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

Part of Innovation in Hospital Design – in Westminster Hall at 3:16 pm on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Labour, Sheffield, Hallam 3:16 pm, 4th February 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Nadia Whittome on securing this debate and on giving us an opportunity to discuss the climate crisis. It is the greatest existential threat of our time and climate justice is becoming increasingly urgent. It is timely that this debate has been called ahead of Parliament’s voting on the Government’s Environment Bill. As colleagues know, much has been made of the Government’s ambitious target to decarbonise by 2050, but it is simply a headline. At the moment, it is a plan.

When we talk about climate change, we speak about the climate emergency. The summer saw swathes of the Amazon burn, and Australia is currently fighting the wildfires that have gripped areas the size of our own counties, so we are right to speak in terms of an emergency. However, I fear there is no recognition of that emergency in the Government’s response to the crisis so far beyond declaring one. There is no sense of urgency. There is more CO2 in our atmosphere now than at any point in human history, so before we pat ourselves on the back for small reductions in production—as has been mentioned, the offshoring of our share hides the truth on consumption—we must remember that we need to up our game and set out a radical course of action. We cannot let COP26 be a cop-out. It is our last chance to correct the path to climate disaster.

Locally, Sheffield City Council has declared a climate emergency and has set out a carbon budget with the Tyndall Centre, which shows the city would use its entire budget for the next 20 years in less than six. Rightly, it has set a course to try to get to net zero by 2030. Before Christmas, again, communities across South Yorkshire experienced flooding. The impact of an international crisis played out locally. If the UK was serious about preventing climate breakdown, we would not be seeing more investment going into drilling in new oilfields or building more pipelines. Instead we see UK-headquartered banks and the Government bankrolling fossil fuel extraction and directing more and more finance to fossil fuel companies, rather than solutions to the crisis. If we were serious about climate justice, the Government would regulate and penalise private banks for providing billions for fossil fuel extraction at home and abroad.

Between 2016 and 2018, HSBC gave $57 billion to the fossil fuel industry. Barclays, the biggest funder of fossil fuel infrastructure in Europe, gave almost $25 billion to fossil fuel companies in 2018 alone. The Government offered only £100 million of private investment for renewable energy investment in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, which shows the difference in scale. Through their campaigns, organisations such as People & Planet and Greenpeace have brought to light the fact that our banks have been acting like fossil fuel companies with the amount of extraction they are financing, showing a determination to see the industry continue. It needs to stop. Without further regulations and legislation for our financial system there will be almost free rein to continue to make our worlds toxic and to continue to push us over the cliff we are balanced on, with temperatures potentially soaring by three degrees, which we know will be catastrophic.

Average wildlife populations have already dropped by 60% in 40 years, so we must act now and take our responsibilities seriously or risk further loss of species and populations. The Government are not exempt, either. In June, the Environmental Audit Committee exposed how UK Export Finance had been using British capital to finance fossil fuel extraction in the global south, undermining the effect of the UK’s carbon emissions cuts and any commitment to climate justice.

The climate crisis is a threat to us all, but we do not all face it equally. In fact, we must remember those who have already tragically lost their lives, swept up in the climate disaster, trying to protect communities and fight for the frontline of public services across the world. The Government need to end their support for climate colonialism and penalise banks that are accelerating climate breakdown at the frontlines. Climate justice absolutely requires recognising and mitigating the worst effects of the crisis and facilitating environmental migration in response to disaster displacement, which is unavoidable at this point. Fundamentally, we need to take a radical approach. Let us take as our starting point the root cause of the issue—where our Government are accelerating and exacerbating climate breakdown. Climate justice means acting now to stem the worst effects of the crisis, and for that we need to take aim at the banks that are choking our future. Our inaction is also choking our future. We continually raise the issue not to try to be a thorn in anyone’s side, but to be the roots that can lead to a shoot of hope for future generations.