Parliament debates climate change - "This is the overwhelming issue of our time"
Yesterday MPs debated climate change and progress towards achieving net zero carbon emissions for the UK.
It is with great regret that unavoidable personal reasons prevented me from being able to attend and, despite my best efforts, I was unable to join my colleagues in the House of Commons chamber, especially as I know that Stroud people care passionately about the legacy we leave for our children and our planet.
In the week that the UK experienced its hottest ever winter day, there is no doubting the urgency with which we should act. It is undeniably shocking that this was the first time that climate changed had been debated in parliament’s main chamber in two years.
Climate change is overwhelmingly the most important issue facing us all, yet the government has failed to put this on the agenda, and it fell on Layla Moran and Caroline Lucas to raise this as a debate.
The government’s shambolic handling of Brexit has overwhelmingly diverted the energy and attention of our Parliament. It has sadly consumed parliamentarians’ time to the detriment of so many urgent issues.
Climate change is an existential threat, risking food and water insecurity and the collapse of entire ecosystems. The poorest communities will be hardest hit, although we all face living with the consequences of its impact.
As Shadow Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I spend much of my time talking to farmers and trying to shape future agriculture policy so that it works to provide food security for the UK as well as to protect our environment. Last summer’s prolonged heatwave, which had a devastating impact on agriculture, should serve as a wake-up call.
From Met Office forecasts to the IPCC’s report on 1.5 degrees, the science could not be clearer – there is an urgent need to rapidly decarbonise towards net zero emissions.
Labour has committed to achieving net zero emissions before 2050, whereas the government has not.
Transforming our economy to tackle climate change has the potential to have a positive impact on jobs and the UK economy. In spring 2019, Labour will run a series of regional events to build a detailed action plan to capture those opportunities. We are calling on the government to engage with this ambitious programme.
Although we have made some progress decarbonising the energy sector, this progress is threatened by the government’s inadequate support for and, in some cases, hostility towards renewable energy, alongside its promotion of fracking. There has been little progress towards decarbonising other key sectors such as transport and agriculture.
I have attended many meetings with young people and I know how much they care. I am in the process of organising a young peoples’ conference here in Stroud to listen to them and discuss how we can work together on climate change.
‘Net zero’ means reducing the UK’s emissions to the point where they can be offset by carbon absorbed from the atmosphere, through e.g. forest growth, sequestration in soil, or other technological means.
At the 2018 Labour Conference, Labour backed a target for net zero emissions before 2050, and to work with the Committee on Climate Change and others to develop and implement a pathway to get there. Scottish Labour has backed a target for net zero emissions by 2050 ‘at the latest’.
The Government has written to the Committee on Climate Change to advise on whether the UK should set a date for net zero emissions, but the Government has not yet committed to this target.
Adopting a net-zero target will require amendments to the Climate Change Act 2008, which sets a legally binding target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. Existing carbon budgets (4th carbon budget 2023-2027, 5th carbon budget 2028-2032) will be made more stringent.
According to the Committee on Climate Change’s latest assessment, the UK is off course to meet its fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which are stepping stones to an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.