Bishop's Stortford Independent Green Watch columnist Louise Tennekoon on the importance of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill
It's hard to focus on climate change when we are still reeling from the fallout of Covid-19. However, there is a growing consensus among scientists, campaigners and business leaders that we must use the post-pandemic recovery to take massive action on climate change.
People are living with, and dying from, climate change right now. In California, the richest state in the richest country on Earth, wildfires have torn through more than 2.3 million acres of land and turned the skies orange. In the words of state governor Gavin Newsom: "If you are in denial about climate change, come to California."
We can't outrun a changing climate or, as California's experience shows, buy our way out of it. The only answer is to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and to go on cutting them until they are in line with what the Earth can absorb. That is what is meant by net zero.
I have written in this column before about the power of the choices we make in our daily lives to send signals to the market and inspire others. But the change we need is bigger than this. It is systemic and that means political. We need to pull all the political levers we can to demand action from our Government.
That is why a Private Member's Bill tabled in Parliament last week deserves our attention. The Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill, sponsored by Green MP Caroline Lucas, would require the UK Government to produce a climate and ecological emergency strategy (aka a serious plan) within six months.
The Bill calls for the plan to take account of our overseas carbon footprint (the emissions associated with the goods we import from around the world), prioritise the protection and conservation of nature in UK and overseas supply lines, and to rely on natural climate sinks (trees, soils and peat bogs) rather than yet-to-be invented technological solutions. The Bill also proposes the creation of a Citizens' Assembly, to feed public ideas and recommendations into the strategy.
Supporters of the Bill believe that it "sets out a clear path for creating an emergency strategy with citizens, experts, Government and Parliament all working together to find our way out of this mess".
The Government takes a different view, as reflected in comments from our MP Julie Marson: "While I agree with improving our environment, the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill is not the way to do it. The Bill forces the Government's hand on issues such as aviation emissions... (and) consumption-based emissions... before assessments on how to feasibly achieve this have been carried out."
There's a clear tension here. The Government doesn't want its hand forced, but supporters of the Bill think the Government is sitting on its hands instead of getting on with the job.
Recent rhetoric from the Government has been promising, but without a detailed plan there can be little action. This is reflected in the 2020 progress report by the Committee on Climate Change, which found that UK climate progress was 'off track' in most sectors, with only two out of 31 milestones achieved.
Frustration is also mounting in the business community.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, linked climate strategy to economic recovery in a major speech this week: "Business has been promised and is waiting for the Government's climate blueprint – the Energy White Paper, National Infrastructure Strategy, as well as plans for the decarbonisation of transport, heat and buildings... Enabling firms to strike ahead with their investment plans for a net-zero future with confidence – there's no more powerful way to unlock private investment for the UK."
The UK likes to think of itself as a climate leader – in Julie Marson's words: "We are leading the world to reverse the climate emergency and I will continue to be a champion of our efforts."
We were, after all, the first country to legislate for a net zero target and we will co-chair COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference), the next crucial round of climate talks, scheduled to be held in Glasgow from November 1 to 12.
However, we are in danger of losing our leadership position. Germany and France have already announced major green packages worth billions of euros.
If Joe Biden wins the US election in November, he plans to spend $2 trillion over the next four years to make the US the "engine of the world's clean energy economy", creating 10 million jobs in the process.
Without a 'greenprint' of our own, we risk losing out on the green industrial revolution that is coming.
So what happens next? The CEE Bill will be debated in Parliament on March 12 next year. The fact that not a single Conservative MP has put their name to it so far suggests that it is in for a rough ride. But even if not passed into law, the Bill will open up an important debate in Parliament, keeping the Government under scrutiny.
If you would like to see the UK Government produce a detailed and comprehensive plan to respond to climate change, here are five things you can do:
1 Join the campaign at www.ceebill.uk .
2 Contact Julie Marson and ask her to support the Bill on your behalf (check out the campaign resources section of the Ceebill website for tips on letters and tweets).
3 Share the campaign with your friends and colleagues on social media and encourage them to contact their own MP.
4 Get informed. Read The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, architects of the Paris Climate Agreement. Engaging and readable, it pulls no punches but is ultimately inspiring and hopeful. See https://globaloptimism.com/the-future-we-choose-book/ .
5 Get connected. Check out the website of the Bishop's Stortford Climate Group and sign up to its monthly newsletter at https://bishopsstortfordclimategroup.org .