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Boris Johnson’s illiteracy about climate change is a grave danger

The new Prime Minister's track record as mayor of London is a clear warning about where his priorities lie

AT A recent Prime Minister’s Questions, Jeremy Corbyn revealed new analysis by Labour that shows the government is set to woefully miss its climate targets by almost 50 years.

This means that, contrary to boasts from Theresa May and Boris Johnson that the Tories are committed to tackling the climate emergency, if progress continues at its current rate the government target of reaching “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050 will not be met until 2099.

Specifically, emission reduction has slowed to a crawl in recent years, with the amount of carbon released falling only 1.5 per cent in 2018 — less than half the fall of 3.2 per cent in 2017.

We need to be absolutely clear that this is not an abstract matter but will affect millions of people. Failure to meet the 2050 target could have catastrophic effects on human and animal life in Britain.

To lay out exactly what this means, it could include increased flooding and wildfires, greater health risks from pollution and extreme heat, and food shortages as a consequence of agricultural disruption. It would also mean a loss of habitats and wildlife.

Recently — but receiving far from enough coverage in the mainstream media — the Committee on Climate Change (the government’s official climate watchdog) criticised the Tories’ climate change efforts as “being run like Dad’s Army” and leaving the population at real risk.

According to the report, in a show of abject failure from the Tories, just one of 25 vital emissions-cutting policies has been delivered.
As Corbyn said: “This government has spent too long treating the climate emergency like a PR exercise, setting out targets it knows full well it isn’t on track to meet… We’re already seeing the catastrophic impact of climate change, from wildfires in Yorkshire to flooding in Wales. If this government doesn’t change course now it will be the next generation that pays the price — not to mention the millions of people already at risk in the Global South.”

A key reason why the Tories can’t deliver — whatever their rhetoric — in this area is that the climate emergency cannot, and must not, be left to the market.

In contrast to the Tories, Corbyn-led Labour takes the climate crisis seriously and has the radical policies to move forward.

To give an important example, Labour recently got Parliament to declare a climate emergency, making it the first to do so in the world.

Labour’s leadership also understood the importance of the extinction rebellion and school student climate strikes, which most of the Tories (including some in the new hard-right Cabinet) just sneered at.

Furthermore, Labour has clear plans in office to kick start a Green Industrial Revolution, which will not only help safeguard our and the planet’s future, and transform our economy to improve the lives and living standards of millions.

This then couldn’t be further away from the Tories’ record on this issue, which will in all likelihood get worse under the premiership of Johnson, who once claimed that that global warming was “a new stone age religion.”

Indeed, the worst legacy of Johnson’s eight years a mayor was his failure to take the action needed to reduce the lethal levels of pollution from vehicles in London’s atmosphere.

Just before I lost the 2008 London mayoral election I put forward proposals for a Low Emission Zone to introduce hefty charges for polluting heavy goods vehicles and the first set of charges on polluting cars was due to come in just after the election in May 2008. Johnson cancelled that and over the next eight years did nothing in terms of major new initatives.

During that period 76,000 Londoners died prematurely because of the pollution. He increased bus fares by 2 per cent above inflation every year and slashed investment in transport by £3.5 billion, rather than investing more and more in transport and infrastructure to help move people on to public transformation.

One of the reasons I found the job of being mayor truly wonderful was because you could do so much on issues such as the environment, but during Johnson’s years his only legacy was to build the notorious cable car to nowhere and a revolving restaurant on the Olympic site.

The reason this matters so much is because we are running out of time to make the necessary steps required to prevent global warming exceeding the critical point of a 1.5°C rise. The International Panel on Climate Change has argued we have just over a decade to take the decisive action to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

We face a direct existential threat if we do not rapidly switch from fossil fuels by 2020, and a failure to do so will mean runaway climate change.

Already we are seeing record-breaking temperatures (as in Britain this week), extreme heatwaves, storms, floods and wildfires leaving a trail of death and devastation.

This needs real action and investment not spin and inaction from Johnson and the Tories.

Furthermore, after decades of neoliberalism, our economy is structurally weak and deeply unequal. Whole communities have been de-industrialised, insecure and low paid work has soared, our infrastructure is underinvested and crumbling, and our society’s fabric is being pulled apart by austerity.

Corbyn understands that only a total transformation of the failed neoliberal model can protect both people and planet.

It is yet another, and perhaps the most important, reason why we need a general election now — to get rid of Johnson and put Corbyn into number 10.

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