Climate change is a clear and present danger worldwide, threatening our beautiful planet and everyone on it. That’s why it was one of the first things I spoke about in Parliament – it featured in my maiden speech (the first speech I ever made in Parliament). It has remained a top priority for me – and I know that this reflects the views of the people I am fortunate to represent, the people of Bristol West. Record numbers are visiting me tomorrow, Wednesday 26th June 2019, for the Parliamentary lobby on climate change. Many people from Bristol West are part of Extinction Rebellion, and also visited me to discuss this urgent campaign in Westminster and in Bristol earlier this year.
Over the last few months I have repeatedly demanded that the government takes the climate emergency seriously (see debates here, here and here, for example). I am pleased that Parliament has now unanimously agreed to declare a climate and environment emergency. Since MPs have taken this step, I have been asking the government to put this into action, from divesting Parliament’s pension fund from fossil fuels to new laws supporting low-carbon transport.
The last Labour government was ground-breaking in how it tackled climate change – with the world’s first Climate Change Act setting legally binding targets for reducing carbon emissions, for example, leading the way worldwide. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the international body responsible for assessing the science on climate change – has made clear that we need to speed up and expand our action on climate change over the next 12 years or some consequences will be irreparable.
The international body responsible for advising the international community on biodiversity and ecosystems meanwhile has found that nature is declining globally at unprecedented rates and that transformative changes are needed to restore and protect it. These international reports make clear that if we continue on our current path, we face unthinkable damage throughout the UK and for people and communities around the world.
Declaring an environment and climate emergency means recognising this fact and taking action. It means reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible and down to net zero before 2050, with short-term targets for green energy and sustainable transport. It means properly funding environmental protection and legislating to move towards a zero-waste economy. It means a green industrial revolution to capture the jobs of the future, while protecting vulnerable workers and members of the public. It means restoring our wildlife and biodiversity to levels we have not seen in over a generation.
It seems that every week brings another horrifying news story about the environment. From the icecaps to the rainforests, from large mammals to insects, scientists are piecing together an increasingly disturbing picture of our effect on our planet. However, another recent story gave me hope. The Committee on Climate Change report published on 2 May made extremely convincing arguments that the UK can reduce its emissions to ‘net zero’ over the next three decades. This is was already Labour Party policy but I was very pleased that just this week the Prime Minister followed our lead in passing a regulatory change the ambition of the targets first laid out in Labour’s landmark Climate Change Act. As the report says, “achieving net-zero is now possible within the economic cost that Parliament originally accepted when it passed the Climate Change Act in 2008.”
Public support will be critical for this step, and the technological and behavioural shifts we will need to make such ambitious emissions reductions. I am heartened that growing numbers of my constituents are speaking up, whether that is through the inspirational school climate strikes, peaceful protest, or writing to their MP to demand action.
Declaring an environment and climate emergency also means removing the barriers the Government has put in place against onshore wind. Onshore wind offers one of the cheapest ways to generate renewable energy, with costs continuing to fall. It is a well-established technology that is relatively straight forward to install and has a small environmental impact compared to other forms of energy generation. The government’s decision to continue to block its development is reckless. Instead we need to revive our onshore wind industry. Furthermore, I am disappointed that the government chose not to support the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project – the UK has huge untapped wind and tidal power and government investment is vital to help bring the technology from developmental to commercially viable. Labour would invest in renewable energies and introduce a Green Industrial Revolution to support the green jobs and industries of the future.
Responding to this emergency will take some difficult decisions. For instance, I cannot support expansion of Bristol Airport if it will lead to higher emissions. I believe all new infrastructure such as airports should be carefully assessed to evaluate its lifetime impact on the environment and climate and should demonstrate how they are mitigating any negative impact, before they are given the go-ahead. I will be pushing for stronger laws to mandate this and to speed up this country’s work to bring us to net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible – for example, I support Rachel Reeves’ Bill to amend the Climate Change Act 2008 to require net UK carbon emissions to be zero by 2050 and to include international aviation and international shipping in the calculation of such emissions. This would be a huge step forward.
But I also believe climate change provides a huge number of opportunities for us to lead healthier, better lives. I am particularly interested in the Green New Deal proposed by Democrats in the US. I was glad to see that Ed Miliband and Caroline Lucas are chairing a commission into how this can be implemented in the UK. If this is something you are interested in it is worth reading Ed Miliband’s recent article on this. I believe that the government must not only work to end our harmful behaviours but also but provide better alternatives, for example investment into world class, reliable, green, and affordable high speed rail instead of expanding domestic flights. I am excited that Bristol city council are looking into mass transit solutions as it will make it easier for people to get out of their cars.
As an environmentalist I am so proud to be the MP for a constituency that cares so deeply about our planet. I stand with people in Bristol West who are calling for action. Tackling the climate crisis will not only avert disaster but will give us the opportunity to make things better. Britain has the chance to lead the way in tackling climate change and I will continue to work in Parliament to make this happen.