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  • Will the UK Really 'Build Back Greener'?

Will the UK Really 'Build Back Greener'?

Aug 05 2020 Read 489 Times

Boris Johnson took to the lectern at the end of the last month to announce a “New Deal” for Britain, echoing the language of illustrious US President Franklin D Roosevelt and aiming to spark an economic revival in the country. But while the Prime Minister used inspiring language such as “build back better, build back greener, build back faster”, critics are concerned that the environmental part of the message may be sacrificed in favour of the other two.

Construction not conservation

The lion’s share of the Conservatives’ New Deal appears to be regurgitated elements of the manifesto which won them the national election last year. Significant investment into the construction industry, including £900m on unspecified “shovel-ready” projects in small communities across England, £100m for roadways and £10m for Manchester-based rail, spearheaded his announcement.

However, there are concerns that the emphasis will fall on building back “better” and “faster” rather than “greener”, especially since air quality at construction works is already a major environmental concern in the country. Other promises made include £1.5bn for hospital maintenance, more than £1bn for schools and £96 million to enhance town centres.

Conspicuous by its absence

In particular, environmentalists have been dismayed by the total absence of any mention of the much-touted home insulation project. Valued at an estimated £9.2bn, the pledge to renovate homes that suffer from inefficient window glazing and other sources of heat loss was a key cornerstone of the 2019 election manifesto, but Johnson did not reference it in the broad strokes outline of his New Deal.

“If they can’t be trusted to deliver on their biggest climate pledge in their manifesto, what manifesto pledge can they be trusted to deliver?” asked Ed Matthew of conservation group Climate Coalition. “If the government fails to deliver on this pledge, their climate credentials will be in shreds.” The initiative was intended to improve living conditions for thousands of Britons, all the while reducing their household bills and curbing emissions into the bargain.

Critics unhappy

Matthew isn’t the only one unsatisfied with the government’s proposals. Although they have earmarked £40m for local conservation projects and announced a target of 75,000 acres of new trees per year by 2025, the environmental implications of coronavirus offered a springboard for the government to achieve so much more in the eyes of many. Rival politicians, business leaders and even the government’s own advisors have implored them to implement meaningful and sustainable change in recent weeks.

“We are in the midst of a climate and nature crisis, and these lukewarm plans address only part of our nation’s much-needed recovery,” explained Tanya Steele, CEO of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). “The prime minister is out of touch with the scale of the challenges.”

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