This is the most ambitious target for emissions reductions that the UK has ever had, but it is still not enough: 2050 is too late. Christiana Figueres, the former United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change chief, described the prospect of the net zero target as not even a stretch. The UK is one of the world’s richest countries and has caused more historical emissions than most. We have both the means and the responsibility to go faster, so we need a new kind of mobilisation of the kind that we do not normally see except in wartime. We need a transformation of our economy, with a green new deal bringing secure, cleaner jobs and genuinely sustainable industry. Not only is 2050 too late, but there remain huge loopholes in the target. First, the Government have avoided the chance to include legally in our carbon targets international shipping and aviation, despite advice from the Committee on Climate Change to do so. Warm words about whole economy strategies for net zero are welcome, but they must be given legal backing in order to be taken seriously.
The second door that has been left open is to the offshoring of our remaining emissions using international carbon credits. When I asked the Business Secretary to close that loophole earlier this month, he attempted to reassure me by saying that the Government would not be making use of these credits, but I am not reassured simply by those words. This Government might have no intention of using international carbon credits, but who can say whether a new Administration in five years’ time—or, dare I say it, five weeks’ time—will share such scruples?
Ultimately, Governments are judged by their actions not their words, and behind the warm words on climate leadership, distant targets and reassurances, the actions of this Government tell a different story. It is one of forcing fracking on local communities, blocking onshore wind, flogging off the Green Investment Bank, undermining solar power, building new roads and runways and the Heathrow expansion. We are in a climate emergency, so let’s act like it. No one calls 999 and requests a fire engine for 30 years’ time. We need to drop everything and put the fire out, as Greta Thunberg said. Let us take the far-reaching action now that we need to turn this crisis around, because in doing so we will not only save lives and livelihoods across the world but create a better life for people here in the UK.
There is a message of hope at the heart of this agenda. We can have improved public transport, cleaner air, thriving nature, warmer homes and much cleaner jobs. I welcome the new commitment, but I urge the Government to make their warm words mean something—