Last night Parliament voted for the UK to declare a Climate Emergency. Whilst this is momentous – and historic – it will have no impact whatsoever unless the government accepts and acts on it. The debate was started by Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who called for the motion to “set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe”.
The symbolic move – recognising the urgency needed to combat the climate crisis – follows a wave of protests launched by the Extinction Rebellion strikers in recent weeks.
Opening the debate, Corbyn urged his fellow MPs to accept their “historic duty” and back Labour’s motion. He used his speech to make a passionate and comprehensive case for “rapid and dramatic action” for social and environmental justice. On current rates of decarbonisation, and following government cuts to renewable energy, the UK will only reach net zero by the end of the century, which is at least 50 years too late.
The Labour leader argued that we are already seeing the effects of climate change, including extreme weather in the UK. He told MPs they should listen to those “who bear the highest cost” and are “least to blame here and around the world for the destruction of our climate”.
Corbyn told the Commons that he was “deeply moved to see the streets outside this parliament filled with colour and noise by children on strike from school chanting ‘our planet, our future’and that “Parliament rarely leads change, it usually drags its feet” but will urge MPs to “not repeat that pattern” and “respond to the younger generation” by saying “we hear you”.
Labour used an opposition motion to push Parliament to act with urgency to avoid more than 1.5°C of warming, which requires global emissions to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ before 2050.
Last year, UK carbon dioxide emissions fell by only 2% – a rate that means that the UK would not reach levels compatible with net zero before 2100, far too late to avoid dangerous climate change.
Rebecca Long Bailey, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, decried this slow rate of change saying “winning slowly on climate change is the same as losing”.
Jeremy Corbyn has also spoken in a video on this theme:
The Commons debate showed cross-party support of the motion, though many of the Conservative back-bench seats were empty during the debate. In his reply to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, the Environment minister, Michael Gove, defended his Government’s record on introducing methods to reduce carbon emissions. Some say that his long and passionate speech was delivered, partly as an attack on Corbyn but also in a bid for the leadership of the Conservative party.
Also important in this whole context is the report that was released today by the Committee on Climate Change. This is outlined on the BBC website:
It stated that the UK should lead the global fight against climate change by cutting greenhouse gases to nearly zero by 2050. The BBC then goes on to say that a target of 2050 was likely to damage the UK economy. Yet , Extinction Rebellion and others are calling for a much closer time (2025) to achieve carbon zero. Indeed, the IPPC report has shown that keeping global warming below 1.5ºC is essential, if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided.
It would appear then that the Committee on Climate Change has been very conservative in its recommendations.