Equal access to nature

10 people who’d benefit from a green and fair recovery 

How would a green and fair recovery affect your life? Meet the people who’d benefit from systemic change following the pandemic.  
  Published:  10 Aug 2020    |      4 minute read

When we read about the billions of pounds of investment needed to overcome the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it can be easy to forget just how big a difference a green and fair recovery would make to those of us with bills to pay, kids to feed, and commutes to face.

So, what could our green and fair recovery plan actually look like in practice? Here’s how it would improve these 10 people’s lives…

The renter

Jess used to wear a woolly hat in bed and squinted through the gloom instead of turning on the light. But since it became law that every private-rented home had to meet energy efficiency standards, her home has been insulated and is much cheaper to run. She no longer dreads her energy bills and looks forward to hot showers in winter and not reading in the dark.

Less than 2% of UK homes have low-carbon heating (such as heat pumps), according to think-tank Green Alliance.

The cyclist

Loretta lives close enough to the office but never felt confident enough to ride into work, so she drives instead. She heard stories of bus collisions, treacherous roundabouts and drivers shouting – it just didn’t seem like a great way to start her day. But since the segregated cycleways were put in place, she feels differently. She feels much safer on her bike now, even if she’s still not a fan of spandex.

A June 2020 YouGov poll found that almost 80% of residents in five of the UK’s major cities want cars to make way for bikes, buses, and walking.

Transport graphic (temporary)

The cleaner

Train tickets once cut the heart out of Joseph’s salary. But he had no choice; he had to commute into town for his cleaning jobs, and survived on what little pay he had left.

Now that the council is using the proceeds of the Ultra Low Emission Zone and road-user tax to slash the cost of public transport, he saves a little each month. For the first time, the thought of a family holiday doesn’t seem so distant.

A modest eco-levy (road-user charging) would raise enough money to halve the cost of all rail trips or provide free buses in towns and cities.

The teenager

When he was fourteen, Evan was powerless to stop the council giving the go ahead to build houses on the green belt. When he was fifteen, he listened as his local politicians declared a climate emergency yet did nothing about it, but he couldn’t make his feelings felt when the local elections came around.

And then it changed. The government appointed a Future Generations Commissioner to ensure that local authorities consider the long-term impact of the decisions they make. Then the government let 16-year-olds all over the UK vote in local and national elections – to give Evan, and young people like him, a voice in shaping the future of their own areas.

Fossil fuels cause £44 billion worth of damage in the UK each year, yet young people have little say over their continued use.

The inner-city resident

John used to be surrounded by a sea of concrete, from his council flat to the neighbouring industrial estate and the nearby flyover.

But that was then. Now there’s green space everywhere, from the revitalised local park to the planters on the pavements. He no longer feels like he’s breathing in toxic fumes and, with the footpaths widened, the traffic no longer terrifies him. The squirrels on the other hand…

One in eight households in Great Britain has no access to a private or shared garden, according to the Office for National Statistics, and white people are 4 times more likely to have outdoor space at home than black people.

The chef

Nilesh thought becoming a chef was a safe career choice until the kitchen closed and the business folded. There he was – 45-years-old with no work and, thanks to the pandemic, little hope on the horizon. After the initial terror and panic, he enrolled in the National Training scheme as part of the government’s annual £4 billion investment in the green jobs transition. He retrained as a solar panel installer and is now getting used to having the weekends to himself.

The Local Government Association estimates that nearly 700,000 direct jobs could be created in England's low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2030.

Green space inequality

The farmer

Anne thought about changing the way she farmed. She knew she could boost biodiversity and the bottom line through agroforestry, but it seemed like too big of a risk. Then she read about the new state subsidies for nature-friendly farming.

The rewilding at the edges of her fields brought back the pollinators and increased crop yield and earnings. Now, the trees and hedges are alive with birds and butterflies she hasn’t seen since her youth.

72% of UK land is currently used by farmers for food production.

The pensioner

Terry used to dread the winters, when he shivered himself to sleep. His pension didn’t cover the cost of insulating his attic and fitting double-glazing but, like many others in fuel poverty, the rollout of a nationwide housing retrofit scheme helped him update his home.

The post-COVID recovery also got him out of the house. The increase in zebra crossings and walker-friendly routes have made it easier to walk into his village and chat to strangers about the weather.

2.4 million UK households are in fuel poverty, according to the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy.

The asthmatic

Aisha carried an inhaler wherever she went, but as electric cars, e-scooters, and bikes replaced petrol-driven cars, she found she could breathe easier. She can now see the city skyline clearer and sometimes even the stars. The hum of traffic is quieter now, which means she can hear the doves in the morning, though this also means she can hear more of people’s terrible music.

There are at least 36,000 premature deaths in the UK each year because of air pollution.

The activist

When the energy company broke ground, Leila felt conflicted. She remembered the deals struck for offshore gas projects that no-one asked for and the environmental destruction that followed. But now the same UK government she campaigned against is re-thinking its focus on fossil fuels, and instead investing in a locally-run wind farm off the Mozambique coast, making promises about jobs and clean energy. She still feels sceptical about it, but it’s a start.

Between 2013 and 2018, 96% of UK Export Finance energy spending went to fossil fuel development (£2.5 billion).

The government’s latest plan to boost the economy is a massive missed opportunity to deliver a green and fair recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The government’s latest plan to boost the economy is a massive missed opportunity to deliver a green and fair recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.