Cross-party Cooperation on a Green Recovery in the UK, There’s Still Hope for the US to Do the Same

by Kate Cullen 

“A bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Congress pushes for an economic stimulus that dramatically scales-up the transition to a net zero emissions” 

Today, this feels like an unthinkable headline, but after working on these issues in the U.K., I’ve come to believe that bipartisan action to decarbonizing the U.S. economy may not be as far off as we think.

As part of a group of researchers at the University of Oxford working to develop and embed rigorous science into net zero targets, I had the opportunity to engage in a series of roundtable Zooms hosted by the UK All Party Parliamentary Group. My colleague, Byron Fay, and I spent hours collecting an array of contributions from MPs and Lords from diverse ideological positions. Their approach to achieving net zero at times differed, however, their deep concern around the slow pace of action on decarbonizing the economy stemmed from a common view. Actions like retrofitting homes, scaling-up renewable energy, ensuring a just transition and improving public transportation are good for the climate, good for their communities, and good for the economy.

Around the same time, the Prime Minister’s Government announced a £3 billion green investment plan as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery effort. While an applaudable sum by U.S. political standards, many in the UK climate community criticized it for not going far enough. The UK has a legal mandate to achieve net zero emissions by 2050—and even with this green boost—the Government has plenty of work ahead of it to accelerate delivery of this important goal. 

With this in mind, we crafted the roundtable contributions into a ten-point policy plan outlining how the U.K. Government can accelerate action on net zero through a green recovery. The plan is framed around developing a clear and systematic net zero roadmap, building a more expansive and ambitious COVID-19 green recovery package and making access to corporate finance assistance conditional upon enhanced climate commitments. As a coalition of policy-makers from various parties, the group adopted the ambitious plan and sent it in the form of a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Business Secretary Alok Sharma this week. 

The process was unexpectedly refreshing. After years of unscientific policy rollbacks and negligent leadership in the U.S., this process reminded me how effective policymaking can be when all parties commit to change and show up to have a conversation. It also got me thinking that my perhaps similar bipartisan efforts in the U.S. are not as far off as I previously thought. This week, a series of announcements for action towards net zero from U.S. cities and businesses gave me even more hope.  

Cities are already moving the ball forward on a green and just recovery from COVID-19. This week, a coalition of U.S. mayors penned a letter of their own to Congress calling for the federal government to “drive ambitious, systemic change” towards a zero carbon economy with the recovery package. They emphasized these efforts must prioritize communities of color and other marginalized communities, who have been disproportionately impacted by both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

Businesses, including many U.S. headquartered businesses, are driving ambition on corporate decarbonization efforts. On Tuesday, a high-profile coalition of businesses, including Microsoft, Nike, Starbucks and Danone, launched a five-year corporate climate alliance to pool their efforts on research, target setting, policy action, and investments on slashing emissions. Their guiding light is slashing corporate emissions to align with the science-based target of capping global temperature increase at 1.5oC. In a separate announcement this week, Apple also released a 10-year roadmap to reach 100% carbon neutrality for all its products and supply chain. 

The next generation of U.S. leaders will do things much differently. Fridays for Future and other grassroots climate justice movements have hit home that the young generation, my generation, see tackling climate change as a top national priority. As emission reduction targets have become more specific and measured (e.g. 2035, 2040, 2050), they have also started to feel more personal. Our adulthood, the peak of our careers, will match the next 30-year sprint to decarbonize our economies and pull-down carbon from the atmosphere that past generations left behind. We will quite literally be the engineers, scientists, community leaders and policy-makers that deliver a net zero carbon mandate—and that gives me hope. 

The foundational pieces for a rapid acceleration towards net zero—the science, public awareness, and a national moment of reckoning—are all there. It goes without saying that the current administration and Senate leadership pose a major roadblock at a critical time when historic government spending could lock-in the next generation of public infrastructure.

As the U.S. Congress debates an economic stimulus this week, they could take a nod from the U.K. Parliament—a green recovery makes plain, bipartisan, common sense even in a nation that is otherwise divided on many other issues. Likewise, all of us plugged into climate work in the U.S. could do with a moment of pause to look abroad and remind ourselves that the national conversation on climate change doesn’t have to be, and won’t always be like it is today.

 

Kate Cullen is a graduate researcher in climate change and water issues at the University of Oxford. 

 

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