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

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I shall come on to it in a moment. At the heart of the environment and climate emergency is the issue of justice, and it is those here and around the world who are least to blame for it who bear the burden and pay the highest cost. A 2015 study found that children living in our British inner-city areas can have their lung capacity reduced by up to 10% by air pollution on major roads. Of course, the situation is even more extreme for children growing up in densely populated urban areas in China and India. The pollution levels in many cities around the world are damaging children before they reach the age of five. Children should not have to pay with their health for our failure to clean up our toxic air.

Working-class communities suffer the worst effects of air pollution. Those who are least able to rebuild their lives after flooding will be hit hardest by rising food prices, while the better off, who are sometimes more responsible for emissions, can pay their way out of the trouble. Internationally, in a cruel twist of fate, it is the global south that faces the greatest devastation at the hands of drought and extreme weather, which fuel poverty and war and create refugees as people are forced to flee their homes. Some of the 65 million refugees in this world—not all, but some—are in reality climate refugees. They are paying the price of emissions that come not from the global south, but overwhelmingly from the global north and rapidly industrialising societies.

Sir David Attenborough recently said on his brilliant television programme:

“We now stand at a unique point in our planet’s history. One where we must all share responsibility both for our present wellbeing and for the future of life on Earth.”

That is the magnitude of what we are talking about. It is too late for tokenistic policies or gimmicks. We have to do more. Banning plastic is good and important, but individual action is not enough. We need a collective response that empowers people, instead of shaming them if they do not buy expensive recycled toilet paper or drive the newest Toyota Prius. If we are to declare an emergency, it follows that radical and urgent action must be taken. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to avert the disastrous effects of warming greater than 1.5° C, global emissions must fall by about 45% by 2030 to reach net zero by 2050 at the absolute latest. It is a massive demand and it is a massive ask, and it will not happen by itself.

We are going to have to free ourselves from some of the harmful beliefs that have characterised our thinking for too long. The hidden hand of the market will not save us, and technological solutions will not magically appear out of nowhere. An emergency of this magnitude requires large-scale Government intervention to kick-start industries, to direct investment and to boost research and development in the green technologies of the future, and that is not a burden.