People’s climate speech

40 Greenpeace volunteers gate-crashed the Chancellor's Mansion House speech as it was being broadcast live on television. They read out this alternative speech calling for greater government investment and leadership to tackle the climate emergency


This is a Climate Emergency.

Business as usual is no longer an option.

For too long, Her Majesty’s Treasury, the City and their friends in big fossil fuel companies have stood in the way of the radical action essential to prevent climate catastrophe.

Today, we say no more. Today, we call on you to finally take up the mantle of climate responsibility. All of our homes, livelihoods, beloved places, people and children’s futures are at stake.

The climate crisis cannot be fixed by stepping back and just leaving it to the free market. Nor will it be solved through simply fiddling around the edges with a few regulations. These things are too slow and ineffective for the speed of transformation required. Left alone, the market is not designed to bring us a green and prosperous future. It is time to step forward. It’s time to intervene.

The current system has failed

The whole world has known about this problem for the last 40 years. But where has the current approach gotten us so far?

$1.9 trillion was funnelled by banks into fossil fuels over the last 3 years alone. The Bank of England’s monetary operations continue to prop up BP as one of the safest holdings on the market. This is despite BP investing billions in the hunt for new oil and undermining action on climate change.

The UK’s global emissions have only fallen by 10% over the last 30 years if you are willing to take into account shipping, aviation and imports.

And so these dry figures and statistics translate directly into real life.

The last five years were the hottest ever recorded. There are a growing number and intensity of extreme weather events. Millions of people are already losing their homes and livelihoods. Coral reefs are set to disappear. Crops are set to fail. People and animals are set to go hungry.

But look at this banquet. Look at each other. You are dining out while the planet burns. There will be no banks on a dead planet.

This is a climate emergency. We have to change something. Business as usual is no longer an option. The market, the City and global industries need to be steered and directed.

It’s time to step forward.

Lord Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr Hammond and Governor of the Bank of England Mr Carney, we – the public – need you to intervene.

Valuing life on this planet

Sometimes we have to take action and spend more money now, simply because it is the only option.

To stand a chance of saving the lives of millions of people here and all around the world, we must limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 1.5 degrees of warming gives us a chance of avoiding catastrophic droughts, crop failures, food crises, heat-waves, forest fires and flooding. Just a chance.

Yet just two weeks ago Mr Hammond, you pretty much said ‘please let us off the hook, otherwise it will cost too much.’ What price would you pay to secure your children’s future on a liveable planet? What price to protect you and your families’ homes from irreparable flooding? What price to prevent millions of people worldwide from homelessness, statelessness and poverty?

It’s time to change how the Treasury thinks. It’s time to redefine what it values. Mr Hammond, you should look to Joseph Stiglitz for help with your maths. Stiglitz recently said: “Yes, we can afford it, with the right fiscal policies and collective will.

But more importantly, we must afford it. The climate emergency is our third world war. Our lives and civilization as we know it are at stake, just as they were in the Second World War.” When the US was attacked during the Second World War no one asked, “Can we afford to fight the war?” It was an existential matter. We could not afford not to fight it. The same goes for the climate crisis.”

So let me ask you, Mr Hammond, to think about it again. Do you seriously think it’s an option to question whether we can afford to try and prevent climate catastrophe? Whether we can afford to try and allow humanity to survive in a world remotely resembling our current levels of peace and civilisation? If our economic system stands in the way, then the economics are at fault.

Economics, like politics, are just a human construct. The physics of the earth’s atmosphere are not.

This is a climate emergency. Business as usual is no longer an option.

Give us a new legal target to eliminate the UK’s contribution to global climate change well before 2045, not 2050.
Rule out passing the buck to developing countries through international offsetting, which are morally unacceptable and have been proven not to work.

Take full responsibility for our emissions that are created outside our national boundaries – from aviation, shipping, palm oil imports, industrial animal feed and manufactured goods.

Commit to strengthening the target in 5 years, not watering it down.

It’s time to step forward, not backwards. The ‘hidden hand’ of the market has clearly failed. Mr Hammond and Mr Carney, we – the public – need you to intervene.

Reducing costs in the long term

It would also be wrong to assume things will turn out cheaper later if we simply decide to delay action now. Often, getting on with the job in the short term is more cost-effective in the long run.

Lord Stern said: “With hindsight, I now realise that I underestimated the risks. I should have been much stronger in what I said in the report about the costs of inaction. I underplayed the dangers.” Stern has now revised his calculations, saying: “It has turned out that the risks of climate change were even greater than we knew, and the costs [of taking action] are far lower. I think the current cost estimates will turn out to be far too high too, as we will adopt new ways of doing things.”

So Mr Hammond’s estimates of £1 trillion cumulative costs for delivering ‘net zero’ UK emissions by 2050 are simply wrong. The sums don’t count all the likely economic benefits of taking action, or the certain economic costs of not.

If you want to know whether a policy is good, include the benefits as well as the costs. Here, the benefits include an economy fit for the 21st Century. Cleaner air. Warmer homes. Increasing the survival chances of civilisation itself.

The Chancellor got his sums wrong. It’s time to change the Treasury’s models to fit with reality. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This is a climate emergency. Business as usual is no longer an option. Mr Hammond and Mr Carney, we – the public – need you to intervene.

