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The Climate Emergency

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 2:20 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Independent, Newbury 2:20 pm, 17th October 2019

I will, Madam Deputy Speaker. Every time I stand up in this House now I am conscious that it could be the last time I speak here, but if it is, I cannot think of a better subject. There is something worth celebrating: the degree of cross-party consensus on this global issue. Although there are different nuances as to what the solutions are, what more the Government should be doing and what the record of the other side was, we should think about what happens in the United States, where this is a deeply partisan issue that divides on political grounds. We must welcome the fact that we agree with so much of the science behind this.

This is an international problem; the United Kingdom is responsible for 1.2% of global emissions, whereas China is responsible for 27.5%. In recognising the international nature of the global problem that we face, I celebrate the Prime Minister’s announcement at the United Nations General Assembly in New York of a doubling, to £11.6 billion, in our contribution to the international climate fund. We are helping other countries to achieve the level of decarbonisation that we have achieved here. My right hon. Friend Claire Perry, who was the climate change Minister, told me that she would frequently sit in Council meetings in Brussels looking across the table at people talking nice talk about carbon emissions but not achieving even half of what this country has achieved since 1990. We have decarbonised by 37% whereas France has done so by just 13% and Spain has actually increased its emissions over that period.

Yesterday, I met a senior member of Extinction Rebellion and when discussing things with him and many of his colleagues in recent weeks around this part of town I have tried to understand what is going on. Is it a revolution? Is it a movement? I am with them in spirit, but not in effect. My worry is this: our constituents are, broadly speaking, sympathetic to what ER wants to achieve, and what we are trying to achieve here in the new legislation and on the other subjects we talk about relating to climate change, but they will soon start to turn a tin ear to an organisation that stops people travelling by public transport. I know this is a wonderfully free-flowing, slightly anarchic organisation, and there is something glorious about seeing it, but there is also something deeply worrying if it is going to turn people we need to be supporting our cause away from it.

I wish to make one final point. The ambitions in the Environment Bill are very high indeed. I have been involved in some aspects of it, and I am pleased to see that it has survived mauling by other Departments, Bill Committees and all the things that usually weaken legislation, and that it is strong. I am sure it will be improved as it goes through its process. I shall leave the House with this thought: we face a global problem, and Britain is currently a leader in decarbonising, in ocean protection and in trying to address the declines in biodiversity, but if we do that just within England and the UK, we will have failed. We need to keep the international focus and make sure that we are working with others. I hope that I will have the chance to vote the Environment Bill into law before the next election.