Environment and Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 1st May 2019.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 1:47 pm, 1st May 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Let us show today that the political will is here, in this Parliament, to declare the climate emergency, which we believe is necessary.

Let us work more closely with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe, especially those at the sharp end of it, such as the small country of the Maldives, so vulnerable to rising sea levels. It told the UN climate talks last year:

“We are not prepared to die” and implored countries to unite. Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister recently warned of the “existential threat” posed by climate breakdown to the 160 million people of his country and urged others to adhere to their commitments under the Paris climate change agreement.

I attended the Paris conference in 2015 with my good friend, my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner. I thank him for his passion at that conference, for his commitment to environmental sustainability and for the great work he did on forestry during the last Labour Government. It is a pleasure to work with him. He and the whole of the Labour party strongly support the UK’s bid to host the UN climate change conference in 2020, and I really hope that that will happen. When it does, Members from across the House will have a chance to interact with those attending the conference.

Let us also make it clear to President Trump that he must re-engage with international climate agreements. We must also be absolutely clear-eyed about the Paris agreement: it is a huge and significant breakthrough, but it is not enough. If every country in the whole world meets its current pledges as per the Paris agreement, temperatures will still rise by 3° in this century. At that point, southern Europe, the horn of Africa, central America and the Caribbean will be in permanent drought. Major cities such as Miami and Rio de Janeiro would be lost to rising sea levels. At 4°, which is where we are all heading with the current rate of emissions, agricultural systems would be collapsing.

This is not just a climate change issue; it is a climate emergency. We are already experiencing the effects all around us. Here at home, our weather is becoming more extreme. The chief executive of the Environment Agency recently warned that we were looking into what he called the “jaws of death” and that we could run short of water within 25 years. At the same time, flash flooding is becoming more frequent. Anyone who has visited the scene of a flooded town or village knows the devastation that it brings to families. That was vividly brought home to me when I visited Cockermouth after the 2015 floods, alongside my hon. Friend Sue Hayman, who is doing such a brilliant job as shadow Environment Secretary. She first challenged the Government to declare a climate emergency a month ago.

Around the world, we are seeing ice caps melting, coral reefs dissolving, droughts in Africa, hurricanes in the Americas and wildfires in Australia. Cyclone Idai killed more than 900 people in south-east Africa, mainly in Mozambique, and affected 3 million more, only to be immediately followed by the current horrors of Cyclone Kenneth. The heating up of our climate is contributing to a terrifying loss of animal and plant species, but sadly, that is something that we are only just recognising. I remember joining and working with the World Wide Fund for Nature when I was at school. According to the WWF, humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970—a year that many of us in this House can remember.

Earlier this year, the first global scientific review of its kind found that insects could become extinct within a century unless action was taken. Insects pollinate plants and keep the soil healthy. Without pollination and healthy soil there is no food, and without food there is no life. Meanwhile, there is far too much intensive farming. We are pumping far too many fertilisers into the earth, which is taking its toll on our soil. Soil degradation is a major issue, as anyone who reads the farming journals will be picking up on all the time. We are seeing the weakening of soil structures, and there is a need to strengthen them. More sustainable farming systems will lead in the longer run to better yields and less cost for pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. The Environment Secretary himself has warned that we have only 30 to 40 years left before our fertile soil is eradicated, so I hope he will support the motion today.