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The Climate Emergency

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Conservative, Chichester 4:00 pm, 17th October 2019

I am in no doubt that all colleagues from all parties agree on the importance of taking action to halt and reverse the damaging effects of climate change. I am sure we are all delighted that that is one of the central messages of the Queen’s Speech and that it will remain at the centre of our politics. The announcement of a new watchdog for environmental protection, with real teeth, is crucial, as it will ensure that policy decisions at every level of government genuinely improve and protect our vital natural resources—air, land and water.

I am very proud of those in the Chichester community back home, as they are highly engaged with addressing climate change at every level. Chichester District Council has declared a climate emergency and is already developing plans to make our area greener. Just recently, the council received a grant to install new electric charging points throughout my constituency, and I thank the Secretary of State for that. I know that the council will appreciate the measures in the Environment Bill to improve air quality, which is critical to my constituents in Chichester and around Midhurst. Similarly, at every school I visit, the children I meet are passionate about the planet, and tackling climate change is their No. 1 priority.

We recently held an open meeting in Chichester, and a number of environmental groups came along. During that meeting, I was invited to visit a local Passivhaus. The house is a role model for low-energy living, with thick insulation and triple glazing. It is air-tight, draft-free and the best in class for efficiency. The houses look fantastic, and what will really sell them is the energy bill, which is less than £200 a year. More than 65,000 houses worldwide have now been built to this new standard, and we need many more in the UK. I fully support such an energy-efficient approach when it comes to addressing our future housing needs.

Education is also key. I recently visited Tuppenny Barn, a local charity that educates children about sustainable living, with a focus on growing, cooking and eating organic, ethical local produce. That is a theme I come across often among the farming community. One farm that I visited over the summer, the Woodhorn Group, has ambitious plans to be 100% carbon neutral by 2025, which would meet the calls of Extinction Rebellion and require moving even faster than the NFU target to be net zero by 2040. What was exciting was the farm’s drive to instil sustainable practice and innovation in every element of the business, including the development of new cattle feed that reduces the amount of methane produced. There is much innovation in every sector, and I hope that, as we head towards spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027, a significant element of the Government’s investment in R&D is used for sustainably focused projects.

I am proud of the UK’s record as a leader in climate change. Times have changed. I come from a coalmining in family: my grandfather was a coalminer. I can well remember going down the mine with him as a young girl and being absolutely appalled at the dirty and challenging environment in which he and his colleagues worked on a daily basis. I am encouraged by the fact that by 2025 we will have no coal-powered electricity in this country whatsoever. We will have transformed our energy economy in that short time.

I fear that some of those present are trying to make this a bit of a left/right issue. It is important that we do not do that. We, as politicians, have a duty to be honest and to set realistic goals we can deliver. Net carbon neutrality by 2025 is not achievable and there is no point setting a goal we cannot achieve. We would lose the public’s support and score a spectacular own goal. We must, however, remain climate champions at every level, from the primary school children reusing their wrapping paper this Christmas to the Prime Minister and the UK at COP 26 next year. The world rests on all our shoulders, and I am proud the UK will continue to lead the way.