Environment and Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:54 pm on 1st May 2019.

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Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:54 pm, 1st May 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Dunne. I agree with him that we should consider the possibility of using hydrogen in our fuel networks, which could be an interesting development.

I last had the opportunity to speak about this issue in February, when we had our first debate on climate change in the main Chamber for two years. It was only a short Back-Bench debate on net zero emissions, and it remains disappointing that Back Benchers and the Labour party rather than the Government are instigating debates on this crucial issue. I spoke then about the devastating changes that I had seen in the Great Barrier Reef between my visits, the first 25 years ago and the second just a couple of years ago. I congratulated the organisers of the Glastonbury festival on their decision to ban plastic bottles—in passing, I encourage other festival organisers to do the same—and I talked about giving up my car and trying to rely on public transport and cycling.

Given the limited time available, I will not repeat those remarks, but I am pleased to support Labour’s challenge to the Government to declare an environment and climate emergency. Such a declaration would convey the gravity of where we are with climate change. It would constitute a recognition that we are now left with a limited window of time in which to mitigate the worst of the damage that we have done—the Leader of the Opposition described the scale of the crisis comprehensively in his opening speech—and an invitation to other Governments to do the same. No other Government have declared a climate emergency, and doing so would make the UK a world leader, just as the last Labour Government led the world in passing the first binding climate change Act. It would also send a signal to the Extinction Rebellion protesters, the striking schoolchildren and the young people I speak to in schools in my constituency that we are listening and will act with urgency—for it is urgent action that we need.

Acting in the context of a climate emergency means setting ambitious goals and achieving them with commitment and motivation. What is happening now in Manchester is a good example of the action that can be taken at local level by those who are serious about their green ambitions. Last year Manchester held its first green summit and launched the first city region-wide plan to eliminate single-use plastics. Just over a month ago it held a second summit, focusing on the five-year environment plan.

Greater Manchester generates roughly 3.6% of our total UK carbon dioxide emissions, and we have acknowledged our responsibility to make our contribution to meeting targets. Ours is a cross-cutting approach that recognises and demonstrates the range of actions that we need to take. Manchester has looked into how to reduce CO2 emissions and improve air quality as part of its transport plan. There are plans for new building developments to be zero carbon by 2028 and for existing housing to be retrofitted to increase efficiency, which is a big economic opportunity, and extensive plans to create clean air zones and tackle nitrogen dioxide exceedances. That is all part of our aim to make Manchester a carbon-neutral city by 2038, which is a suitably ambitious goal for the city that started the first industrial revolution and needs to be a leader in the next—the green industrial revolution.

I do not have enough time, but I would love to be able to say more about the importance of climate change as a social justice issue. It disproportionately affects the most marginalised members of society—it is often the poorest families who live in urban areas with high levels of pollution—but the biggest injustice of all is the fact that poorer countries that have contributed less to global warming are being disproportionately hit by its effects. The lives of people living in the global south are already being torn apart because of the actions that we have taken in the past. The United Kingdom has a moral obligation to set and reach ambitious carbon emissions targets, not just for the sake of our people’s health and environment, but to offset our global contribution. As a wealthy nation, we must also offer financial support for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts by countries in the global south that are affected by extreme weather events.

I regularly visit local schools, and, overwhelmingly, young people want to raise two issues: climate change and plastic pollution. When I speak to those young people, I say that we must all accept our responsibility to play our part, whether by eating less meat, reducing the number of car and plane journeys or avoiding single-use plastics. However, we must also match that individual ambition with legislation. We must tackle this issue as a nation. We urgently need legislation to update the Climate Change Act.

There are many other actions that we need to take, which have been outlined by other Members. As we heard from my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, we have a massive opportunity. Let us declare an environment and climate emergency today, and let that declaration be a spur for those actions.