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Clean Growth and the countryside

Wetter winters and warmer summers are already damaging many treasured heritage sites such as the Birling Gap in East Sussex. Wetter winters and warmer summers are already damaging many treasured heritage sites such as the Birling Gap in East Sussex. diamond geezer/Flickr

Climate change is destabilising livelihoods across many industries and communities in the UK as homes are flooded, crops fail, and entire settlements are slowly reclaimed by the sea. Increasing numbers of people are now talking about the changing weather as a lived experience.

Many of us have watched in horror as the solutions to these problems were eroded away as quietly as our disappearing coastline. Solar subsidies have been slashed and energy efficiency standards abandoned, often under the unjustified guise of excessive cost.

The Government’s Clean Growth Strategy marks a change in the narrative. As noted by the Guardian’s Environment Editor Damian Carrington, valuable environmental policies and legislation are no longer seen as dispensable ‘green crap’, but a vital partner in a future that is both low carbon and prosperous.

The main purpose of the Clean Growth Strategy is to set out how the Government intends to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets under the UK Climate Change Act, which binds the UK to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

What Clean Growth means for the countryside

The Government’s renewed commitment to tackle energy efficiency is welcome for the rural households who pay far more in heating bills and often have the least efficient homes. New targets have been announced to have the 2.5 million fuel-poor homes in England at a minimum energy performance standard by 2030 and for all homes to meet this by 2035 [4].

As one of the biggest challenges to meeting the carbon budget, there is significant attention given to decarbonising heat by switching to lower carbon sources, such as electric heat pumps. First up for the renewable heat rollout: the 850,000 homes currently not connected to the gas grid, almost all of which are rural.

Following the recently announced ban of all petrol and diesel car sales from 2040, the Clean Growth Strategy adds to the momentum by confirming investment in low-emission buses, a plug-in taxi programme, and continued financial support for the walking and cycling strategy.

Money is also committed to a much-needed clean air fund for local authorities while for the power sector, there are plans for more offshore wind capacity in the 2020s.

Fracking is completely absent from the Clean Growth Strategy. Public support continues to fall in England as Scotland announces it is banning the industry entirely. Theresa May has indicated that she will press ahead with new fracking proposals despite Parliament’s own Committee on Climate Change stating that this would breach climate change targets unless steep emission cuts were made elsewhere.

The chapter on natural resources provides some hints regarding details of a post-Brexit Agricultural Bill. Plans to increase tree cover to 12% by 2060 will largely be met through incentivising farmers and landowners to plant trees on marginal land and diversify their farm businesses.

Emission impossible?

Among all the trumpeting of past achievements and future investments, it is sad to hear that the policies proposed do not add up to what the law demands, let alone the science. Upcoming plans for further oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, a colossal road-building programme, and – if the Government has its way – expansion of Heathrow airport, threaten to blow the thermostat.

Despite this, the Clean Growth Strategy demonstrates that efforts are now being made where they weren’t before to curb climate chaos. The commitments may just be enough to hold the Government to account as the crunch time for crucial decision-making looms ever closer.

Valuable environmental policies and legislation are no longer seen as dispensable ‘green crap’...

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