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Australian Bushfires

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:20 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:20 pm, 9th January 2020

It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. It has been very hard watching Australia burn in the past few weeks. I am fortunate, in that most of my friends and family are concentrated in the west and so are suffering less, but my thoughts, my love and my heart go out to all of those who are in harm’s way across the continent. It is difficult for most people here to appreciate the size of the fires and to appreciate the size of Australia to begin with. These fires have covered an area twice the size of Wales. The fire front in one state, New South Wales, is thousands of miles long. There is always a bushfire season, but not like this. As has been pointed out by others today, Australia is not alone; 4 million hectares of Siberian forest burned a few months ago, and there were fires in Greenland, Alaska and Canada too. Again, fires in the Arctic are normal, but not on this scale, and now the ground itself is starting to burn. In both hemispheres, climate change is driving this. Philip Higuera from the University of Montana describes it is a switch: reach the tipping point and Arctic tundra burns. So although kind words and support for those battling the fires are very moving and of course greatly appreciated, they are just one thing—action to address this climate emergency is another.

There will not be any slowdown in burn rates unless we reverse the causes, so I must ask: when will we see real action from this Government on the climate emergency? The Environment Bill that flickered briefly in the last Parliament missed and hit the wall. Will we see something of substance in this Parliament? The science is 250 years old, the term “greenhouse effect” was coined nearly a century ago, even Thatcher called for climate action and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns us of the dangers repeatedly, yet the UK stands virtually still on this issue. That must change. There must be no more woolly words and no more waffle—it is time for real climate action. When will we see a ban on fracking, incentives for renewable energy production and a roll-out of electric vehicle charging stations? Where is the support for electric aviation and VAT exemptions for home insulation—not a reduced rate but exemptions? Why are we not seeing urgent action? In short, if the Government want to do something about the fires in Australia, in the Arctic and on England’s moors in years to come, they must do something now about the climate emergency.