Environment and Climate Change

Part of Speaker’S Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:46 pm on 1st May 2019.

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Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 6:46 pm, 1st May 2019

It is an honour to close today’s debate. It has been the kind of debate that justifies why the public go to the ballot box to put us here. We have had 63 collegiate, wise and passionate speeches today, including from Richard Benyon, who talked about farmers being displaced by the salination of their land, and from my hon. Friend Clive Lewis, who made my favourite comment of the day when he said:

“When you are drowning, you do not ask yourself, ‘Ooh, what is politically possible?’;
you do whatever it takes to survive.”

We also heard the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Ruth Jones, and I have to say that Newport will be proud of her tonight, as will her predecessor, who I am sure is smiling down today.

We also heard from my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, who was applauded right across the House for his groundbreaking work on climate change. He said that every political issue that we consider must deal with climate change. In that vein, I want to pay tribute to the many colleagues who have not had the opportunity to speak today but who have been leading the charge on climate change, not least my hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Sue Hayman), for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who are sitting behind me today.

The great Salford poet and songwriter Ewan MacColl once wrote, in a song about hiking on the moors:

“I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday.”

Now, whether or not you like his music, or his politics, I think there are three things we can take from that on which almost everyone in this House would agree. First, the environment is not something separate from ourselves, something out there; it is part of our freedom. When we talk about the environment, we are talking about the places that mean the most to us, about our food, about the air we breathe. We know that 70% of the world’s oxygen is produced by marine life, but that life is threatened by ocean warming and acidification caused by the carbon put into the atmosphere.

Secondly, climate change and the environment are not luxury concerns. It is working people who benefit the most when our public spaces flourish—urban or rural—and it is the poorest, both at home and internationally, who will be hit first and worst by the climate emergency. As we have heard today, it is working people who have the most to gain from a green industrial revolution that could transform our economy, creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs. We on this side of the House estimate that retrofitting the UK’s housing stock could create 160,000 jobs right across the UK, and that offshore wind could create 120,000 jobs by 2030, largely in coastal towns and regions that have struggled for decades.

Thirdly, our climate and our environment are in deep trouble. We do not have to look far to see that climate change is already a disaster for many across the world, from the cyclone that recently struck Mozambique to the protracted droughts in east Africa. If we continue on our current path, we face unimaginable losses for every Member’s constituency and for people and communities across the world. But here’s the thing: it does not have to be that way. We are running out of time, but there is still time, so let us use it well and start today by declaring a climate emergency.

What does it mean to declare an emergency? The motion sets out some guidance. It means reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible and down to net zero before 2050, with short-term targets for the green energy transition and sustainable modes of transport. It means properly funding environmental protection domestically and legislating to reduce waste, moving towards a zero-waste economy. It means capturing the green jobs of the future and mitigating the impact of transitioning to a low-carbon economy on workers and regions. It means bringing wildlife and biodiversity back to levels that I am too young to remember but by which, as we know from David Attenborough, nobody is too young or too old to be captivated. Perhaps more than anything, declaring an emergency means that we will devote the time and resources to the problem that are commensurate with its scale. We can start that today by declaring a climate and environment emergency. The motion gives us a basis on which to act, and that is why I commend it to the House.