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Green campaigners are increasingly concerned that the push for net zero emissions has been undermined by a series of recent government actions.

Ministers and government bodies are considering extending a coalmine in Wales and a new one in Cumbria, have approved a new oilfield in the North Sea and the expansion of the airport at Bristol, and are making cuts to public transport services.

These decisions have come while the Treasury is reported to be seeking ways to cut the green levies from fuel bills, which would reduce support for home insulation for poor households, and as some rightwing commentators have clamoured for increased gas production as a solution to soaring energy prices.

Jamie Peters, the campaign director at Friends of the Earth, said: “The government are saying one thing and then doing something completely different in a string of recent decisions, and the climate emergency is too important to be treated this way.

“Their approach to net zero demonstrates either a lack of understanding or a lack of interest in how climate breakdown will affect people here in the UK.”

The Abigail oilfield licence was approved by the Oil and Gas Authority last month, despite a UK-commissioned report from the International Energy Agency last year that found no new oil and gas exploration could take place if the world was to limit global heating to 1.5C. Similarly, the extension of a coalmine at Aberpergwm in Wales is now under consideration, as is the licence for a new mine in Cumbria that would supply coking coal.

After international outcry last year, the government called an inquiry on the Cumbrian plans. That meant a pause while ministers hosted the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, but the issue is still live and is expected to be resolved soon.

Mark Jenkinson, a local Conservative MP who has campaigned for the mine, has called green campaigners “climate terrorists” and is a member of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, a group of about 20 MPs and peers who want to curb or reverse the government’s commitment to reaching net zero emissions.

As president of Cop26, the UK has a continuing duty to ensure its resolutions are met, until Egypt takes over as president of the next round of talks this November. That means asking other countries, some of which have large fossil fuel industries, to come up with national plans to reduce their emissions.

That will become more difficult if the UK appears to renege on its domestic carbon-cutting plans. Peters said of the recent decisions: “No reasonable person can say that this adds up to a government that understands the scale of action needed. The [net zero] strategy should be strengthened, and rewritten if necessary, to recognise the realities of the climate and ecological emergency. That means no new coal, no new roads, no new airports, and this must be the backbone of everything Whitehall does: it’s not an incidental nice-to-have.”

Transport remains another sore point. Rail fares are rising while public transport plans have been scaled back with cuts to rail services and buses. Norman Baker, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The government claims it wants public transport to be the ‘natural first choice for all who can take it’ but funding cuts to the rail and bus network will make public transport more expensive, less convenient, less reliable and ultimately less attractive to millions of people who have a choice to drive.”

Hopes for a green recovery from the pandemic, which could create jobs in areas from home insulation and renewable energy generation to tree-planting and building flood defences, were also dealt a blow by the levelling up strategy, which relegated green investment to the bottom of its long list of priorities.

Ed Matthew, the campaigns director at the climate change thinktank E3G, said this was a mistake, as an insulation programme alone could help to reduce energy bills, create jobs, improve the health of people in cold homes, and reach net zero.

He said: “As energy bills go through the roof due to the rocketing cost of gas, it is worth remembering that the most energy-leaking housing stock in western Europe is in the north of England. Fixing it would slash energy bills and emissions while boosting the economy of the north. Failing to put that at the heart of this levelling up strategy is a spectacular own goal.”

With Boris Johnson’s premiership hanging by a thread, and his potential rivals courting the right wing of his party, there is widespread concern among green analysts and campaigners that the push for net zero could become a casualty of his weakness.

Doug Parr, the policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: “For all the government’s claims to be climate leaders their weak record on delivery in key sectors leaves you pondering just where is this leadership? Recent developments raise real questions about delivering on the promises we made to the international community in Glasgow last November.”

He added: “The government has felt quite at home making grand climate statements on the international stage but with Cop26 over, the focus needs to move on. Attention has to turn to the real graft needed to deliver drastic emissions cuts here at home.”

Source: This post first appeared on The Guardian

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