In May 2024 we completed a full year of record high temperatures for each month of the year. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres responded starkly, warning that “we need an exit ramp off the highway to climate hell… The battle for 1.5 degrees will be won or lost in the 2020s.” Guterres blames fossil fuel companies as “the godfathers of climate chaos”.

NASA’s climate spiral, showing global average temperatures from 1880-2022.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this news had passed most of our politicians and journalists by. Much of the commentary around climate policy has focused on whether net zero is too expensive, that we can’t afford a rapid transition to a zero-carbon economy, that too many jobs will be lost. This framing is misguided for several reasons, which I will group into three categories here.

The cost of inaction is greater than the cost of action

We do injustice to future generations if we fail to act now in this crucial decade. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates the cost to the British public of not achieving net zero could be double the cost of achieving it. This is without even factoring in the projected global costs of lives lost and people displaced as extreme weather increases and food, water and other resources grow in scarcity.

Climate investment also saves on bills for consumers: for example, upgrading Great Britain’s inefficient homes to EPC band C would save consumers £24 billion on their energy bills by 2030. Making British energy less reliant on fossil fuels (a finite resource) from geopolitically risky actors like Russia would have lessened the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, and would still be welcome now.

What is really valuable?

As with each of the blogs in this series, it comes down to what you value. Many would argue that we cannot put a price on our natural world, but even where it has been tried, market valuation has continually underpriced the natural world. This encourages further extraction, destruction and pollution of nature and climate in the name of short-term profits.

Of course, it’s not that we are being offered a choice between a genuinely free market and one that prioritises action on climate. Governments the world over intervene with subsidies, levies, tax breaks and other incentives in order to ensure viable industry, energy security, or a rentier economy. The bad news is that these incentives are currently hastening our warming climate; the good news is that they could be changed in another direction.

This returns us to the philosophical question and subsequent political decision we asked in the first blog: what is the purpose of a good economy? We can choose care for people and planet as our guiding value over pure profit and growth. This is not to leap to the opposite extreme that growth = bad, but simply to be agnostic about growth. If it is not serving our flourishing, or is actively destroying the ecological building blocks that life depends on, then clearly that is not good growth.

The God-given mandate for humanity to both work and care for the Earth (Genesis 2:15) means we cannot exclude the natural world from our economic decisions. Treating creation well and doing right by our global neighbours and future generations, is an act of worship, recognising our role as images of God.

A thriving green economy is possible

It is in fact possible to imagine an economy that helps us meet our climate aims while also securing good growth and creating jobs. With well-directed investment we can build an energy system protected from shocks, which will keep bills down and homes warm throughout winter, create good green jobs that are rooted in communities and part of a manufacturing industry the whole country can all be proud of.

There is an economic opportunity to lead the global green industrial revolution which is already underway. The world is changing because it has to, and the UK needs to decide to lead and not to lag behind. 79% of UK business leaders surveyed want to see a similar green investment package to that of the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States.

Green policies not only make sense for reaching net zero and boosting the economy, but would also help make the country less polluted, better connected, and ultimately a more pleasant place to live.

So, do not allow politicians to put you off with the ‘too expensive’ line. Push them on the costs of inaction and the missed benefits of green investment. Remind yourself of the human cost of climate change in poorer countries less equipped to mitigate, adapt or rebuild from the impact of extreme weather.

Most importantly, think about the future world we are headed for, and ask: are we doing all we can to leave the gift of an abundant planet, or are we sacrificing the safety and stability of future generations on the altar of a misguided economic philosophy?

Some questions you could ask your candidates:

  • 70% of UK children are worried about the world they will inherit because of climate change. How is your party going to help create a better future for us, our children, and the planet?
  • Do you agree with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s analysis that the cost of not achieving net zero will be much greater than the costs of getting there?
  • How will you ensure the transition to a zero-carbon economy is just and fair?

[This is the third in a three-part series on money, fairness and climate debates in this election.

For more on the theme of greening the economy in this election, download our 2024 General Election Briefing. You can watch our event to launch the briefing below.]

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