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We Need Carbon Literate Candidates Now

July 2024 by Grace Henderson

Image credit: Tania Malréchauffé via Unsplash

As we reach the end of the election season, the news has been inundated with promises and policy proposals that the next Government intend to implement if elected. Candidates have spent the last month campaigning and manifestos have covered the ever-increasing NHS waitlist times, the cost-of-living crisis, immigration and, very occasionally, the climate crisis.

However, unless it’s in the ‘climate box’, these ideas rarely, if ever, embed the climate impacts of the policies. It’s almost like most policy proposals are written for a country and planet where global heating isn’t happening. As the Carbon Literacy Project, we would like to see every policy proposal, in whatever subject area, address the climate implications of what is being proposed.

Most political parties have set out what action they will take to mitigate climate change, and you can read a summary of the key climate pledges here. However, climate action cannot and will not happen in silos. So, we’ve set out some of the policies that would feature in a Carbon Literate candidate’s manifesto.

Such a candidate would be able to reflect that climate impacts on all policy areas and suggest how climate action brings significant co-benefits across society and the economy. By bringing co-benefits into the discussion a Carbon Literate candidate can also make the case for the value of that investment.


Improved access to the NHS

Following the pandemic, NHS wait times are at an all-time high with a survey by the Office for National Statistics suggesting that nearly 10 million people are waiting for hospital treatment, an appointment or tests. Several policies can be implemented to improve the health of the UK’s citizens, reducing the demand on the NHS and creating more capacity to enable people to have speedier access to essential services.

Health benefits of climate action also add to their monetary value but we need to enable a better flow of those savings to the agencies doing the climate work. For example, if a council initiates street tree planting to counter the urban heat island effect, they should be able to get a return from the fewer numbers going to A&E with heat-related health issues. This isn’t simple but has been pioneered in Manchester with place-based budgeting.


Safer homes for better health

All homes with an energy rating below D will be retrofitted, as well as upgrading windows and doors, to improve the insulation of walls, floors and lofts. This will help keep homes warm during the winter months, reducing ill health caused by living in cold, damp conditions and lowering the cost of energy bills. Insulated homes also stay cooler in hot periods. Deadlines will be set for all landlords to investigate any reported hazards and make repairs. This will help all homes be safer and healthier environments.


Better travel infrastructure

Exposure to air pollution causes and exacerbates chronic conditions, impacting our lungs and heart. Vehicles fuelled by fossil fuels are one of the biggest contributors to local air pollution as well as having a significant carbon footprint. This can be addressed by leveraging a shift away from personal cars being the most popular method of transport.

Financial support will be provided to train providers, bus companies and local authorities to improve the frequency, affordability and reliability of these services. This will ensure they meet the needs of the country.

Fewer cars on the road will improve the air quality in residential areas, reducing exposure to harmful gases and the health conditions that they cause. This will lessen pressure on the NHS and increase the size of the healthy workforce. Air pollution also disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities so equalities in urban areas.

Investment in improving existing footpaths and creating new cycleways will boost active travel. This will improve people’s fitness and wellbeing, so they live healthier lives for longer and have less call on the health services


Affordable food to help beat the cost-of-living crisis and improve health

Over the last year, food prices have skyrocketed due to poor crop yields, global demand and the weather. Large, complex supermarket supply chains are exposed to volatile global markets with social, economic and environmental factors across the globe contributing to increasing prices.

Currently, the UK imports 48% of its total food consumed. We will transform food and farming systems so that healthy, nutritious food is produced in the UK and available to buy at a fair cost. This will improve the nation’s food security and bring prices down. Food security can appeal to centre/right voters and can still be accompanied by sustainable agriculture policies.

This will be accompanied by a ‘Community Eatwell’ programme, as suggested by Henry Dimbleby in Ravenous, allowing doctors to prescribe cooking lessons, guided tours of shops and supermarkets and nutritional education to improve nutritional understanding and increase consumption of fruit and vegetables. These programmes have proven to be successful. For example, half of the patients of Produce Prescription, a similar programme in Washington DC, lost weight.


Renewable energy to improve cashflow

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy bills across the country skyrocketed, showing the need for greater energy independence. Investing in a transition to clean, renewable energy, including locally generated on-shore wind, solar and off-shore wind, will increase our energy security and reduce our exposure to volatile oil and gas prices from further afield. This will be accompanied by a national energy efficiency programme – for homes, transport and workplaces to minimise our dependency on new sources and a rebuilt grid.

This will benefit residents and businesses, both of which have been impacted by soaring energy prices amidst the cost-of-living crisis, helping them to keep more cash in their pockets. Investment in these areas will also create thousands of new jobs. This will benefit school leavers and adult learners looking to retrain, gain new skills and a career for life.


Climate diplomacy, overseas aid and migration

The rise in severe weather is not only happening in the UK. There has been catastrophic weather worldwide – from storms and floods to droughts caused by extreme heat. Providing financial support to countries in the Global South can help them take action to mitigate the extreme weather and increase their resilience to it. By financing global climate action, we would reduce the need for forced migration due to catastrophic weather and lessen the likelihood of wars and civil conflict spurred by scarce resources.


We need Carbon Literate policies now!

The climate crisis is the biggest challenge that humanity faces. Soaring temperatures are causing catastrophic weather, rising sea levels, increasing costs and struggling food production. Even without considering the domino effect of these phenomena on complex systems, this affects billions of people worldwide with inevitable impacts at home.

This isn’t an exhaustive manifesto, just a snapshot of what a Carbon Literate candidate could propose. Such a candidate can also ‘frame’ their climate policies to align with the current values of their supporters. For example, food and energy security will appeal to centre/right voters.

Carbon Literacy develops an understanding of how climate action can and must be deeply entrenched into many different aspects of daily life, and how it brings co-benefits into all policy areas. Carbon Literate candidates can also defuse the culture wars that would otherwise align climate action with centre/left parties. Outgoing UK MP and former government climate advisor Chris Skidmore exemplifies the potential for this approach.

Climate change is already having an impact on so many aspects of life. However, we must act now to empower everyone to make positive changes. We understand this can feel daunting, but we hope we’ve demonstrated how policies that benefit the planet are realistic, affordable, and achievable. Climate change is scary, but Carbon Literacy provides hope for a future that is safer, healthier and happier than the world we live in today.



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