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UK needs to reclaim its climate leadership and not squander the progress it has already made

4 min read

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Teverson writes ahead of a debate in the House of Lords on ‘Threats presented by climate change’.

Last year we celebrated 10 years of the Climate Change Act, the first piece of legislation of its kind in the world, that obliged the UK to start cutting carbon emissions. However, time is now of the essence, in ten years global temperatures could have already increased to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels according to the IPCC – the new global target.  

If we do not increase our attempts to cut emissions the risks are clear. We will see increases in extreme weather events, flooding as sea levels will rise, and, of course, these will result in the loss of coastal regions, mass migration, crop failure and financial instability. The “clock is ticking” on the climate, and only action can prevent this from coming about.  

The UK, since the Climate Change Act, has made excellent progress and is a leader at cutting emissions. Thanks in part to Liberal Democrat policies in Government, renewables are now among the cheapest forms of electricity. Even better, other countries are following our lead, China, one of the largest emitters, now sees itself as a climate champion. The Paris Agreement, although not perfect, has started a roadmap for the way forward. 

But there is no room for complacency. Most of the UK’s emissions reduction have come from electricity generation – moving away from dirty coal to cleaner gas and renewables. The Government has pledged to phase out coal by 2025, but that is a relatively easy win and we’ve reached the end of the road. Now, instead of continuing our progress, which does mean making more difficult choices, the Government appears to have stopped taking reducing emissions seriously.  

Not to mention that since 2015 the Conservatives have reversed many of the pro-climate Liberal Democrat policies that we put in place. They’ve slashed subsidies for solar power, put in place an effective ban on on-shore wind – one of the cheapest forms of renewable generation - and are pursuing an ideological obsession with fracking. They also killed off a zero-carbon homes standard to ensure that homes are built with energy efficiency at their heart and ending funding for carbon capture and storage. Liberal Democrats demand better.  

The Conservatives certainly want people to see them as the “green party” but this is nothing more than a façade. They’ve published numerous strategies, a Clean Growth Strategy, a Resources and Waste Strategy, a 25 Year Environmental Plan and a Road to Zero Transport Plan. These plans are all very worthy, with laudable aims, but the problem of Climate Change needs action not words in a Government consultation.  

Transport emissions are still rising, there are more SUVs and white vans on the road, while the Government offer no more than a vague target of banning new sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, a long way behind the curve. There has been no meaningful attempt to decarbonise the gas most of use to heat our homes and agricultural emissions are not yet being tackled. 

The independent Climate Change Committee is clear in its belief that the UK will not meet its obligations under the Climate Change Act with its current policies. They’re clear the Conservative Government needs to act now and by doing so they would save money in the future. Green investment will create growth and jobs and will cut energy bills.  

The UK needs to reclaim its climate leadership and not squander the progress it has already made. National commitments following the Paris Agreement will still result in 3 degrees warming, far away from the 1.5 degrees most are now aiming for. A fractious meeting in Poland gave us a rule book, but the disagreements show us that action is not yet set in stone.

I was told as a child that the road to hell was paved by good intentions, but the road to a scorched planet is paved by worthy strategies lacking decisive actions.


Lord Teverson is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Teverson - Efficiency and decarbonisation are central to boosting the UK’s energy security