In my opinion, working to halt climate change is an issue of social justice as well as environmental justice. How we will deal with climate change and the effects of climate change is one of the biggest issues of our age, and implementing a radical plan is a matter of utmost importance.
Yesterday, 10 June 2015, there were two debates proposed by the Opposition (Labour Party) in the House of Commons - one on housing and one on climate change. In the event, I was not able to present my full speech. Here is what I would have said:
Thank you Mr Speaker.
1000 years ago, a scientist called Ibn al-Haytham was born in Basra, in what is now present-day Iraq.
He proposed scepticism in scientific enquiry, that hypotheses should be tested to destruction in order to discover truth. He wrote:
“The duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads and...attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling onto either prejudice or leniency”.
Ibn al-Haytham had the misfortune of applying this rule in his diligent, thorough scientific research for the ruler of Egypt and coming up with a well-reasoned answer which his boss did not want to hear. He apparently had to affect madness for the rest of his employer’s life.
I urge the government to pursue scientific truth as they tackle climate change as Ibn al-Haytham did 1000 years ago, and without fear of offending anyone as they do – for it is the most important global challenge we face.
Mr Speaker, we know now that Climate Change is a matter of truth – and that scepticism about its existence should not be regarded as another side to the problem. It is happening, it is happening now and it is likely to have catastrophic effects on the planet and on the people, animals and plants who live on it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report 2014 states claerly that warming of the climate is unequivocal, that human influence is clear and that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of our climate.
The time to act was of course decades ago – and much has happened, particularly under the last Labour government. But it could yet all be too late if we don’t focus on the United Nations Climate Change summit later this year in Paris. We must ensure that we send our representatives to Paris with a clear mandate to show decisive global leadership.
I know I speak for the constituents of Bristol West when I say that we are profoundly disturbed at the prospect of what continued climate change will bring for the world’s populations, particularly the poorest.
Water crises are already with us – in parts of the world the impact is showing itself in failed monsoons, ever increasing temperatures and the consequences for health and welfare in shortages of water, power failures and increased risk of disease.
It is with the differential impact of climate change on rich and poor that the issues of social and environmental justice become clearly linked. To my mind, Mr Speaker, this is why the Labour Party has a unique history in tackling climate change, as we are unashamedly and purposefully the party of action to bring about major social change. We also know that when we reduce inequality, we increase overall prosperity – and it is in our DNA to do everything we can to reduce inequality. But the approach of those who favour unfettered, unregulated economic growth risks undermining all our gains. Lack of regulation means no limits in carbon emissions, lack of fettering means using building materials or agricultural techniques which contribute to environmental degradation, not building up sustainable resistance to it.
So, we are clear that the problem of climate change exists, and on this side of the house at least we know that tackling it has to link to tackling economic and social injustice. How do we do that?
My Speaker, there Ibn al-Haytham would perhaps be less satisfied with the state of the knowledge so far. Reducing carbon emissions – yes, clear, factual need is well established. Which source or sources of renewable energy are best placed to provide alternatives to coal and oil – yes, we have a long list, but we are by no means as certain as a global community or as political decision makers about which is best. Wind? Wave? Nuclear? Tidal lagoon? Harnessing the tremendous power of the mighty Severn Bore, close to my constituency? Environmentalists were not able to agree on the balance of harm to benefit of the proposed Severn Barrage, Mr Speaker – with some claiming the damage to wildlife habitats was too great to risk, others saying the potential for a renewable energy source on the doorstep of Bristol and the South West was too great to pass up. We are still at stalemate.
However, I do know that with my, and my party’s, combined zeal for tackling poverty and tackling climate change at the same time, that attacking fuel poverty is a vital contribution we need to make to attacking climate change.
From insulating homes to finding other ways to bring down energy bills – I know from the work of local specialist community organisations in my constituency such as the Easton Energy group, the Bristol Energy Co-op and the Bristol Energy Network, that encouraging people to understand how they can reduce their energy bills helps in turn to reduce their use of fossil fuel and thus the carbon emissions from that fuel.
How much further we need to go, Mr Speaker – and fast.
When we invest in fossil fuels, Mr Speaker, we are gambling with our children’s futures and the future of our planet. We are also risking our own security as a nation as we become ever more dependent on nations we should otherwise perhaps keep more at arms-length. 66% of people in the UK agree that fossil fuel investments are “getting more risky”, with the figure rising to more than 80% in the 18-34 age group. And no wonder – it’s their future we risk.
Young people involved in Bristol University and local schools in Bristol West have asked me to commit to fossil fuel divestment strategies – and I do so willingly.
If the government is unwilling to support energy efficiency effectively and unwilling to enforce or introduce regulations vigorously, then we need to ask how they propose actually addressing climate change and fuel poverty.
I fear that the cut of 2% to the budget for the Department of Energy and Climate Change announced last week by the Chancellor is only a hint of cuts to come. It also does not address the serious shortcomings of the policies of the coalition government to tackle Climate Change.
The Green Deal was intended to pay for itself in savings in fuel bills. But so few households have taken advantage of it, a mere 7,800, that the impact on our carbon emissions and on household bills is negligible.
The Tory Minister who launched it blames the Big Six energy companies – why then does the government not commit to getting the incentives and regulations right to give the companies the push they need, to help their customers and thus our carbon emissions?
Consumers and campaigners alike want this to work – and people on the lowest incomes stand to gain most by being able to reduce already sky-high fuel bills. We should be making sure as a priority that everyone on a low income is helped to have an energy efficient home.
It appears to me, Mr Speaker, that the political leadership of the government is lacking in imagination and guts and that the Big Six fuel companies are being allowed to continue with business as usual. Meanwhile, people are struggling with their fuel bills and our carbon emissions reduction targets are in danger of being missed.
Meanwhile, the opportunities for jobs and sustainable economic growth are being tragically wasted. Thousands of young people, in Bristol west and beyond, could be in training or employment right now, in the skilled jobs of retrofitting new boilers, insulating homes, engineering and building for renewable energy. All of this would help to reduce carbon emissions, provide affordable fuel and create thousands and thousands of jobs. Why is the government not showing us what they intend to do?
These jobs, Mr Speaker, are across high and low tech, from environment to engineering. They are jobs which can ONLY take place at the point of need. They can never be exported. Homes needing insulation in Bristol West, Mr Speaker, can only be insulated by people in Bristol West.
The PRIMARY duty of a government is security and safety of all its citizens. These are at risk from failing to tackle climate change – I cannot stress this too highly. Climate Change is a clear and present danger, to the planet we live on and to the next generation’s safety and security.
People in Bristol West elected me to make this case and make it I most certainly will.
I urge the government to heed the words of Ibn al-Haytham, Mr Speaker. To heed the truth of the existence and the risks of climate change. To cleave to the scientific rigour needed to identify the solutions and to do so with all haste and urgency possible.
I beg them on behalf of the next generation in Bristol West and across the world – ACT NOW, to implement the most effective, the most sustainable and the most committed strategies they can, to tackle fuel poverty and all the other causes and consequences of climate change. I urge them to show global leadership in the United Nations Climate Change summit in Paris this year.
I ask them, very simply, to act now to save the world.