Earlier this month, the UN expert panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a major report detailing the impacts of the crisis.
Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Program, told us that ‘climate change isn’t around the corner waiting to pounce – it is already upon us raining down blows on billions of people’. UN secretary general António Guterres condemned our political leaders, saying:
‘Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and an indictment of failed climate leadership.’
The answer to the climate crisis is clear. We need to mobilise on a wartime footing to kick our addiction to fossil fuels. The solutions already exist. We must cut emissions at source with measures like: heat pumps and insulation for homes; dramatic improvements in public transport and provision for cycle and walking routes; an urgent transition to the smallest-possible electric vehicles; taxes on frequent flyers; encouragement to speed up the reduction in meat consumption; and electrification of rail.
The terrible events in Ukraine now give us another, more immediate, reason to act. We have been funding Russia, and other nasty regimes, for years. It is now a matter of national security that we transition as rapidly as possible away from fossil fuels.
The UK’s own expert adviser, the Climate Change Committee, now predicts the cost of net zero to be negative. Yes, due to higher fossil fuel prices, investing to decarbonise our economy will actually cost less than running our existing fossil fuel energy system.
Those who claim net zero is far too expensive, conveniently overlooking the costs of flooding, crop failure, migration, wildfires and the like, no longer have any argument. Stopping burning fossil fuels will also help eliminate the 28,000 to 36,000 deaths every year in the UK from air pollution – a terrible burden on the NHS.
The fastest way to improve our energy security, whilst tackling climate change, is to minimise the energy we waste on the likes of leaky homes and high emitting cars. But most people just cannot afford the outlay needed to decarbonise their homes and transport. So the state must now be bold and offer serious grant support to shift the economics firmly in favour of a green future.
Why are we so averse to collective action? When threatened with war, we do not ask people to put their hands in their pockets to pay for missiles. The country now faces a similar grave threat and the public are crying out for Government leadership.
We can look to Italy for inspiration where the state pays citizens 110 per cent of the cost of insulating their home, or Germany where one rural district now runs a bus to every village, every hour 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yes, these measures cost taxpayer money, but did you know the UK currently pays £10 billion in tax subsidies to the North Sea oil industry every single year?
We are facing a crisis in nature too. The Government’s new Environment Bill creates a legal obligation to halt the decline in nature, but that is just not enough.
England was recently rated by the RSPB as the 7th most nature-depleted nation in the world – thanks largely to our success in leading the industrial revolution. We need a huge national effort now to restore nature.
It’s encouraging to see Conservatives like my MP Anthony Mangnall advocating for regenerative farming, but we must stop undermining our farmers with the likes of the CPTPP trade deal (the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) with far-flung countries, bringing in cheap food produced to dismal welfare and environmental standards.
Farmers will hold the key to restoring nature. Government must listen to them and provide the financial support necessary to help them adapt whilst still making a decent living. Putting local farmers out of business when global warming threatens to reduce global crop yields is a terribly short-sighted idea.
With the right legislation in place, nature can recover, and the solutions to the nature crisis will also help address the climate crisis.
The Government is beginning to take action. I welcome the plans to plant 30,000 hectares of trees per year, but as with many measures, it just isn’t fast enough. At that rate, about what Brazil destroys in a week, it will take around 10 years to increase woodland cover by a meagre 1 per cent, to 13 per cent. The European average is 37 per cent.
The UN’s Ms Andersen said this month that ‘humanity has spent centuries treating nature as its worst enemy. The truth is that nature can be our saviour, but only if we save it first’.
We must take heed of the experts, stop tinkering with minor incremental change, and treat this as the emergency it is. Looking at past challenges such as tooling up for WWII or the race to land on the moon, it started with strong political leadership, from all levels of government. We will only rise to this challenge with everybody working together.
I’ve been hugely encouraged by the serious commitment shown by our county and district councils to tackling the climate and nature crisis. But they can only do so much without serious funding and support from central Government. And whilst we’ve had many vague promises, the same commitment has been sorely lacking from our leaders in Parliament.
I urge all our MPs, many of whom have had little to say about this desperately important IPCC report, to now lead from the front. Yes, there is an appalling crime taking place in Ukraine, but an MP must be able to focus on multiple priorities. With the privilege of a broad public platform, our MPs could make a real difference, rallying support for action on climate and nature in their constituencies, as well as speaking out robustly in Parliament.
I ask them to prioritise a positive future over short-term party considerations, to support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (www.CEEBill.uk) for legally-binding science-led action on climate and nature, and to speak out.