The Climate and Ecology Bill gives us real hope of reversing the world's environmental crisis
We’re living through a worsening climate and nature crisis. It’s rightly one of the most talked about issues of the day, but it can often feel overwhelming, like it’s too big, too serious, or too much to deal with.
But all over the world—including here, in the UK—there are rays of hope that we can turn the tide and, by working together, decarbonise our economy in line with the best available science and, at the same time, restore the damage done to nature. Everyone has a role to play in this shared, global effort; but especially politicians, who must lead from the front in this crucial year for the planet.
It’s for these reasons that I’m proud to be introducing the cross-party Climate and Ecology Bill in the House of Lords. Drafted and supported by many of Britain’s leading climate and ecology scientists—including Sir David King—the Bill offers the UK a viable, science-led and people-powered plan to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C and restore the damage done to nature.
The ongoing Ukraine and energy crises remind us all too clearly of the need to transition fairly and rapidly away from fossil fuel dependency. We’ve known for decades that emissions are damaging our climate, and although the impacts have been making life unbearable for people in the Global South for years—just think of this month’s climate change-triggered heatwaves in India and Pakistan—we’re now, according to the UN Secretary General, at the “now or never” point. We need to see action, at home, and abroad. And legislation is very much part of the solution.
The COP26 summit in Glasgow concluded with the 1.5°C target “on life support”. In order to stand a chance of keeping global warming below this “safe” Paris Agreement target, the UK (and all nations) must now recognise the need for urgent action. Following the advice of the UN IPCC expert science body is essential. They’ve calculated that nations must emit no more than a further 400 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, starting from 2020, for a 67% chance of limiting global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This is the climate target in the Climate and Ecology Bill—it’s the right ambition for the UK—and it is essential that we lead the way while we hold the COP26 Presidency this year.
What does this mean in practice? It means taking account of our full emissions footprint. It means reducing our territorial emissions, our international aviation and shipping emissions—and those emissions embodied in the goods and services imported to the UK—in line with the UK’s fair share of the remaining global carbon budget for 1.5°C. By adopting this approach, the UK could call itself a “climate leader” and—through the process of a representative, UK-wide ‘climate and nature assembly’ (which is also proposed by the Bill)—Ministers could be confident in delivering the green transition we need to a cheaper, cleaner, zero carbon future; one that both protects and creates jobs.
As part of setting a joined-up and whole-of-government strategy, the Bill’s parallel nature target builds on measures in the recent Environment Act. For a country rated in the 12% most nature depleted territories in the world, we need a strong nature restoration plan. With the ‘nature COP’—CBD COP15—on the horizon, we can and must aim to do more than merely halt nature’s decline. We need a ‘Paris Agreement’ equivalent for nature, and that’s what the Bill provides; aiming to ensure that nature is on the path to recovery by 2030—measured from a 2020 baseline. Nature-based solutions are essential to decarbonisation plans, but if we continue to destroy biodiversity, we’ll quickly realise how the knock-on effects of ecosystem breakdown will derail net zero plans.
The Climate and Ecology Bill would also ensure that a new, legally-binding UK environmental plan brings an end to the exploration, extraction, export and import of fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, ensuring—at the same time—that solutions to the climate crisis minimise damage to ecosystems, food and water availability and human health, following the ‘Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy’. The ‘Hierarchy’ approach embeds conservation into policy and planning via four key principles—refrain, reduce, restore and renew—aiming to activate conservation methods that result in positive outcomes for nature.
I’m proud that the Liberal Democrats are backing the Climate and Ecology Bill. By following the science, and involving the British public, we can deliver a transition to a zero carbon, ‘nature positive’ future that allows us to live in harmony with nature. Of course, we must use diplomatic clout to encourage other nations to do the same, but this Bill is about getting our own house in order.
How can you get involved? The Zero Hour campaign is behind the Bill. They’ve grown a brilliant coalition of 25,000 members of the public, many of Britain’s leading climate scientists and ecologists, over 450 allied organisations and businesses—plus 151 UK Parliamentarians and 200 local authorities. We need your help to encourage your MPs and councillors to get behind us—find out more at ceebill.uk.
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