UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced June 30 that the government would invest £5 billion in jobs and infrastructure to help the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson described the funding as a “new deal”, echoing the original New Deal — a recovery plan that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered during the 1930s to kickstart the US economy after the Great Depression.
However, while much criticism was aimed at Johnson for his comparative lack of ambition andrehashing of old spending commitments, the plan has also been widely condemned by environmental activists who have said it will make it “harder to reverse the decline of the natural world."
Mostly, the new projects involve road and railway repairs, such as £100 million for 29 road network improvements, as well as upgrades and new buildings for hospitals, schools, and prisons, BBC News reported.
A large chunk of the funding, £1.5bn, will go to hospitals, with a plan to “eradicate mental health dormitories” — an old-fashioned type of mental health ward which experts have long recommended should be closed in favour of private rooms — and to improve capacity for accident and emergency departments.
During his speech delivered in Dudley in the West Midlands on Tuesday, Johnson said the goal was to "build back better, build back greener, build back faster, and to do that at the pace that this moment requires”.
But although the overall announcement was cautiously welcomed by some sectors, such as small business leaders and the mental health charity Mind — who hailed the improvement to psychiatric wards — the lack of detail regarding green investment faced strong criticism from the environment sector.
“There is very little announced today which will do anything to accelerate the transition to a zero carbon economy,” Ed Matthew, a director at green energy think-tank E3G told the Guardian.
“The prime minister has to back up his rhetoric on a green recovery with action to prioritise green investment,” Matthew, who is also a representative of the Climate Coalition, a network of 140 organisations campaigning against climate change, added.
It will require £200 Billion of investment to decarbonise U.K. homes. No other infrastructure investment is more important or can create more jobs. Today the PM announced a plan to build, build, build. How much pledged today to help decarbonise homes? £0 https://t.co/YXYn9Tyvkx— Ed Matthew (@Ed_Matthew1) June 30, 2020
Climate campaign groups and non-profits have been calling on the government to keep the environment front and centre of any economic stimulus package that will help the country recover from COVID-19, as the country moves out of lockdown.
On June 15, 57 charities signed an open letter calling for business bail-outs to only be given under the condition that they will be used to reduce emissions too. “A resilient recovery will only be possible with a just, sustainable and clean energy transition,” the letter stated.
And over 200 corporate leaders, from companies such as Lloyds Bank and Asda, added their voice to the issue too, writing a letter on June 23 calling on the government to put in place a “low carbon” recovery from the crisis.
The main environmental objective in Johnson’s June 30 announcement was actually a repeat of a commitment made in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to plant over 75,000 acres of trees every year by 2025.
Johnson also pledged £40 million towards local conservation projects, funding that will safeguard 2,000 conservation jobs and create a further 3,000 jobs, the announcement said.
According to an analysis from the Green Alliance, an environmental think-tank, the government needs to invest £14bn to meet its targets for CO2 reduction: which since it was updated with a new law passed in 2019, means a 100% cut in emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2050.
However, it is estimated to have already spent £9bn on projects that actively harm the environment, such as “high-carbon infrastructure”, like roads, since 2017.
“The damage can’t be offset by a few green announcements,” a statement on the Green Alliance website said of the new funding.
“They [the funding announcements] bake-in high carbon emissions for years to come and will make it harder to achieve net zero, harder to clean our air, harder to reverse the decline of the natural world,” the statement added.
Tanya Steele, chief executive of the conservation non-profit WWF (World Wildlife Fund), agreed that the “new deal” proposals risk wasting time. She told the Guardian: “To avoid catastrophe, we need a low-carbon nature-powered recovery... This is another missed opportunity – and we don’t have many chances left.”