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The Climate Emergency

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 3:13 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury) 3:13 pm, 17th October 2019

You took the words out of my mouth.

Labour Members are committed to nothing less than the total transformation of our economy—not just how it works, but for whom it works. So many of us who came into politics as Labour Members understand that the fight against the climate crisis is the fight against inequality. Why? Because we know that the poorest 50% of people in this country, and between countries, consume just 10% of the resources and emit just 10% of the carbon. The wealthiest 10% consume 50% of the resources and emit 50% of the carbon. It is therefore clear that the fight against climate change is also the fight against global and domestic inequality. The poor cannot give up what they do not have; they cannot give up carbon that they are not emitting. The people who can are those at the top—the top 10%; the top 1%. Those are the people who must give up their carbon and their use of resources.

My hon. Friend—I will call her that—Caroline Lucas has said that the Queen’s Speech contained just six words about the environment, and there was not a single mention of the climate and ecological crisis facing our planet. That is hardly surprising, given this Government’s track record on the climate emergency. We have had a green light for fracking, and fossil fuel subsidies have been boosted by billions. Onshore wind has been scrapped and solar support axed. The green homes scheme has been eviscerated, and zero-carbon homes abandoned. The Green Bank has been sold, Swansea tidal lagoon stuffed, and Heathrow expansion approved. After 10 years of that, the Government tell us to trust them to tackle the climate crisis, but many Labour Members, and many members of the public, are extremely sceptical about their claims.

Even though we face a climate and ecological crisis, that is not a collapse. This is a turning point—that is what a crisis is—and things may go one way or another. This is a crossroads. That is why Extinction Rebellion, youth climate strikers and all those who understand the scale and urgency of the issue are fighting so hard for the future. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion and I have introduced the green new deal, and why Labour Members are pushing forward the green industrial revolution. If that is to be the future for our economy, we need a transformation in our transport system, housing, heat and energy, and a complete modal shift in the way we live, work and consume. Let us take, for example, electric cars. We know that we cannot build 31 million electric cars. That is how many petrol and diesel cars there are on our roads. There is not enough cobalt on the planet for us to be able to build all those cars, so we will require a complete transformation of how we travel.

I will finish with a quote from someone who has already been mentioned today, Rachel Carson, the author of “Silent Spring”. She was one of the first people to alert us to this environmental catastrophe. She said:

“Humankind is challenged as it has never been challenged before, to prove its mastery—not of nature, but of itself.”

That is the challenge. Can the Government prove mastery not just of themselves but of their ability to tackle the climate crisis? It is time to get a grip.