Shortly after the Extinction Rebellion brought parts of Edinburgh to a standstill, the independent Committee on Climate Change published clear recommendations that the UK’s emissions target should be net-zero for greenhouse gases by 2050 and the same in Scotland by 2045.
Only days before, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had embraced the Climate Emergency and the plan to abolish Air Passenger Duty was abandoned. Last week Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the UK would make net-zero emissions by 2050 legally binding, the first G7 economy to do so, supporting the £1.5bn “Road to Zero” strategy launched last year which has 46 policies including a ban on new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040.
As much as it may pain eco-martyrs, the list of recent government environmental initiatives and achievements is considerable and here are just a few.
The UK government has just updated its 25-year environment plan under which roadside nitrous oxide pollution fell 43 per cent over the latest 20 years with a drop of at least 29 per cent in since 2010. Toxic particulates were cut by a fifth in six years and reflecting the phasing out of coal-fired power stations, the amount of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere plunged over 90 per cent in 1998-2016.
A hundred of the biggest food retailers including all supermarket chains signed up to the UK government’s call to halve Britain’s 10 million tonnes of food waste in the next 11 years, which could potentially save £10bn. Cutting down food waste by improving awareness could save the average British household £500 a year, so it makes sense. Last month, UK Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, confirmed the prohibition of one-use plastic stirrers, straws and cotton buds and 41 new Blue Belt coastal conservation areas were unveiled. This month Mr Gove’s department started enforcing a ban on the sale of products like face scrubs, soaps, toothpaste and shower gels containing harmful plastic microbeads to stop them entering the sea.
Organisations in England can now apply for funding under a £4.7m grant scheme to help boost the recycling of plastic packaging and textiles, following last year’s announcement that manufacturers and businesses would have to pay the full cost of dealing with packaging waste.
North or south of the Border there are blizzards of initiatives, policies and taxes all designed to improve the environment and tackle climate change, none of this is anywhere near good enough for Extinction Rebellion and excuses the disruption of travel for hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
Whether you buy into the Climate Emergency or not, the truth is that in legislative terms an enormous amount of action has been and will be taken, but laws which affect the everyday lives of millions of people can’t simply be introduced at the drop of a petrol can.
But that’s precisely what these campaigners want; for their every demand to be met immediately without any sort of consultation or consideration – or indeed irrefutable scientific evidence for their five-year doomsday deadline – bar a so-called Citizens’ Assembly with pre-set outcomes and with no clear democratic authority or accountability.
No matter, this was justification for people chaining themselves together to block Lothian Road at rush hour until after 9pm, delaying parents getting home to their children, keeping people cooped up in buses and, of course, adding to the fumes in tenement streets from traffic which would normally have cleared.
Yet the glee from some was undisguised. Overjoyed by the “intrepid” protestors, Councillor Claire Miller tweeted there was “Total chaos over here in the west of the city centre”, and dismissed her inevitable critics as “frothing”. But this is not a debate but a confrontation, and when the vast majority who support law and order no longer count it’s a wonder the Greens still see a need for elections.