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The Climate Emergency

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:12 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West 4:12 pm, 17th October 2019

The Members sitting on the Government Benches look comfortable, unruffled and complacent, while the Extinction Rebellion protests are being fiercely suppressed on the streets just outside this House. Amnesty International has called this move “chilling and unlawful”. The Government seem unbothered by September’s UN report that waters are rising, ice is melting, and species, including pathogens, are moving.

The Government can point to successes started under Labour, such as cheaper offshore wind and the phasing out of coal, but they are failing in imagination, they are failing in ambition, and they are failing because they think they are acting fast enough, but they are not. I implore them to be braver in their policy making if they are going to bring forward solutions commensurate with the climate challenge.

The Committee on Climate Change—the Government’s own advisers—wrote recently that the Government had completed only one of their 25 headline policy actions, and on 10 of them they had not even made partial progress. The report goes on to say that the policy gap has widened and the Government are going backwards. The Government have no right to be complacent, given that they are going to miss their own climate change targets. We are scientifically sure that this will costs millions of lives globally.

In the short time available, I will talk about what we need to achieve. I will start with energy. Why are we seeing an effective ban on onshore wind in England? Why is the new solar smart export not guaranteeing surety of income or contracts? Why are we seeing solar projects being cancelled right across the country? Why are we not seeing a fracking ban?

The flipside of that is demand. Why are we not seeing a big roll-out of super insulation across the country? Why are so many homes still leaky? That is just in one sector, but in other sectors the same problems abound.

Transport emissions increased by 1% last year. Where is the cycling infrastructure? Why is bus patronage dropping? Why is the train still so expensive that people choose to use their cars? One of the largest sources of transport emissions is aviation. The Prime Minister himself said that he was going to lie in front of the bulldozers at Heathrow, but we have seen no evidence of the Government acting against aviation. Seventy per cent. of all flights are taken by 15% of the people; the Government need to introduce a frequent flyer tax to start rolling that back.

If the Government are worried about public support, they should stop suppressing Extinction Rebellion and the youth climate strikers, and start listening to them. They should make citizens’ assemblies, test the ideas, learn from the people and engage with them in a positive way. My final message is: stop the complacency; act ambitiously.