Environment and Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:26 pm on 1st May 2019.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Labour, Doncaster North 3:26 pm, 1st May 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Sarah Newton. Her eloquent words on climate change show that the Front Bench’s loss is the Back Benches’ gain and this House’s gain.

The tone of this debate has been largely good-natured and about shared objectives, and that is important. This debate matters, and the emergency matters, because, contrary to what the Secretary of State implied, we are not doing nearly enough as a country. It is true that we have made a lot of progress in relation to the power sector, but 75% of the gains we have made overall since 2012 have been in that sector alone. The latest report of the Committee on Climate Change in 2018 says that emissions in the building sector, the agriculture sector, the waste sector and the fluorinated gases sector have been flat for a decade.

The emergency matters because it says to not only the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or other Departments—the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is also on the Front Bench—but the whole Government that this matters to everyone and that this is not just another issue we have to deal with, alongside all the other issues we face. Every issue has to go through climate change and what we do about it. It is the whole basis of our politics for generations to come. I hope that the Secretary of State will support the emergency, because it will focus minds in the Government.

I do not want to speak for long, but I do want to talk about political persuasion and in particular about how we carry the public with us on this journey. Nice words were said about me, and I am grateful to both Front Benchers for that, but the truth is that I feel a sense of guilt. I feel a sense of guilt that I have not done more on this issue and that I did not do more when I was leader of my party. I talked about the issue, but I did not do more.

It is bad thing that in the 2015 TV debate, which I do not like to recall too much, not one question was asked about climate change, and that tells us something about the fact that Brexit—it is bad enough, given how it sucks the political oxygen out of all the other issues—is not the only reason why this issue has not been more salient, or rather that it goes through peaks and troughs. I think that the reason is that this is the ultimate challenge for politics, because the decisions we make now will have impacts in generations’ time, but less so today. The electoral cycle, if we are honest about it—and we respond to our voters—is five years, or perhaps less, not 20, 30 or 40 years.