I’m intending to make the climate crisis the theme of my budget speech later this month. There is no sense that Boris Johnson’s Government is treating this emergency with the urgency it needs and the gap between our emissions reduction goals and the Government’s policies to meet them is only increasing.
I was deeply disappointed that the government decided not to re-establish a dedicated Department for Climate Change in the recent reshuffle. With Britain hosting the COP26 Climate Summit later this year there is a real opportunity for Britain to strike out as a world leader in tackling the climate emergency, but the lack of a dedicated Ministry and with lukewarm proposals for action it seems like the necessary action won’t be taken.
Since my last report, I’ve spoken at the London Hazards Centre Annual General Meeting on the transition to sustainability and met constituents visiting Parliament in support of the Teach Our Future education campaign. I also took part in a lively panel discussion with sixth formers at Fortismere School on what more the Government could be doing to tackle the climate emergency and joined the Model UN Conference at Highgate Wood School on the same subject.
During the election campaign I signed Friends of the Earth’s Climate Action Pledge, committing to putting the climate first in all my votes and this month I’ve asked Parliamentary Questions on a range of issues including:
- Questioning the Government on their plans to move the Government car pool to electric cars.
- Pressing them to bring forward the ban on new petrol and diesel cars.
- Pressing the Department for International Development on the proportion of their funding going to clean energy.
- Pushing the Government to reveal which Minister was attending Davos and urging them to call for firms to divest from fossil fuels.
- Pressing the Government to urge UK Universities to divest from fossil fuels.
- Pressing the Government to ensure UK Export Finance does not provide financial guarantees for fossil fuel-based investments.
- Urging greater spending on renewables.
Here are some of the key updates from Parliament:
Government publishes Environment Bill
On Thursday 30 January, the Government published its Environmental Bill. I am concerned that nothing in the Bill comes close to the urgent and decisive action we need to take to show real leadership on tackling the climate and environmental emergency. It will not stop us falling behind the EU on environmental standards, which the Government’s approach to trade deals looks set to undercut. It also fails to set enforceable targets to bring air pollution below harmful levels. This is despite the Government’s air quality plans having been ruled unlawful several times. In addition, the Bill does nothing to close loopholes identified in the previous version of the Bill, which mean that no legal action could be taken against the government on potential failings on water, plastic, waste or nature restoration until 2037, at the earliest. If we are to be serious about protecting the environment, we need much more serious measures than the Environment Bill offers us.
High Court challenge against UK Government over gas plant
A High Court challenge has been launched by the charity ClientEarth, against the UK Government, after it approved plans for what would be the largest gas plant in Europe. ClientEarth has successfully sued the Government previously over the UK’s failure to comply with EU air pollution legislation.
In July 2019, the Planning Inspectorate recommended the Drax Power Station Re-power Project be refused permission on the grounds it would undermine the Government’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions. At 3.6GW, the gas plant would be the biggest gas power station in Europe. However, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary rejected the advice and approved the project in October. Her approval acknowledged that the development would have a “significant adverse impact… on the amount of greenhouse gases that will be emitted”.
ClientEarth claims that if built, the power station would be responsible for as much as three-quarters of all emissions from the UK’s power sector once fully operational, and that it could create 400% more greenhouse gas emissions than if it were not built.
We must acknowledge that gas is not going to cut our carbon emissions. We need to invest in renewables through the roll out of solar power, onshore and offshore windfarms, as well as the next generation of green technology, including marine power, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS).