Environment and Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:05 pm on 1st May 2019.

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Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 5:05 pm, 1st May 2019

Like many colleagues from across the House, I agree that we are in a climate emergency and should act accordingly. Somerset County Council and other councils around the south-west have already taken the lead on this, and I am glad that other councils, and hopefully the Government, will follow suit.

Edward Miliband gave a very good speech earlier on the responsibility that we in this place have for leadership, honesty and persuasion over the challenge that lies in front of us. It reminded me of a TV series that I am sure many colleagues will have gorged on: “The West Wing”. There is an episode around 10-word answers, and “This is a climate emergency and we must act now” is a 10-word answer. That is the easy bit; we can all say that and mean it and genuinely want to do something about it. However, the bit that comes next is hugely challenging, and that is where we have to start having conversations with our constituents.

The shadow Business Secretary has some great ideas on this, but at the weekend I saw her on television talking about subsidies for fossil fuels. Referring to the EU’s accounting of it, she meant things such as the 5% VAT on heating fuel and the forgone taxation from the refusal to implement the motoring fuel escalator. To say those are subsidies for fossil fuels is fine—we have to tackle those issues; we use fossil fuels too much for heating and transport—but let us not pretend by using the line “subsidies for fossil fuels” that there are not enormous challenges about which we must be honest with our constituents.

From that comes the whole issue of boiler and car scrappage, and how we do that in a socially just way, because invariably those least able to replace their boilers or cars are the ones driving the most polluting cars or using the least efficient boilers. It is a hugely difficult challenge, about which we must have an honest discussion, as we must on the requirement to bring about carbon capture and storage or to look at hydrogen as a means for allowing our heavy industry to continue. We have to be honest about the costs of doing that, but also about the advantages.

Time prohibits me from going through a whole list of things that I think we—as a Parliament, across the House—can lead on. We can sell a vision of a life that is better, more comfortable and more sustainable, but we will not do it if we jump on easy-to-grab soundbites such as “subsidies on fossil fuels”, and then pretend that to eradicate those subsidies would not bring a profound challenge to our cost of living. The challenge is enormous. We must stand together.