Baroness Featherstone: UK is slipping dramatically behind on climate change
Preparing Britain for a carbon-free future is not an unrealistic goal – but it takes political will, says Baroness Featherstone
The signing of the Paris climate agreement was a glorious moment. The world came together to do the right thing, to put future generations first and to accept responsibility for the impact of human actions on the world we live in. Ambitions were high and there was global unity on a scale that has rarely, if ever, been seen before.
But now this precious agreement faces serious threats. Trump has announced the withdrawal of the US from the agreement, sending a dangerous signal to other nations which could detrimentally impact the scale of their actions. Corporations resist building climate risk into their business plans.
Meanwhile, the UK is slipping dramatically behind, as the Conservative government resists taking climate change seriously, and Brexit leaves targets and regulations deeply uncertain.
Time is not on our side. Sea levels are rising, extreme weather is becoming more frequent. Yet the government shows no sense of urgency. Climate scientists are clear that if radical action is not taken in the next 10 to 15 years, it may well be too late; the damage will not only be severe, it will become irrevocable.
As minister for international development, I saw first-hand the impact that climate change has already had in some of the poorest areas of the world. I stood in Darfur and felt desertification under my own feet. I saw the ravages that too little water in Africa and too much in Asia can bring. I implored governments and leaders to stop the fight over scarce resources.
I also visited communities learning to adapt to climate change, developing new ways of farming and land protection. Those living in areas already deeply affected by climate change don’t question its existence. They see it, and suffer from it, on a daily basis.
If we don’t succeed in adapting, mitigating and keeping temperature-rise below 2C, then the consequences will be beyond anything we can currently imagine. The tide of human misery we have seen as millions of people flee areas of conflict will continue on an even greater scale, as vast populations are forced to flee the worst ravages of climate change.
Yet we are not on track to meet our carbon reduction targets. The UK is lagging behind other countries when it comes to innovation. Investment in cutting-edge technologies is far below where it should be, and renewable subsidies have been slashed. Government regulation has been changed with no warning and the sector is left with deep uncertainty and decimated investor confidence.
What makes this apathetic approach to climate all the more frustrating is that it ignores the economic advantages of such investment. The jobs and growth that can be created by developing clean industries have the potential to significantly boost the UK economy, at a time when Brexit poses a huge threat. Ignoring the climate crisis is bad for business as well as the planet.
The Liberal Democrats have a vision to make Britain clean, green and carbon-free. We know that progress cannot continue at the current slow rate if we are to have any hope of meeting the Paris climate agreement. Current targets need to be strengthened and an ambitious plan for decarbonisation put in place immediately.
This must include renewables investment, electrifying transport, restarting carbon capture and storage projects, serious investment in research and development, and natural solutions such as tree planting and peat restoration, among many other things.
Preparing Britain for a clean and carbon-free future is not an unrealistic or impossible goal, it just takes political will. If bold decisions are taken, we can get there.
For the sake of future generations as well as the planet, the government must remove its hands from over its ears, listen to experts and choose to save our hard-won Paris agreement before it’s too late.
Baroness Featherstone is Lib Dem energy and climate change spokesperson