving the planet, our home for future generations – our children, grandchildren and so on. We can’t cut corners and such noble and essential improvements don’t come cheap.
Ian Franks has enjoyed a successful career in journalism which saw him rise to be Rural Affairs Editor of a Trinity Mirror regional newspaper group in north Wales. That led him to interview UK government and Welsh Assembly (now Senedd) cabinet members, and to be named Welsh Farming Journalist of the Year, 1999-2000.
He joined the Young Liberals as a teenager in 1966, in Orpington – then the only SE England town with a Liberal MP. Today, Ian and his wife Lisa live in Spain and he is secretary of LibDems in Europe.