Seizing the opportunity

Beyond simply seeking to limit costs, now is also the time to plan ahead. We’ve got to invest and steer the economy in the right direction to open up a whole new world of opportunity, security and prosperity in the future. Just look at the way the global market is shifting and the lessons we’ve learned so far.

Our offshore wind industry is now the world’s No. 1, thanks to up-front Government investment in earlier years when they spotted the opportunity. So yes, well done. But still, despite these huge opportunities, Mr Hammond spends his time creating caveats and loopholes to avoid stepping forward and seizing the moment. His economic leadership is based on reticence and caution.

Rather than going harder and faster on renewables now to fully reap the rewards of previous investments, he has limited or curtailed further policy and financial support. Rather than banning new petrol and diesel cars and vans from our roads by 2030, he has decided to miss out on the electric vehicle revolution and go for a decade later. Apparently the examples of many other countries and the advice of parliamentary committees and countless experts doesn’t count for much.

Rather than coming forward with an additional £1 billion of public investment per year to insulate the nation’s homes, the Chancellor has decided it’s better to do nothing. Seemingly, the benefits of reducing fuel bills, creating thousands of new service and construction jobs and boosting innovation in the UK’s green design and architecture sector are not big enough incentives.

Rather than vocally encouraging other countries to legislate for ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050 or sooner, Mr Hammond has written in a 5-year review so we could potentially back out if others are cautious.

Many of you in this room know that investments into a zero-carbon economy secure a role for Britain in the 21st Century. So why are you, the leaders of some of the world’s biggest banks, letting this government get away with selling us short? Policy decisions must no longer be hampered by the short-sighted logic of ‘decarbonisation at least-cost.’ Having a comparative advantage in the technologies that every country in the world will have to adopt is an economic opportunity, not a hindrance.

Now is the time for a new approach. It must be about ‘maximising every decarbonisation opportunity.’ The UK has been the birthplace of some of the greatest innovations, feats of engineering and cutting edge entrepreneurship in the world.

We are now one of the leading creators and makers of the new technologies that can massively cut our carbon footprint, power our homes, factories and offices, and protect, harness and utilise the land, wind, waters and sun that are abundant on these isles. Talent, creativity and optimism are needed now more than ever before to avert the very worst impacts of climate breakdown.

The world needs instigators; those who can inspire and pioneer a modern revolution that changes the way the world works. Will you, the guests at this banquet, be those instigators? Will you the hosts of this banquet take on the role that history demands?

So Mr Estlin, Lord Mayor of the City of London and senior advisor to Barclays, will you quit financing fossil fuels, both extraction and power?

HSBC, Mr Stuart and others, will you rinse your client list of both fossil fuels and rainforest destruction?

All of you, the guests at this banquet: will you demand leadership and greater investment from our Government to steer us in the right direction and make the most of this opportunity?

This is a climate emergency. Business as usual is no longer an option. It’s time to be less defensive and more strategic. It’s time to seize the moment.

We need you all to intervene.

Practical action

Climate scientists have spoken with one voice. We must listen. And we must act.

The majority of the British public think we are in a climate emergency. There is a high level of support for government interventions to reduce emissions, including new climate taxes.

So what does this mean in practice?

We need to bring our electricity, transport and heating systems into the 21st century. There can be no excuse for opening up more fossil fuel reserves – keep it in the ground, everywhere, now, and phase-down existing production.

Mistakes made during the dismantling of the UK’s coal mining industry must not be repeated. Reskilling workers and supporting their transition from older, more polluting industries to the new green economy should be prioritised.

80% of our electricity should be from renewables by 2030 – a tripling of wind and solar from current levels. Communities must be supported to reap the rewards through creating thousands of new, decent, secure jobs for workers in clean industries.

We need to climate proof our homes, factories and offices, making them warm in winter and cool in the summer, which will cut carbon and eventually cut our bills.

We all must recognise that the car is no longer king – we must clamp down on new road building and fundamentally reallocate existing road space away from cars, towards public transport, walking and cycling.

We need to protect, nurture and enhance our land and oceans so they can absorb greenhouse gases and allow a wide range of plants and animals to thrive.

We need to maintain healthy and sustainable food production, resilient in the face of a changing climate.

And we must seriously clamp down on flying, whose emissions are currently not properly accounted for. A Frequent Flier Levy would provide one tax-free return flight a year per person and then progressively increase tax on each flight beyond that. All new runways should also be banned, including at Heathrow.

The new industrial revolution could have no better home than here, where the old one took root. But this must not be entrusted to the whims of an unregulated market.
It needs to be done fairly and to be steered by a visionary and responsible Government, supported with significant investment.

At a minimum, public spending should be 2% of GDP per year to tackle the climate and environmental emergency fairly and democratically.

The people in this room – the Treasury, the Bank of England and some of the world’s biggest banks – hold the keys to our collective future.

Mr Hammond, will you and your staff continue to parrot excuses about relying on the market economy to protect us, thereby using the power of our nation’s Treasury to block the radical climate action we need to survive?

We can only do this if you organise our economy to make a radical and just transition as fast as possible. Every bank executive in this room could start tomorrow to clean your client lists of dirty fossil fuel companies. Set a date. Make a pathway to zero carbon. Tell the world the direction of travel you’re setting: to climate safety.

Look at this banquet. Look at each other. You are dining out while the planet burns. So are you going to act?

This is a climate emergency. We have to change something. Business as usual is no longer an option. It’s time to step forward.

We need you all to intervene.