Government accused of ‘floundering’ on climate action due to ‘cosy relationship with business’

The government is “too cosy” with vested interests in business to take strong action on the climate crisis, the author of a report on “the polluting elite” has warned.

Peter Newell, a professor of international relations at the University of Sussex, told the Guardian: “We are never going to have change while these actors are so close to government. The government is not willing to take on these interests as it has close ties to big industries, including fossil fuels. There is a definite reluctance to take them on.”

He warned: “The beneficiaries of the status quo are in no rush to change. If we are serious about the Paris Agreement, we have to disrupt that cosy relationship between business and government.”

Newell was lead author of a report this week from the Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change that suggested a small number of wealthy people – the “polluting elite” – generate far greater emissions than the average UK citizen. Frequent flyers should face tough new levies, and SUVs should be banned or restricted, the report recommended.

According to Newell, recent scandals such as David Cameron’s lobbying on behalf of the finance company Greensill, “had shone a light on the government’s links to business”. 

“But the problem goes much deeper, such as directorships [of companies, taken by politicians], the revolving doors for ministers, and the internships by which energy companies send their employees to work inside the civil service on policy,” he said.

Newell called for more transparency on party funding. “A thorough clean-up is needed,” he told the Guardian. “Transparency is needed on where donations go. There should be limits on directorships [of companies by serving and former politicians]. There needs to be a conscious attempt to say, we can’t function like this.”

“The government is floundering already [on climate action],” Newell said. “Boris Johnson is not fond of upsetting industries that they rely on quite heavily. The industries that are resisting the transition [to net zero carbon emissions] have enormous amounts of power.”

In response, a government spokesperson said: “We all have a part to play in tackling climate change, building on our existing success which has seen us slash emissions over the last three decades faster than any other G7 nation.

“Through the prime minister’s 10-point plan, we have a clear strategy to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050, including ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and investing in zero-emission public transport.

“Ahead of hosting COP26, we will publish our comprehensive net zero strategy, outlining the government’s vision for transitioning to a carbon neutral economy, which we will use to spur both domestic and global action on issues including greener homes and aviation decarbonisation.”

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