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Even schoolchildren know we have a climate emergency – when will government catch up?

3 min read

The Labour MP for Bristol West, Thangam Debbonaire, writes following her parliamentary debate this week on 'the effect of transition towns on use of fossil fuels'.

Climate change is happening at a terrifying pace. But as temperatures rise, there is growing political momentum to do something about it.

This week I held a House of Commons debate on climate change, speaking about community environmental groups such as Transition Towns. Transition towns are communities taking responsibility for creating sustainable ways of living, including by addressing climate change, starting locally. These groups are already taking real action to move beyond fossil fuels.

In some cases, the government seems to be actively pulling in the opposite direction. A recent study from the European Commission showed the UK subsidised fossil fuels more than any other European Union country in 2016, putting significantly more money into coal, oil and gas than renewable energy. The balance must shift towards clean energy sources.

Over the last year I have visited some of the UK’s pioneering clean energy facilities, including the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in Blyth, Northumberland. This area, which was devastated by the collapse of coal-mining and ship-building industries, is now seeing new economic opportunities as the place where they are testing the biggest wind turbine blades in the world. This is true ‘transition’ in action, reflecting Transition Towns’ spirit of involving communities in the move away from fossil fuels.

There is huge potential for wave and tidal power in the UK. I was disappointed that the government decided to pull out of funding the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, which could power 150,000 homes, arguing that it was “not good value for money”. This is exactly why we should invest in tidal power - it is the Government’s job to support emerging technologies precisely at the point when they cannot yet turn a profit. With the right investment now, the UK could become a world leader in these technologies, increasing exports, creating jobs and reducing fossil fuel use.

As a result of such decisions, political pressure on the government is increasing. I recently met children and young people who were walking out of school in protest against government inaction on climate change. I found their activism inspiring.

And people are working hard to reduce emissions where they live. Groups like Transition Bristol have raised funds for solar farms, insulated homes and helped people grow sustainable food. Once people see the benefits of these technologies - for example lower electricity bills – they may become more supportive for strong political action on the climate.

The last Labour government brought in the world’s first Climate Change Act in 2008, with legally binding targets for emissions reductions. But the government has since scrapped the Department of Energy and Climate Change. As a result, the climate has slipped down the government’s agenda.

In my speech on Monday I also spoke about Bristol City Council, which was one of the first councils in the country to declare a ‘climate emergency,’ pledging to reduce carbon emissions further and faster than the UK’s national targets. I urged Climate Change Minister Claire Perry to follow Bristol’s example and declare a national climate change emergency.

The science is clear: The government must follow the lead of businesses, communities and councils, from Blyth to Bristol, and fully grasp the benefits of making a transition away from fossil fuels.

As a constituent said to me recently, the barriers are no longer technological or even financial. They are political.

Thangam Debbonaire is the Labour MP for Bristol West

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