Climate Justice — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair.]

Part of Innovation in Hospital Design – in Westminster Hall at 3:09 pm on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 3:09 pm, 4th February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Charles. I congratulate Nadia Whittome on a compelling speech and on securing this important debate.

Climate change is happening now, and those who have done the least to cause it are the ones who stand to lose the most. Climate justice, to put it bluntly, is a question of who lives and who dies. With a commitment to reaching net zero emissions now in law, I want to look at three areas that will determine whether the UK’s climate pathway will be a just one: the speed at which we decarbonise; how we decarbonise; and the degree of co-operation shown to other nations as we do.

First, speed. From a climate justice perspective, a net zero target of 2050 is simply not good enough. The Paris agreement commits countries to try to hold the global temperature rise to 1.5°. In its landmark report, the IPCC headline was clear: to stay below 1.5°, global emissions must halve by 2030 and reach net zero around mid-century. Let us remember that that is for only for a greater than 50% chance of staying within this level of heating, which, to me, does not sound like comfortable odds. By any measure of fairness, the UK has a clear responsibility to go faster than the global average. We are historically one of the biggest emitters. We started the modern fossil-fuel age with the industrial revolution, and the UK is one of the very largest per capita contributors to present climate change. We also have a greater capability than other countries. We are the fifth biggest economy and we have a GDP per person over two and a half times the global average, so we have to go further.

What would an equity-based emissions reduction target for the UK look like? Professor Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey has given us a rough guide. By taking the IPCC’s per capita carbon budget for 1.5° and adjusting it to allow each person in the poorest half of the world 33% higher emissions than each person in the richest half as an example of how to work on an equitable basis, Professor Jackson estimates the UK’s share of the remaining global budget as two and a half gigatonnes of CO2. On our current emissions reduction trajectory, counting only the UK’s production emissions, we will smash through that target in 2026. If we aim to reach net zero in 2050 on a linear emissions pathway, we will use around two and a half times our fair share of emissions, but if we are to include our consumption emissions—something I will return to in a moment—the budget on our current trajectory is exceeded in 2023, and a linear emissions pathway to net zero in 2050 would consume around four times our fair share.

There are many other ways of trying to cut the climate cake. Looking at it from a from an equitable perspective, a greenhouse development rights framework was set out in the 2019 report by the Committee on Climate Change on net zero. It cut the cake slightly differently, but it pointed out that the UK would have to reach 100% net emissions reductions by 2033 at the latest if we were to proceed on an equitable basis, and that means that by 2050 we would need to be net negative, drawing down more than half of our 1990 level of emissions. To be absolutely clear, however politically expedient a 2050 net zero target might be, it cannot be said to be just. It will further exacerbate the inequalities that climate change presents and push the burden once again on those who have done least to cause it.

A second consideration when it comes to the issue of justice is about how we make the transition, which has major justice implications both for those in the global south and for future generations. Now that net zero has become the established shorthand for climate action, let us examine what that little word “net” in net zero actually means. In the Committee on Climate Change pathway to net zero there lies positively heroic, for which read criminally reckless, assumptions about the potential for negative emission technologies to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Let us be really clear that the technologies are mostly yet unproven and in some cases entirely unknown. In other words, we are simply passing the buck to our children. They are the ones we hope will sort it out with some kind of technology. We do not even know what it is yet, and I think we should be honest about what we are doing. The level of warning we have currently locked in means that we are bequeathing to future generations a more dangerous world to inhabit. Leaving them with the burden and cost of highly speculative technological solutions is a grave injustice that we should avoid.

Finally, I want to talk about international co-operation. The UK does not exist in a climate vacuum. We have emitted far more than our fair share of the historic carbon budget. It has seen our economy, our wealth and our living standards increase dramatically, but it has also seen the lives of other people imperilled. We and other rich nations have used so much of the atmosphere’s capacity that we have pulled up the ladder behind us, excluding developing countries from the path that we have travelled. Natural justice dictates that we must now support other countries to adapt to the growing impact of climate change and compensate them fairly for losses and damages where adaptation is no longer an option. It requires a new fossil fuel-free development pathway, where less affluent countries leapfrog to a clean and sustainable future of higher living standards. One aspect of that concerns the transfer of technology. The UK leads the world in offshore wind and CCS development. We must transfer and make them available for the poorest countries to harness cheaply. As hosts of the UN climate summit this November, we have an incredible opportunity to reach out internationally in true climate leadership, to begin to make the reparations for the injustices of climate change and to take responsibility for the full impact of our trade, money and influence.

I have spoken about the kind of accounting that allows us to make it look as if our emissions have reduced far faster than they have. When we account for consumption emissions, our progress looks much less significant. It is also the case that our money and influence is used to actively fuel emissions overseas and lock other countries into the next generation of fossil fuel infrastructure. As the hon. Member for Nottingham East pointed out, more than £1.5 billion of UK Export Finance money went into oil and gas projects. It is no wonder the Environmental Audit Committee and Bond, the UK network for development organisations, have called for an end to all UK Export Finance support for fossil fuels. That is what I want to underline yet again. I know that it has been asked before by the hon. Member for Nottingham East, but I want to urge the Government Minister to demonstrate some seriousness when it comes to climate justice and at the very least to rule out any further use of UK Export Finance for fossil fuels.