The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill could be our last chance to avert the accelerating crisis
We cannot continue to claim credit for reducing emissions in the UK when we have simply outsourced them to other countries, and then consume what they produce, writes Caroline Lucas MP | PA Images
The new bill would see aviation and shipping fall within the UK’s net zero target and provide greater protection for nature, wildlife and soils.
There’s a famous quote attributed to the economist John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind.”
When it comes to the climate and ecological crisis, the facts have changed since Parliament passed the Climate Change Act in 2008. The crisis has accelerated, diversity and nature loss have deepened and the science has become clearer: we need a much faster, bolder and more comprehensive response.
There have also been important political developments since 2008. The UK signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 with a commitment to strive to keep the average global temperature rise to no more than 1.5C. Last year, Parliament declared a climate emergency and our own climate target was made more ambitious with the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
That should have kickstarted an urgent response, but there has been almost no action since then bar bringing forward the date for a ban on petrol and diesel cars, and money allocated for better home insulation. Welcome though these are, they are a drop in the ocean of what’s required.
We cannot stand still with our legislation, and what is on the statute book is nothing like enough to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Nor is there proper protection for nature, wildlife and soils – on which our farming and food production depends.
The 2008 legislation was groundbreaking for a number of reasons, not least that all main parties came together in recognition of the crisis and the UK’s responsibility to respond. Shortly after the 2005 election, 412 of the 646 MPs signed an Early Day Motion calling for a Climate Change Bill, and at second reading only five MPs voted against. We need that degree of cross-party co-operation again.
It would not replace the Climate Change Act but strengthen it and patch its many holes.
The more ambitious 1.5C threshold of the Paris Agreement has to be the focus of our climate action, and it is at the heart of the new Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (formally known as the Climate and Ecology Bill) which I introduced in Parliament this Wednesday. As well as Green party support, it has the backing of MPs from six other parties and addresses the climate and nature crises at the speed and scale that the science demands.
It would not replace the Climate Change Act but strengthen it and patch its many holes. The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill includes emissions from aviation and shipping, for example, as the Committee on Climate Change recommends, and those which come from our supply chains.
We cannot continue to claim credit for reducing emissions in the UK when we have simply outsourced them to other countries, and then consume what they produce.
It recognises the importance of nature and ecology both for our own survival and for their role in helping avert the worst impacts of climate change. In particular, it focuses on the health of soils which are vital for farming, food production and carbon storage.
No one pretends that weaning ourselves off our dependence on carbon will be easy, but it is essential and brings many co-benefits. Our lives depend on us building a more sustainable society, free of the burning of fossil fuels.
It is vital that Parliament reaches out beyond Westminster , working with the public to devise our response. That’s why this bill includes a Citizens’ Assembly to work with MPs, giving people a meaningful say in the UK’s pathway to a zero-carbon future.
It’s modelled on the Climate Assembly UK, set up by six select committees which, though yet to deliver its final report, has shown the value of including a genuinely representative group of the public in tackling these huge issues, while Parliament takes the final decisions.
The coronavirus pandemic has taught us some painful lessons: if we don’t prepare for a crisis, if we take action too late and if the action is insufficient, we will pay a heavy price.
We can’t afford to make that mistake again. That is why Parliament needs to pass this bill.
Caroiline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.