Anna McMorrin and Darren Jones: Our response to climate change will define us for generations

Posted On: 
19th February 2019

The government talks a good game on climate change but the UK is on track to miss carbon reduction targets. Action needs to be ramped up across all departments, say Anna McMorrin and Darren Jones

Thousands of school students around the country marched against climate change last week

Ministers, civil servants, analysts, advisers and politicians are all caught up in the chaos that is Brexit. A farcical soap opera played out for the world to see but with devastating consequences for those who are in need of a focus elsewhere – from the victims of knife crime, to the rising homelessness we see every week in our constituencies.

It also means that we’re ignoring the most significant and fundamental threat we face: climate change. Global temperatures have been rising for over a century, noticeably speeding up over the last few years, and are now the highest on record.

We’re told that we have just over a decade to radically change the way we run the economy and live our lives.

We’ve seen increasing amounts of extreme weather around the world, from record-breaking highs causing forest fires to record-breaking freezing temperatures, with the associated deaths and devastation to communities.

And we’re informed the UK government is a world leader in tackling climate change.

Yet this government has failed to table any official statement or business on the floor of the House of Commons following the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report or the multilateral meeting of countries at COP24. And we are seeing precious few climate-proofing policies being introduced. The independent Climate Change Committee pulls no punches when it makes it clear that the government is not acting with the urgency that is required.

That’s why we have used the powers we have available to us as opposition backbenchers to force the government to the table. Through our Westminster Hall debates, we have required the government to put on record what it plans to do about the failing war against climate change.

Sadly, the responses have been wholly inadequate. And yet politics continues to lurch from one crisis to another, trying to solve the Brexit deadlock, but wasting precious time in taking action against the impending human, economic and geopolitical disaster that is climate change.

Yet this isn’t just about one minister in one department. This needs to be led from No 10 and must come from every single department. Climate change is having an impact on every part of government policy and the response must reflect this.

Climate change is not just a domestic threat, but a threat to the global economy, our security and our role in the world.

What is the Foreign Office doing to make the case for the Paris accord? How are we supporting Commonwealth countries, many of whom are on the frontline of extreme weather and rising oceans?

What is our Ministry of Defence strategy in a world that is 3C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures where Canada, the UK, Scandinavia and Russia are the main areas for human habitation? What does a world without the United States and China mean for geopolitics?

What role will Britain play when the global immigration crisis moves from civil war refugees and economic migrants to climate migration, with the number of refugees increasing by hundreds of thousands?

What impact will hotter summers and colder winters have for health and social care?

How will we continue to ensure supply of food when some of the most significant locations for global agriculture no longer have soil and water?

The list could go on.

That’s why the prime minister must escalate the issue of climate change. It’s why we must see a step change in our economy – focusing on how we shift to zero carbon, moving to tried and tested forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar, encouraging more energy efficiency measures and building low-carbon homes.

It’s why we should have an annual carbon budget – with the same importance as the financial budget – on the floor of the House of Commons.

And it’s why we need to build strong and resilient international multilateral relationships to tackle this global issue together.

Instead, all we have is a letter from a government department to an independent body asking for advice on how we can become net-zero a few years earlier than currently planned and a complete lack of ambition from ministers being forced to respond to backbenchers in poorly attended Westminster Hall debates.

The lack of leadership from those who should be leading on this is shameful. We are still on course to miss our international carbon reduction targets and investment in renewable energy projects is pitiful. Our response to climate change will define us for generations to come. We owe it to our children to do something about it, and fast. 

Anna McMorrin is Labour MP for Cardiff North, and Darren Jones is Labour MP for Bristol North West