Wake up, Philip Hammond. The climate crisis needs action, not lip service | Caroline Lucas | Opinion

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For once, Philip Hammond’s spring statement acknowledged the climate crisis and the collapse of wildlife and insect populations around the world.

But has the chancellor been swept up by the rising tide of climate activism? Has he been inspired by the courage and passion of the young people joining school strikes to defend their futures? Sadly not.

In fact, his announcement of a “global review of the economic benefits of biodiversity” subverts what those activists stand for. Apparently incapable of comprehending the green stuff outside his office window, Spreadsheet Phil is embarking on a project to reduce the wonder of the natural world to a shopping list.

While measuring the clarity of our streams, the vibrance of our meadows and the health of our wildlife in financial terms can help to persuade the Hammonds of the world of their value, the government must not succumb to the idea that the living systems we depend on are replaceable. Industries generating profits from destruction will never be more valuable than the skies, the rivers and the landscapes they pollute.

His “global review” was just one of a string of consultations, calls for evidence and studies announced in this procrastinating spring statement – when what we need is immediate action.

It’s no coincidence that school children are striking on this government’s watch, or that activists are organising as never before. It’s no accident that more than 25 local councils have declared climate emergencies in just the past few months. While the world’s top scientists warn that we have little more than a decade to prevent runaway climate change, and wildlife populations are in freefall around the world, our government is facilitating further attacks on nature.


Thousands of UK students strike over climate change – video

In the UK right now, almost 60% of species are in long-term decline, and one in five mammals are at risk of disappearing altogether. Globally, over the past 40 years, wildlife populations have declined by 60% on average. If ministers were serious about reversing this death spiral, Hammond would have announced urgent funding to restore peatland, forests and soils, and expand protected places where people can engage with nature.

Instead, ministers have spent the past decade systematically gutting Natural England – the agency responsible for looking after our most precious habitats. They’ve slashed its budget by more than half, cut around 1,000 staff and crippled its ability to monitor protected areas.

Environment secretary Michael Gove might talk a good game on threats like ocean plastics – but he, too, is in the habit of endlessly consulting on plans to consider doing something in a few years’ time. He also says all the right things on pesticides, but in practice has done nothing to stop farmers “drenching” their fields with insect-killing chemicals.

On the global scale, as world leaders prepare to set new targets for protecting nature next year, the UK government missed the deadline to submit a key report to the UN on the state of our wildlife and ecosystems. Finally published this week, it admits that ministers will fail to meet all but five of the existing targets for protecting nature – setting us up to fail on the more ambitious goals we urgently need.

Meanwhile, as climate chaos takes hold and threatens the wildlife and the landscapes we know and love, our government only adds fuel to the fire. Since 2010, ministers have effectively banned onshore wind energy and undermined solar power – while building a brand new fossil-fuel industry and exporting their enthusiasm for fracking around the world.

They scrapped zero carbon homes targets in 2015 – yet the chancellor boasted of announcing “new” energy efficiency standards yesterday. He also said he wants travel providers to offer carbon offsets to passengers – but remains committed to building new runways. Delay, dither and contradiction – that is the government’s approach to the biggest crisis we face.

Climate breakdown is happening. Toxic air is killing thousands. Animals are facing extinction. The causes and solutions to these crises are not in doubt: they are the direct result of the chancellor’s single-use, fossil-fuelled, profit-driven economy. Now is not the time for more global reviews and obfuscation – now is the time to transform our economy so it restores the natural world, instead of commodifying and consuming it.

But yesterday’s announcements are a sign that ears are pricking up in Downing Street. Ministers can hear the rising voices outside – and they know they cannot be ignored. The school strikers and climate activists have attracted enough attention to warrant a fobbing-off. If they persist, they might just win the real action they’re demanding.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion

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