Environment and Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 1st May 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire 4:11 pm, 1st May 2019

May I be the second to congratulate most warmly Ruth Jones on an accomplished maiden speech? Her love of and passion for her constituency shone out in everything she said.

We have done well on climate change, because PwC reports a 42% cut in emissions since 1990, but we are all here today because we know that we must do more and that the need is urgent. Whether from younger people or from Back Benchers across the House, a challenge generally leads to better government and better results. I want to be positive and to point to five areas that are part of the solution. To be fair, the Government are involved in part in all of them, but they need to go further in some.

We have already had mention of electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles, and I welcome the investment in battery technology and the Government’s efforts so far. However, we have heard today that Norway is far ahead of us, and 1.03 million new energy vehicles, as they are called, were sold in China in the first 11 months of last year, which is an increase of 68%, so we cannot rest on our laurels. I look forward to when ultra low emissions vehicles become more affordable so that more people can buy them.

There is one easy win in the area of transport—this would also deal with air pollution—and that is to take greater action on engine idling, something which New York has done recently with proper enforcement powers. Westminster City Council has its #DontBeIdle campaign, and we could and should do something across the UK about idling. Cycling and walking will also be part of the solution, and I am proud to be the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary cycling group. Roughly 2% of journeys in the UK are made by bike, but the numbers for Germany and the Netherlands are around 10% and 25% respectively. We can go further, but we must mainstream cycling funding, and new roads in particular need to be cycle-friendly. We are not quite there yet.

On aviation, unbelievably, electric planes have a future. I must admit that when I first read about them I had to check that it was not 1 April, but easyJet is looking to bring out a nine-seater prototype this year. By 2027, easyJet and Ryanair are hoping to fly some commercial routes up to distances of 500 km, so aviation can have an electric future, certainly in short-haul flights, and we should welcome that.

We have heard a lot about retrofitting, but why are not all new homes being built as zero-energy-bill homes? I was privileged to welcome the British architect Bill Dunster OBE to my constituency, and he is building such homes now. Not only do they address the climate issue, but not having to pay gas and electricity bills can be critical in helping our low-income constituents to look after their families. We need to accelerate that. The Building Research Establishment in Watford has proved that the technology is there, and we should be doing much more on that front.

We have heard about the forests we are planting, with 50 million trees to be planted in the northern forests and another 11 million trees being planted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am one of probably many MPs who were privileged to send 10 trees to their constituency from the “Commonwealth canopy” scheme organised by Frank Field, and that is something we can do, too.

The subject of this debate includes the environment, about which we have not spoken much today, particularly our wildlife. I am privileged to live in a constituency in which, when I go home in the evening, I see deer, muntjacs, foxes, rabbits, pheasants, partridges, woodpeckers, goldfinches, nuthatches and many other wonderful forms of wildlife. We need to make sure they can exist, too.

My constituency also hosts Duke of Burgundy and chalk hill butterflies, and butterflies are one of the creatures most in danger from climate change. Only a very small increase in temperature can cause them difficulties.

In summary, I want a future that is green and profitable, and for which we help our poorer constituents to adapt.