Public could veto Government's bid to reach net zero carbon emissions, warns IPPR's Environmental Justice Commission

The British public could effectively “veto” the Government’s bid to reach net zero or carbon emissions unless the costs and benefits are more fairly shared, according to a major new report.

The IPPR think-tank's Environmental Justice Commission says local public transport should be upgraded and made free to all users throughout the UK by 2030, with free bus travel by 2025 as a first step.

Experts and political leaders behind the commission are calling for fairness and people to be put at the heart of the drive to hit national targets for net-zero carbon emissions and the restoration of nature.

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It comes with 100 days to go before the UK-hosted Cop26 global climate change summit being hosted in Glasgow in November.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a ten-point plan in November for what he described as a "green industrial revolution" as part of the Government s bid to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.

But today's report 'Fairness and Opportunity: A people-powered plan for the green transition', says that the UK is failing to ensure that the costs and benefits of the transition to net zero will be fairly shared.

It also says the Government has no coherent plan to make the most of the opportunities presented by this fundamental change in the country’s economic model.

Hilary Benn, Leeds Central MP and co-chair of the commission, said: “People must be at the heart of the UK’s rapid transition to net zero, or else – to put it bluntly – it won’t succeed.

The commission was informed and driven to its recommendations by ‘citizens juries’ drawn from different walks of life, including people who had never been engaged in climate change discussions, in areas like the Tees Valley most likely to be most impacted by the move to net zero.

Its 100-plus recommendations include launching a £7.5 billion-a-year “GreenGO scheme”, a financial one-stop shop akin to the Government’s Help to Buy scheme.

This would help households switch to green alternatives on heating, home insulation and transport, enabling warmer, more affordable and greener homes and cleaner travel, the commission says.

The report also suggests offering all workers in high-carbon industries the right to retrain for new low-carbon jobs, while supporting businesses everywhere to make the transition.

The commission, co-chaired by figures from the Conservative, Labour and Green parties, says the process should Involve communities everywhere in decisions that will affect them, so that choices reflect local priorities and needs and secure more support.

This would include granting English combined and local authorities new powers over economic strategy, transport and planning and giving the public a direct say over how local budgets are spent.

Its foreword says: "A successful transition means that people must be at the heart of the policy making process, and those most affected by change must be the ones to shape it."

It adds: "We recognise that the public has a veto – their concerns must be addressed, and their consent won. If the transition is managed poorly, or not managed at all, then it could threaten to make people’s lives harder, including those who are already losing out from the current economic system.

"We cannot make changes that further embed unfairness in our society; on the contrary, this is an opportunity to put fairness at the centre of all we do."

Hilary Benn MP, Leeds Central MP and co-chair of the commission, said: “People must be at the heart of the UK’s rapid transition to net zero, or else – to put it bluntly – it won’t succeed.

"Government must clearly set out the broad direction of travel and provide the resources and regulation needed to get there, but everyone affected, from workers in industries that will have to change to communities across the UK, must have greater power to take decisions that affect them.

"Local people know best what will work for local areas and how to go about it.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Tackling climate change must be a shared endeavour, and our ambition puts affordability and fairness at its heart, hand in hand with supporting economic growth and prosperity across the UK.

“We continue to engage households and businesses in our efforts to eliminate the UK’s contribution to climate change, including through measures such as the Together for our Planet Campaign, which encourages individuals and businesses to change their behaviour in order to tackle climate change.”