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The Climate Emergency

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 2:08 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:08 pm, 17th October 2019

I agree. Air quality is referred to in the Environment Bill, and we will be pushing hard on those areas in Committee.

I am particularly concerned about Natural England’s budget. For those who do not know, Natural England is the body responsible for protecting and enhancing our natural environment, and its budget has been cut in half. Staff tell me that they barely have the resources to cope with their basic statutory requirements. In addition, unprecedented cuts to local authorities mean that we have seen a boom in fly tipping, and local habitats are being neglected right across our communities.

The Government have effectively banned the cheapest form of renewable energy—new onshore wind—through restrictive planning measures and the removal of subsidies. There has also been a total failure to capitalise on the enormous potential of tidal power with the Severn barrage and now the Swansea Bay project failing to win Government support. Instead, the Government still seem intent on promoting fracking in the face of overwhelming local opposition. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether she personally still supports fracking?

Perhaps the most recent and telling anti-environmental Government decision is the scrapping of the UK’s commitment to respect current EU environmental standards—the so-called “non-regression” provisions of the draft withdrawal agreement and political declaration. In his letter to Donald Tusk announcing the change in policy, the Prime Minister said that the right to diverge was

“the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy.”

Ditching our current environmental standards is necessary only if the vision for the UK is of a race-to-the-bottom, deregulated country that prioritises free trade over high standards. Furthermore, research has predicted that a hard Brexit could see a rise in the UK’s imported emissions roughly equal to the territorial emissions of the Netherlands in 2017.

Labour tabled a motion calling on this Parliament to declare a climate and environment emergency. The text of the motion, unopposed by Government, clearly stipulated that a fully costed cross-departmental plan to address the climate and environment emergency would need to be brought before this House within six months. The deadline is 1 November—just two weeks away—so will the Secretary of State confirm that her Government will meet that commitment and bring a plan back to the House before the end of the month?

Labour has been calling for cross-departmental co-ordination on the climate and environment emergency for years. The Government have finally listened, as we hear that the Prime Minister will chair a new Cabinet committee on climate change. There is possibly no one more ill-suited to this role than a Prime Minister with a history of climate denial, from a Tory Government who have dismantled the UK’s solar and onshore wind industries, overseen a collapse in household energy savings measures and stalled the UK’s progress on cutting emissions. This new committee must be transparent in the frequency and outcomes of its meetings, and it must focus on species decline and the restoration of our biodiversity, as well as climate change adaptation. However, a committee is not a plan of action. The Government were charged with bringing back a fully costed, cross-departmental plan to the House of Commons, and that is what we need to see. When it comes to tackling the biggest issue of our time, this is simply not good enough. The Government need to act on this, and act urgently.