Net Zero Carbon Emissions: Uk’S Progress

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:02 pm on 28th February 2019.

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Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:02 pm, 28th February 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Gillian Keegan. Earlier this month I attended a question and answer session at Green End Primary School in Burnage in my constituency. One of the young people said, “What do you talk about in Parliament, and what do you wish you talked about?” I said, “Well, we talk about Brexit, endlessly, but I wish we talked about climate change.” That is why I welcome today’s debate and the opportunity to make a brief contribution.

As we speak, fires are raging for the second year running on Saddleworth Moor on the outskirts of my constituency. I remember the smoke drifting across my constituency last year, and I do not want to see that again this summer. The weather may have been glorious over the past few days, but this February was the hottest on record and the past five years have been the hottest five years on record. The scientific evidence is clear.

On my regular school visits, the two issues regularly brought up by young people are plastic pollution and climate change. It is heartening that they are engaged and want to make a difference, but we cannot afford to wait for those 10-year-olds to get into positions of influence before we see faster action. For relatively prosperous inhabitants of a windy, rainy island, we are not taking fast enough action.

Climate change is already having a catastrophic effect on biodiversity and the environment. Two years ago I visited Australia and went to see the barrier reef. That was my second visit because I went previously about 25 years ago. What I saw shocked me because, even though it was a long time since my first visit, I vividly remembered the colours and life on the reef; it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I went back to the same part of the reef on the same boat. It was bleached and looked as though the life had been drained from it. It brought it home to me that the environmental emergency is already happening. We urgently need to listen to the warnings of the scientists and the environmental experts who are trying to alert us to the danger.

With the Committee on Climate Change recommending a review of the 2050 target, the time to act more quickly is now, and a first step would be for the Government to commit to a target date for net zero emissions. As a prosperous country, we are committed under the UN climate convention to be more ambitious than developing nations, and we need to lead by example. Greater Manchester Combined Authority is a good example. We need change in all sorts of areas—energy production, transport, green infrastructure, housing—and the authority has just published a draft plan for homes and the environment. A key aim is that all new buildings and other infrastructure be net zero carbon by 2028. It is an important step towards its pledge to become a carbon neutral area by 2038, which I welcome.

We have a huge opportunity. There is an environmental and economic benefit to retrofitting older buildings, and in the longer term the growth in green technologies has to be part of any future industrial strategy. We also have to take personal responsibility with a cultural move away from cheap disposable products and a throwaway culture, whether that be single-use plastic bottles or single-wear clothing. I congratulate Emily and Michael Eavis, the organisers of my favourite weekend of the year, the Glastonbury festival, on banning single-use plastic bottles for this year’s festival, which will take 1 million plastic bottles out of circulation. We also need a personal emphasis on using fewer resources, eating less meat and using public transport. Like my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood, I gave up my car about six months ago, but I can do that only because in Manchester we have a very good tram and bus system—by the way, the bus system needs regulating.

It is in our grasp to act quickly on behalf of those children in my constituency who are telling me that we have to act quickly. I want the Government to act more quickly so that pupils in my constituency worried about their future can see that this generation are acting on their behalf.