On 1 May 2019, the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion declaring “an environment and climate emergency” following the findings of a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the international body for assessing the science on climate change. The motion noted “the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on UK food production, water availability, public health and through flooding and wildfire damage”, It further noted that “the UK is currently missing almost all of its biodiversity targets, with an alarming trend in species decline, and that cuts of 50% to the funding of Natural England are counterproductive to tackling those problems”.
We need urgent action to tackle the escalating ecological crisis. Unless we act rapidly to reduce the greenhouse gases we are releasing into the atmosphere to zero and restore our natural environment, we face catastrophe. That is why I was proud to support Labour’s motion forcing Parliament to declare an environment and climate emergency, a decision that I explained in a recent article I published in the Independent which you may find of interest. I am delighted that this motion was passed by the House.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear that, in order to avoid the most catastrophic outcomes of climate change, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by around 2050. The World Meteorological Organization, meanwhile, has found that the impacts of climate change are accelerating as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels. Nature is also in a state of crisis. Global vertebrate populations have fallen by 60 per cent since the 1970s. More than 40 per cent of insect species are declining and a third of species are endangered.
Everything the Government and we in Parliament do must therefore be judged by whether we are making progress on reducing carbon emissions and restoring species levels to healthy levels. The decisions we take cannot be guided by what is politically convenient – they must be guided by what the science now tells us we must do. I recently made this point during a debate in the House of Commons, on 23rd April, where I, in my capacity as the Shadow Minister for International Climate Change, challenged the government to join Labour in enshrining in law a target to reach net zero emissions before 2050, as the independent Committee on Climate Change have now recommended to do.
We are now the first Parliament in the world to have declared an environment and climate emergency. But what we must do next is respond with the urgency this deserves. This means doing things in an entirely different way, so we have a truly sustainable economy that operates in harmony with our living planet.
At the 2017 general election, I stood on a manifesto that committed to ensuring 60% of the UK’s energy comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources within the next 12 years. But I believe we should be much more ambitious still in creating a zero-carbon economy by 2050. We must use all the powers of government to decarbonise our economy, implementing a Green Industrial Revolution to benefit the entire country.
For example, I support plans for a seven-fold increase in offshore wind, a doubling of onshore wind and a near tripling of solar power. This would be enough to power 19.5 million homes and generate over 400,000 jobs. I also believe we must make all new homes zero-carbon and decarbonise our transport system by investing in public transport and cycle paths to reduce our reliance on carbon-emitting vehicles.
We must also do much more to address the wildlife crisis, by taking steps to protect habitats and species in the seas surrounding the UK; initiating large tree planting programmes and developing nature recovery networks; and embedding in policy the responsibility for farmers and land-managers to conserve, enhance and create safe habitats for birds, insects and other wild animals and encourage the growth of wildflowers.
Now that Parliament has declared an environment and climate emergency, I can assure you I will continue to press for the Government to recognise this and act to bring about a zero-carbon and sustainable future.
Member of Parliament for Brent North