The Climate Emergency

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:43 pm on 17 October 2019.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth 4:43, 17 October 2019

There is little dispute that we are living in a climate crisis. If serious action is not agreed on and embedded soon, we will reach a tipping point where it will be impossible to reverse global temperature rises. We know that those who will suffer most from a lack of action on the environment will be those who are least well off. Whether they are farmers in low-lying Bangladesh hit by flash floods or children in cities growing up breathing polluted air, the poorest are hit hardest by our lack of action.

I recently met the children at Belmont primary school in Chiswick during their amazing climate awareness week. They are already urging their parents to switch energy providers to renewable sources and to use their cars less, but however much individual households change their habits, change needs to start from the top. To have any hope of achieving net zero by 2050 we need clear Government targets now.

No issue is more totemic than transport. It is responsible for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions, yet the sector is the slowest in addressing emissions. Replacing all petrol and diesel vehicles with electric will not scratch the surface of the challenge. Also, how can we make a difference when it is far cheaper to fly 400 km than to travel that distance by train? I am disappointed that the Queen’s Speech mentioned no legislation to cut transport emissions.

If the Government want to take one simple step towards the carbon target for the UK, they can scrap the third runway proposal for Heathrow. That scheme means an additional 6 million tonnes of CO2. Yet Government figures show that the net economic benefit of the scheme is zero. Seventy per cent. of UK flights are made by just 15% of the population. Runway 3 is not even being built to fulfil business needs, as international business travel is flatlining. Almost all the additional passengers at Heathrow after expansion will be UK- based people taking leisure flights abroad—and those are Department for Transport figures. Yesterday, the Government rejected the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change, which had said that they should assess their airport capacity strategy in the context of net zero. The Government’s response stated that the matter should instead be addressed by the UN.

Zero-emission planes will not come on stream until 2050 at the earliest—far too late to address aviation’s disproportionate impact on UK emissions. In other words, in the UK’s response, the Government are not accepting responsibility for getting UK aviation emissions down to net zero. They say they may do so “at a later date”. That is deeply disappointing.

Cycling and walking can also make a significant contribution to cuts in air pollution and carbon emissions. People young and old regularly tell me that they want to cycle more but feel unsafe doing so. That needs ring-fenced capital funding for segregated cycle paths, and safe crossings for those on foot or riding bicycles.