Where is this Government’s action on climate change?

There has been almost no coherent response to the accelerating emergency in the last 12 months (Picture: David Cliff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A year ago this week, we learned what people want the Government to do about the climate emergency.

The first-ever UK-wide citizens’ assembly on climate – commissioned by six parliamentary select committees – had spent eight months meeting, first in person then remotely, to learn more about climate science, discuss the accelerating crisis and come up with recommendations about what the Government should do in response.

It was a brilliant example of how democracy should work: 108 assembly members representative of the UK population, chosen to reflect all communities, backgrounds, ages and – crucially – opinions on climate, debating the evidence in a clear, dispassionate way and agreeing on the steps forward.

More than 50 assembly members will be at Westminster this week to urge the Government to act on their recommendations. 

What was notable about their final report was the emphasis on fairness and the protection of nature as key principles for the path to net zero, along with more widespread information and education.

It was also striking that while they’d been asked to look at ways of reaching the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2050, more than a third of them wanted this date brought forward – waiting until mid-century isn’t good enough.

But last month’s report from global climate scientists at the IPCC confirmed we are far closer to a temperature rise of 1.5C than predicted a few years ago.

What the citizens’ assembly also wanted was strong and clear leadership from government – leadership to forge a cross-party consensus that allows for certainty, long-term planning and a phased transition to a zero-carbon economy.

We are more likely to see new glaciers form than strong and clear leadership on climate from this Government. 

Despite the prime minister saying he would prioritise the climate crisis during the UK’s presidency of the G7, and the UK hosting the upcoming UN summit COP26, there has been almost no coherent response to the accelerating emergency in the last 12 months. 

Yes, we’ve had new targets – the aim of 78% cuts to emissions by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, an earlier phase out of petrol and diesel vehicles and a pledge of 30% land for nature by 2030. 

We need to see some real progress on climate action, not just more targets and empty rhetoric

But targets achieve nothing without detailed plans to achieve them, and we are still waiting for those in full.

When the Chancellor was door-stepped by a young climate activist at the weekend who asked how the Government was investing in a green economy, he replied – before walking quickly away – that the climate crisis was being dealt with by Johnson’s 10-point ‘climate action’ plan, while stating that the plan was backed up with £12billion of new funding.

But his own Cabinet colleague, COP president Alok Sharma, stated in November last year that only £4billion of new money has been found for Boris Johnson’s climate crisis plan.

That’s a pitiful amount compared to the £27billion the Government is proposing to spend on new roads. And it pales in comparison with the investment our European neighbours are making in a future green economy: €40billion in Germany and €30billion in France.

Even if all the policies in the 10-point plan were implemented – and some like jet zero, carbon-free shipping, carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) were highly speculative – they may not be able to close the gap of where our carbon emissions are supposed to be by 2032 and where they’re heading. 

The Government’s own advisers, the Climate Change Committee, have criticised the credibility of government policies by stating: ‘credible policies for delivery currently cover only around 20% of the required reduction in emissions to meet the budget’.

While Government ministers prevaricate and delay, more and more backbench MPs are getting behind a bill that does respond to the climate and nature crises. The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, which I introduced in Parliament this time last year, has the support of MPs and peers from all parties in Parliament.

The CEE Bill treats the climate crisis with the urgency it demands.

Its proposals are aligned with the latest climate science, it focuses on the Paris Agreement’s aim to limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5C rather than a random date of mid-century to reach net-zero emissions, and it includes the restoration of nature. It would also establish a citizens’ assembly to work with Parliament on the essential transition to a zero-carbon future. 

The cross-party support for this Bill is exactly the kind of collaboration and cross-party consensus that the UK Climate Assembly called for. 

I’m now writing to the six select committee chairs who commissioned the assembly urging them to get behind the Bill. Two of them already back it – the others should too, and champion it in Parliament.  

We need to see some real progress on climate action, not just more targets and empty rhetoric. The CEE Bill is the place to start.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk. 

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