Levelling Up White Paper: environment campaigners slam Government plan that ‘sidelines’ net zero and climate goals

Green campaigners argue climate and nature goals must be at the forefront of the strategy to seriously level up the UK

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Environmental campaigners have slammed the Government for failing to focus on the need to reach net zero emissions in the levelling up strategy.

They argue that green investment would not only save money but would also benefit the most economically disadvantaged communities across the country through jobs and protecting them from extreme weather.

Despite this, the Government’s plan did not include any shift away from the expensive reliance on gas or to insulate draughty homes.

NationalWorld interviewed campaigners to get their reaction on the levelling up strategy and why climate goals are essential to creating more opportunities.

Did the levelling up strategy include any environment policies?

While the Levelling Up White Paper does include a section on the UK’s Transition to Net Zero, it is not part of the government’s main 12 ‘missions’ to achieve by 2030.

In the paper published on Wednesday 2 February, the mention of a transition to net zero and the green industrial revolution came second bottom of the list.

The Government promised £26 billion of capital investment.

Green analysts have argued it is not clear, however, where the cash for this was coming from and how it would be spent.

Campaigners are also concerned over the funding to transform brownfield sites (areas that were previously developed).

Under the mission to restore local pride, the Government has scrapped the ‘80/20 rule’ which it says leads to 80% of funding for housing supply being directed to ‘maximum affordability areas’.

Instead, most of the £1.8 billion brownfield funding will be diverted to transforming these sites in the North and the Midlands.

However, building on more brownfield sites presents problems as they are important places for endangered wildlife species, campaigners say.

The plans did not include any green recovery or a shift to low-carbon footing in order to level up the country.

What do environment campaigners think of the levelling up strategy?

Campaigners are concerned that there is not enough focus on net zero in the Levelling Up White Paper.

Katie White, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF, said: “We are facing a climate and nature catastrophe and to improve the health, wealth and wellbeing of all we should be pulling every lever to accelerate the transition to net zero.

“This needs to be at the heart of UK Government policies, yet it has been sidelined in the White Paper.”

Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said: “The Government’s lack of vision and foresight is very troubling.

“Any plan to level out the country needs to reflect the unavoidable reality we’re faced with, and that means putting climate at the core of any government strategy.”

Josh Bloodworth, a climate activist based in Liverpool, said: “Much like this Government’s climate record, their levelling up plans can be described with the simple phrase ‘blah blah blah’.

“There is a complete disconnect between their rhetoric diagnosing the issue, the level of their ambitions in their solutions, and the reality of the policies they’re implementing.

“At each interval, they level down.”

Bloodworth also criticises the Government for its lack of focus on environmental issues that are “good for levelling up”.

He added: “The missions talk about improving life expectancy, well-being and pride in place yet this does not get linked to the benefits of warm homes, green spaces, and reducing air pollution.

“By properly insulating and electrifying homes we can simultaneously reduce energy bills, emissions from homes, and create well-paid green jobs for young people in the process.”

What has the reaction been from the renewable energy sector?

Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive of the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA), said she was “disappointed” the strategy did not focus on net zero.

“I feel that it is a missed opportunity, but I hope that the measures included will still be subject to a ‘Net Zero Test’, aiding the delivery of regional, low carbon economies fit for the future,” she said.

Dr Skorupska said the renewable energy sector could be the “catalyst” for the Government’s levelling up plans, and the transition is needed more than ever due to the current energy crisis.

“Amid a worsening cost of living crisis - driven in part by volatile fossil fuel prices – the need to accelerate the energy transition has never been greater,” she said.

She added: “It is clear that the best way to protect households from rising energy bills is to expand the installation of domestic renewable and clean tech systems, insulate homes as quickly as possible, and deliver new housing stock which is fit for a net zero future.

“I hope that the Government looks to reassess its position, place net zero at the heart of its levelling up agenda, and build a more equitable, more sustainable and more prosperous economy.”

How can climate goals create opportunities across the country?

Katie White from WWF stresses the importance of climate and nature goals in helping to seriously level up the UK.

“If this government wants its promise to create meaningful opportunities for communities across the UK to be taken seriously, then climate and nature goals must be front and centre of both public and private investment to level up the UK,” Ms White said.

“Investing in the green transition will not only save money down the line, but communities across the UK will see direct benefits now – from well-paid green jobs, many in previously overlooked communities, to improved public transport and warmer homes,” she added.

Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said: “The failure to put net zero at the heart of the levelling up agenda shows that this Government still doesn’t grasp how climate breakdown will disproportionately impact people in the UK’s most economically disadvantaged areas.

“Flooding, storms and heatwaves all hit the poorest hardest because paying to insure homes or make them more resilient just aren’t options for many people.”

He added: “There are also hundreds of thousands of green jobs needed in areas like renewable energy, nature restoration and improving home energy efficiency, but ministers have failed to capitalise on this enormous opportunity to bring prosperity and employment where these are most needed.”

Joe Tetlow, senior political adviser at Green Alliance, said: “Now we need to see a decade of action from the government to rebalance the economy and fulfil the UK’s environmental commitments.”

“But more needs to be done to take advantage of the huge jobs potential across the country in restoring our natural environment and building a circular economy.”

A government spokesperson from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said: “These criticisms ignore the huge amount of work being done across government to fight climate change.

“The Levelling Up White Paper sits alongside our new Environment Act and our landmark Net Zero strategy, which sets out policies and proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy to meet our net zero target by 2050.”

The spokesperson points towards chapter 1 of the Levelling Up White Paper that sets out the links between the Net Zero transition and Levelling Up, the investment of almost £6.6 billion to support people to install energy efficiency measures to cut energy bills, and a £39m investment in parks, new plans to green the green belt, and strong links to local nature recovery, as strategies focusing on climate goals.

The spokesperson added: “Net zero and levelling up go hand in hand - the transition to net zero will spread opportunity, create jobs and boost local economies in communities across the UK.”

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