One speech in the debate stood out, by Caroline Lucas, the only Green Party MP in Parliament ( there are two Green Party peers).Below I have compiled the Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers' opening remarks in the debate, and Caroline Lucas' important intervention in this speech, along with the whole of her own important contribution to the debate.
The Climate Emergency
17 October 2019
It is a great honour to open today’s debate on Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. A cornerstone of the legislative programme set out in that speech is a landmark Environment Bill. The Bill will help us to make good our pledge to bequeath the environment in a better state than it was left to us, and it will play a crucial part in our efforts to meet the commitment made to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Leaving the EU is an historic opportunity for us to set our own course, and this Government are determined that this will include stepping up action to address both climate change and the decline of nature and biodiversity. These hugely important environmental issues of our time are two sides of the same coin; we cannot protect biodiversity without stabilising the climate, and we cannot tackle climate change without saving the wildlife and habitats that provide crucial life-giving carbon sinks. The trees, plants and peatlands that make up nature’s very own carbon capture technology will become ever more important as we strive to bear down further on emissions to meet the net zero target….
I am grateful for the opportunity just to say how wholeheartedly I support my right hon. Friend in what she is doing, particularly in the environmental space. Does she agree that the ability to take the leadership that the UK has demonstrated in so many areas to the rest of the world in the absolutely critical conference of the parties next year will help us to sell the benefits of the green transition and persuade every other country in the world to lift their eyes to the green prize?
My right hon. Friend makes a hugely important point, and I wholeheartedly agree and will return to it in a few moments.
We have committed to building on the record of success I have outlined, and we will accelerate the low-carbon growth that already provides more than 400,000 jobs in the United Kingdom. For example, we are supporting clean growth with investment of more than £3 billion in research and development. As we look ahead to the date when we end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, we are generating £2.7 billion in exporting ultra-low emission vehicles. One in five battery electric cars sold in Europe was built right here in this country.
A decade on from the landmark Climate Change Act 2008, which enshrined ambition in law and marshalled action across society, we are forging ahead with legislation for the second great environmental task: nature recovery.
I want to take the Secretary of State back to the Environment Bill for two seconds, because it is important to set targets but even more important to have deadlines for meeting them. She will be aware of concerns raised today that there is a major loophole in the Bill that will essentially give the Government nearly two decades to meet the legally binding future environmental targets. Will she comment on those concerns? It is all very well setting targets by 2022, but not having to meet them for 15 years seems absurd.
I can reassure the hon. Lady by drawing her attention to clause 10, which provides for interim targets. The OEP will also have the authority to hold the Government to account on our progress towards meeting long-term targets.
Taking on board the recommendations of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and of the Environmental Audit Committee, the Bill extends the OEP’s proposed remit to climate change….
There is so little time that I will just make one main point, and it is a very simple one: the Government should tell the truth on the climate crisis. Telling the truth on climate is one of the demands of Extinction Rebellion and the youth climate strikers. These are strange times indeed when telling the truth is a radical act, and yet on this issue, that is exactly what it is.
We could make a start by telling the truth about our climate record. Ministers regularly claim that greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in the UK by 42% since 1990. But that is not the whole truth, because the Government’s own figures show that if we calculate emissions based on consumption over the past 20 years, our emissions have fallen by just 10%. That is relevant to the comparison with China made by the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), completely overlooking the fact that many of China’s emissions are linked to producing goods that we then import. Of course, if we simply outsource our manufacturing, it is not surprising that our emissions appear to go down, but that is not a globally just and responsible attitude to emissions reduction.
What is more, historical reductions are no indicator of future progress. Coal is all but gone from the power sector, which means that the biggest source of reduction so far has now been exhausted, and there is little sign of the policy required to ensure that the necessary reductions continue.
The UK was the first member of the G7 to legislate for a net zero emissions target. I welcome that, of course, but other countries have more ambitious goals. Norway has committed to net zero by 2030, Finland by 2035, Iceland by 2040 and Sweden by 2045. My point is that 2050 is not global leadership. In an emergency, you do not dial 999 and ask for the emergency services to come in 30 years’ time; you want them to come now, because the emergency is now.
A target on its own does not bring down emissions—action does. What does the Committee on Climate Change say about the Government’s actual actions? In one of its most recent progress reports to Parliament, it states that
“actions to date have fallen short of what is needed for the previous targets and well short of those required for the net-zero target”.
The Government of course know it, because their own projections show that we do not have policy in place to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets and that the gap to meeting them is getting wider.
That matters not least because what is scientifically relevant is not just reaching net zero, but the amount of carbon emitted before we reach it. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate of the available global carbon budget for a 66% chance of remaining within 1.5° of warming is 420 gigatonnes of CO2. Professor Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey has estimated that the UK’s fair share of that remaining budget is just 2.5 gigatonnes. On current reduction trends, our production-based emissions will exceed our fair budget in 2026—in just seven years’ time. Using consumption-based accounting, which I have argued is a fairer way of doing it, we would actually exhaust our available budget in 2023—in just four years’ time. That means reaching net zero is not enough; we need deep carbon reductions in the next few years to stand a chance of staying within a safe and fair budget.
When the Government claim that they are acting with the required urgency, I think we need to bear in mind these stronger figures. When they say that they are going to bring forward action, we need to say that we need that action now. For example, they say they have a document on transport coming up, but we want action now: bring forward the ban on the sale of petrol cars and end aviation expansion now.