ECONOMIC GROWTH

The climate crisis is not a political choice

Neil McInroy offers his international perspective on the climate crisis, and he fears ‘the UK and many local council areas are under far more threat with more economic consequences than politicians seem to realise or acknowledge’.

Climate change events are increasing in intensity and ferocity with ongoing ecological destruction and species extinction. However, with more than two weeks gone in the UK General Election campaign this unprecedented threat, and the growing necessity to act, has barely been mentioned. Let's get serious: national, city regional and local government needs to up the anti.

Every day brings more evidence that ecological catastrophe is upon us. The UK had its warmest May on record, sea temperatures are rising with the Atlantic reaching record highs, multiple heatwaves are happening across numerous parts of the world alongside other extreme weather events such as floods, and species extinction is accelerating.

Climate change is already changing the everyday life of millions and is seriously changing the economy with some perverse effects. In the USA dozens of coastal cities face devastating flooding from sea level rises. In California, hundreds of thousands of homeowners have been abandoned by their property insurers because they live in risky fire-prone areas.

The UK may not have yet had the severity of events seen in other parts of the world, or seen these localised social and economic ramifications, but they will come. There is no escaping, there is no going back and we need to get serious. Indeed researchers from the University of Oxford have indicated that the UK is one of the most ‘dangerously unprepared' countries for heat, if the global increase in temperature is higher than 1.5ºC, as is highly probable.

In the General Election, there is much talk of ‘economic growth', and ‘stability'. However, economic growth is indelibly linked to increases in production, with increasing unlikelihood that we will be unable to decouple growth from consumption of materials and resources at the pace required. Climate change is pulling the rug from any sense of stability: driving up material and production costs, creating food insecurity, and in turn fueling inflation and exacerbating cost of living woes. Furthermore, claims that we need to reduce net migration look cruelly unrealistic and globally irresponsible given more and more people will be displaced from climate change events and associated disputes, and war over land, territory and resources.

The setting of net zero targets on one hand of the system, and on the other avoiding deep questioning of economic growth/stability and ‘progress' may be an electorally convenient omission in a General Election campaign, but is terrifyingly negligent. Indeed, continued failure to grapple with the issues and kicking the can down the road, is reducing general awareness and action, at the very time when we need to unleash more new human ingenuity and government action.

At the core of this lack of progress is an avoidance of the inconvenient truth that climate change is a system change event and needs system level and joined up responses. Generalised warm words that call for much-needed big change are not the same as the strategic interventions and approaches capable of actually delivering it. We need to acknowledge there is no silver bullet solution that will permit the existing economic model of growth, extraction and unsustainable resource use to continue if we are to avert catastrophic climate change. The challenge is unprecedented and nothing less than a transformation at the very heart of our economic system will do.

Amid all the floods and fires and species extinctions, and deep and dangerous tremors in the life-giving systems of our planet, the full magnitude of the challenge is in plain sight. You may put your hands up and say rightly that climate change is beyond the control of any government as solutions are not wholly in the gift of domestic or local policy. However, climate crisis is not a political choice, like any other – there is absolutely no alternative but to think and act big.

There is no debate to be avoided or to be weakened by spin, we need to embrace the full scale of the challenge – it is system level economic change. Net zero targets are a help, but this requires a commensurate pivot from economic approaches driven by the growth and the wealth extraction which perpetuates it. Local economic approaches such as community wealth building offer system level economic change and need to be scaled at pace.

The UK General Election seems to be worryingly detached from this reality. Whatever the result, the next government, devolved administrations and local councils need to place the climate crisis front and centre and dig deep into the very fundamentals of our economy and how it runs. We need to get real.

Neil McInroy is global lead for community wealth building at USA think-tank the Democracy Collaborative

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