Climate change: free public transport and ‘green help to buy’ suggested by cross-party MPs

Free local public transport and a "green Help to Buy" scheme would help put environmental and social justice at the heart of climate change policies, according to a cross-party group of MPs.

The UK’s transition to a net zero economy must be fair and put people at the heart of targets and policy, with the costs and benefits shared equally across society, according to the report from think tank IPPR’s cross-party Environmental Justice Commission.

It says a transition to a low-emissions economy to help fight climate change should deliver a "people’s dividend" of improvements to lives, homes, jobs and transport.

Hilary Benn, a Labour MP and co-chair of the Commission, said: "The change has got to happen, but it’s got to be done in a way that is fair because ultimately the public has a veto on change and we can’t end up with a more unequal society having got to net zero.

"We see there’s a great opportunity here to end up with a fairer society if we take up the recommendations that we’re putting forward for discussion today."

The UK has a set in law a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to "net zero" by 2050, which requires slashing pollution to as near to zero as possible and offsetting the remaining "unavoidable" emissions.

The report says its proposals are a direct challenge to those who argue the net zero transition will harm the poorest. The commission argues that ambitious action on climate and nature "can and must be delivered in a way that also improves people’s everyday lives".

The commission makes more than 100 recommendations, including making local public transport free at the point of use by 2030, to make green travel easy.

It also proposes a £7.5 billion a year "GreenGo" scheme, which it likens to the government’s help-to-buy programme that helps first time buyers get on the property ladder. The GreenGo scheme would offer loans and grants to help people insulate their homes and switch to green heating and transport.

Mr Benn pointed to Office for Budget Responsibility research that has warned the sooner we act, the lower the bill. He said: "It is a matter of political choice, but the facts are very clear. In the end, it will cost us more if we don’t do this. So we’d better get on with it."

Destiny Boka-Batesa co-founded campaign group Choked Up, which describes itself as "black and brown teens living in areas affected by air pollution".

She welcomed the report, saying: "it’s always been the people who are, I guess, of low income families and people belonging in black and brown communities who although contribute the least in environmental harm, always tend to suffer the most from it.

"It’s a bit tiring to constantly have to put up with the fact that things will continue to go beyond my control.

She said adopting this new initiative would show that our "poorer and more deprived communities are finally starting to be taken care of".

The proposals are the results of 18 months of consultation with representative community groups, known as citizens juries, and other experts.

Monika Hammond took part in one of the juries, which she says have a "much better idea on how to tackle their [own] environment issues" than MPs or others from outside their community.

"You actually feel like you are part of the issue and it’s presented in a way that’s empowering," she said. "So you actually feel that you can do something about it… and you actually feel more connected to that community."

The commission argues for a "fairness lock" on policies to ensure people are involved in decision-making and that costs for the consumer and the taxpayer are distributed fairly. It says this would assess the impact of policies on different people and communities including by income, age, gender, race and disability.

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