On 28 February the House of Commons discussed the UK’s progress towards net zero carbon emissions. The debate was the first that parliament had held on this subject since 2016 and was prompted by the Youth Strike for Climate in February.
See below for notes and quotes. See here for the full transcript of the debate.
Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD) said
The Government do not take this seriously enough. There is now not a Cabinet member whose sole purpose is to talk about climate change. It is not good enough. So my first question to the Minister is: are we planning to have a net zero emissions target for the UK, and if so when? I understand that the current target is 80% by 2050, which is not good enough.
This lack of government interest in the issue was reflected by the fact that there were only around 10 MPs sitting on the government side of the chamber. Ms Moran went on:
All in all, we need a new type of economy—one that is sustainable and which embeds the issues of the day at its heart. We must consider implementing radical financial changes, such as moving to a circular economy, as advocated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, using a carbon tax and dividend to use market forces to reduce emissions quickly.
We should implement rewards for companies that demonstrate green investment and for pension funds that take pains to divest. We should reward companies that take this issue to their hearts, but I do not yet see the radical change that is needed.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab) said
I want to conclude by talking about what we need to do and what policies the Government need to adopt. Government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the country. I have been banging on about the need for the NHS, which has a huge budget, to decarbonise its fleet rapidly. We have had the NHS sustainable development unit before our Committee; there is talk about doing this by 2028, but that is too late. We need electric vehicles in every town and city. There is no sense in midwives and district nurses going out and polluting the cities, and then talking to parents about treating their kids’ asthma—that is absurd. We need cross-government working on this.
We also need to look at our energy systems. Some 31 million homes in this country run on gas. How are we going to get them to a clean gas source? Is it going to be hydrogen? Is it going to be air source heat pumps? How are we going to lag those buildings? This is not that hard, but we need to choose our policy sectors. When we choose our sectors and our actions, we can have a just transition. We can have that new green deal. We know that the mayors are willing to do this.
Finally, we need to make sure that our financial systems are looking at the risks: the physical risk from flooding; and the transitional risk from stranded assets in coal and oil and gas-fired power stations, which our pensions are currently being invested in. We also need to make sure that we have a stable policy environment. The Government can be a leader on this. The Minister has proven that she can be a leader, not least in the actions she took in heading off a no-deal Brexit in the past couple of days. We need to practise what we preach. Net zero is not the end; it is just the start of the next mountain to climb.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green) said
My starting point is that climate change is not some kind of future threat; climate change is here and now. The climate has changed, and that is the reality that we have to confront. Records have again been broken in the UK this week, as several hon. Members have already mentioned. On Tuesday, temperatures reached 21°C in London—Britain’s hottest February day on record. The records keep being broken not just in the UK, but right across the world. In January 2019, Australia had its hottest month ever, and prolonged droughts worsened California’s destructive wildfires last year. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2005.
To be clear, this is not normal. We are not in a time of normal. The implications of these seismic changes for the future of life on Earth and human civilisation are profound, yet even after all the international conferences and pledges on climate action, the Earth is still set to warm by 3°C or 4°C. In that scenario, huge swathes of the Earth would be rendered uninhabitable, while extreme weather would ravage whole countries. Time is quickly running out to limit warming, even to the still dangerous 1.5°C or 2°C aspirations of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. We face a climate emergency and we must choose now how we respond. Above all, I believe that this calls for unprecedented boldness and vision, and a new way of thinking, to find a new way forward.
Here at home, the Government’s response to the climate crisis has been nowhere near ambitious enough. Since 2010, almost every existing sensible climate measure has been torched: zero-carbon homes scrapped; onshore wind effectively banned; solar power shafted; the Green Investment Bank flogged off; and fracking forced on local communities. On the Opposition Benches, while many hon. Members grasp the severity of the situation, the policies proposed by some of their parties simply are not good enough either.
It is not possible to tackle the climate crisis and expand airports or build new runways. We cannot tackle climate change while ploughing billions of pounds into North sea oil and gas. We cannot tackle the climate crisis while chucking billions into new roads. And we cannot tackle the climate crisis while our economy is built on the assumption that precious minerals, fresh air and clean water can magically regenerate themselves in an instant—that somehow the Earth will expand to meet our ever-expanding use of resources.
I am really proud to have been a co-founder of the first green new deal group here in the UK, 10 years ago. The green new deal is now getting real momentum from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US. It takes its inspiration from Roosevelt’s new deal in the 1930s, which saw massive investment in jobs and infrastructure in order to pull the US out of the depression. What we need now is a similar massive investment—not in infrastructure per se, but in green technology and green infrastructure. That means a complete and rapid decarbonisation of our whole economy on a much faster scale than our current national climate framework dictates. It means a huge programme of investment in clean energy, creating hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs. It means transforming huge areas of our country and allowing those proud communities that have been hollowed out through deindustrialisation and austerity to regenerate and thrive as they join a collective endeavour to protect the planet. To that extent, it might just be a way of bringing our country back together after all the divisions and polarisation of Brexit.