UK lags European peers in green energy spending; EU inches towards groundbreaking AI legislation: news in brief

By on 14/03/2024 | Updated on 14/03/2024
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Global Government Forum’s digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

UK spends least on green energy among top five European economies, analysis shows

Analysis from the environmental campaign group Greenpeace has shown that the UK government spends the least on green energy among five large Western economies, which include France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

The findings emerged through an examination of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) government energy spending tracker, which spans the years 2020 to 2023. The tracker measured two types of energy spending, which it identified as “clean energy investment support and consumer energy affordability measures”.
As well as putting the UK in fifth place in green energy investment, Greenpeace also found the UK trailed its European peers on low carbon spending.

According to a summary of the analysis, Italy was found to spend “over three and a half times as much as the UK on low carbon and energy efficient transport”. This amounts to US$47.8bn compared to the UK’s US$13.1bn, it explained. Germany, meanwhile, was found to spend almost three times as much as the UK, investing US$38.1bn into low carbon mobility.

Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor of the exchequer, delivered his Spring Budget on 6 March, which was focused on tax cuts and made little mention of policies to reduce emissions.

Prior to the budget, Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, commented: “There is now very clear evidence that the UK has been investing much less than its competitors across a range of areas, including on tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation.”

When spending on energy affordability was removed from the analysis, per capita spending was also shown to be much lower in the UK. This amounted to just shy of US$500 per person across the three years, compared with US$1,880 in Italy, US$1,115 in Germany and more than US$950 in France.

EU passes AI Act to advance regulation of evolving technologies

The European Parliament has passed its AI Act, kickstarting the process of giving a legal foundation to regulating the technology.

The new act is expected to provide a legal framework for identifying, sorting and evaluating the use of AI. It also provides a basis on which to weigh the risk level presented by an AI product, apportioning the highest degree of scrutiny to products it deems the highest risk.

Thierry Breton, EU industry chief, said: “I welcome the overwhelming support from the European Parliament for the EU AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive, binding framework for trustworthy AI. Europe is now a global standard-setter in trustworthy AI.”

The act has yet to pass through the European Council, but is expected to clear this stage without difficulty. It had previously been in development for three years.

High-risk AI products typically appear in critical industries such as healthcare, defence and law enforcement. Under the act, these products would receive the most number of checks before being cleared for use.

The new law is also expected to place key limits on governments’ ability to use real-time biometric surveillance in public spaces, as well as to prevent terrorist attacks, and search for suspects of serious crimes.

Read more: UK deputy PM says embracing AI ‘will reduce civil service headcount’, Estonia’s ‘personal government’ vision, and more

South African National Assembly passes milestone public service reform bills

South African parliament has passed two pieces of legislation that aim to improve public service administration, a move hailed as one of the most important reforms to the South African government since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The Public Service Amendment Bill aims to give heads of government departments greater administrative independence to run the public service without political interference. The Public Administration Management Amendment Bill, meanwhile, seeks to knit together critical aspects of public administration from all areas of the South African government to boost state capacity and capability.

As Global Government Forum explained in its latest management and workforce summary, reform to the South African public service to address the risk of state capture has been proposed for several years. Historically, this can be traced to the beginnings of its democracy, where South African politicians withheld powers over appointments due to distrust within the African National Congress of officials’ capacity to implement its policies.

In an article written for Global Government Forum, Ivor Chipkin, executive director of the Johannesburg-based New South Institute think tank, said that the terms of the negotiated settlement prevented the new government from firing pre-existing officials.

“If it could not replace them, the African National Congress would override them by appointing its own people to positions of seniority in government departments and entities,” Chipkin noted in the piece.

Read more: History has been made, paving the way for major public service reform in South Africa

US bill to strengthen protections for federal contractors heads to US senate

Fresh legislation to beef up protections for federal contractors and grantees who blow the whistle on waste, abuse and fraud has cleared a key committee and is bound for the US senate for consideration.

The bill is called the Expanding Whistleblower Protections for Contractors Act and was first introduced in May 2023 by senators Gary Peters and Mike Braun.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which Peters is chair, advanced the bill during a business meeting on 8 March.

The bill challenges several loopholes that have enabled government officials to retaliate against informants without scrutiny. These loopholes have persisted despite congress’s success in passing several laws establishing whistleblower protections for federal contractors. The latest bill differs in that it goes further to protect defense and non-defense contractors from such retaliation. It also protects whistleblowers that object to being involved in activities they feel to be in violation of the law or federal regulation. 

Under its provisions, executive branch officials will also be prevented from requesting that federal contractors retaliate against whistleblowers. The bill also calls for “appropriate disciplinary action” wherever retaliatory measures are requested.

Read more: How intelligence and transparency can combat electoral interference

Australia’s Working for Women strategy to request progress reports

Australia’s minister for women, Katy Gallagher, has urged the public service to press harder for gender equality as the government works to deliver its strategy for women in the workplace.

The strategy, known as Working for Women, demands department-level reporting on actions being taken to reduce workplace inequalities. However, the strategy has yet to detail clear guidelines and processes about how this will be achieved.

According to the strategy itself, the government’s Office for Women is working “with the Department of Finance and agencies to develop a consistent approach for reporting on gender equality in annual reports”.

The first reports due for submission will aim to establish a benchmark for progress, and five and 10-year reviews will also be set up to assess how effective the reporting regime is.

The Australian government’s latest Status of Women Report Card showed that from financial security to mental health and physical safety, women are generally worse off than men at work.

Gallager said she had seen “a great deal of change” and “meaningful progress” on gender equality in her lifetime, but that “progress isn’t inevitable and isn’t linear” and can “easily be wound back”.

“I say all of this to make the simple point that in 2024, women in this country, as a general rule, continue to be less safe, have less choice and be less economically secure than men,” she said. “And this is something that the Albanese government is absolutely determined to change.”

Read more: Canada’s public sector ‘beats private sector on tackling gender pay gap’

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

One Comment

  1. Lee Jones says:

    The UK ranking last of the largest European economies is no surprise in relation to any metric, most particularly that of ‘green spending’. The government of the last 15 years has been representing the interests of the rich elite, big business (such as construction, oil and gas) and their shadowy and unaccountable lobbyists. As examples, I cite the farcical Hinkley Point C, Drax, HS2 and licenses for new oil exploration. I suspect this government would however come out on top in terms of the lowest taxes levelled on the rich and corporations, but that doesn’t represent what is best for the wider population or the country. Only the few. Roll on the next election!

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