Working Towards Net Zero

Over the last month the focus of my work in Parliament has been on Climate Change, highlighting the importance of not only the Government but every part of society playing their part in reducing emissions to net zero. During the Climate Emergency Debate, I challenged my MP colleagues to take up Truro based Luci Isaacson’s Climate Vision top ten pledges.

There is cross party support to step up our level of ambition and reach net zero carbon before 2050. I am part of the team of Backbench MP’s bringing in a bill to set this target.

The Secretary of State welcomed the support provided by Members on both sides of the House. He made it clear that the Government recognises the situation we face is an emergency. It is a crisis, and it is a threat that we must all unite to meet the challenge.

Although statistics are sometimes abstract, and the impact may seem distant, as individual citizens and as parents we all know that the next generation will face the consequences if we do not take action now to deal with climate change.

A warming world will result in the desertification of large parts of our Earth; with the transformation of previously fertile lands into lands that are incapable of generating food will result in population movement, which will create challenges—not just a security challenge for the global north, but a moral and ethical challenge for us all.

We in the United Kingdom must bear that moral and ethical challenge particularly heavily. We were the first country to industrialise, and the industrial revolution that was forged here and generated prosperity here was responsible for the carbon emissions that have driven global warming. The burden of that is borne, even now, by those in the global south, so we have a responsibility to show leadership. It is vital that we reduce our emissions, for the defence and protection of those in small island developing states who face the prospect of coastal erosion and damage to their economies. That is why the Government are committed to spending £5 billion every year on helping developing nations to deal with the prospect of climate change.

In the UK, since 2010, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 nation; between 2010 and 2018, we reduced greenhouse gas emissions in this country by 25%; UK CO2 emissions have fallen for six years in a row, which is the longest period on record; and the UK’s renewable energy capacity has quadrupled since 2010. The proportion of UK electricity that comes from low-carbon sources increased from 19% in 2010 to almost 53% in 2018, which meant that 2018 was a record year for renewable energy; over the past year, we have generated record levels of solar and offshore wind energy; and annual support from the Government for renewables will be more than £10 billion by 2021. All that has come as a direct result of a shared ambition, with a Government who set stretching targets and are prepared to intervene where necessary, but who recognise that we need the ingenuity and enterprise of the private sector working in partnership with the Government to deliver change.

The safeguarding of our environment must not come at the cost of ending economic growth, because economic growth is vital to spur the innovation and secure the investment to make sure that we have the technological breakthroughs that can safeguard our environment.

Since 1990, under Governments of different parties, we have seen a 40% overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and we have also seen a two-thirds increase in growth. If we think in particular about the significant growth in renewables, of course solar energy initially needed subsidy to kick-start it, but as solar energy costs have diminished, so the need for subsidy is, as any economist would say, lesser. This is no criticism of any previous Government, but when we came into power, only 38.3 MW of power in this country was generated by solar; now, the amount is 13,000 MW, which is 13 GW. That is a 99% increase in solar power generation under Conservative Ministers.

It is also important, that we not only take action on energy, decarbonise our economy and recognise the global challenge that climate change presents, but do everything we can in our own country to adapt and to mitigate the effects of climate change. That is why this Government are committed to the planting of 11 million new trees. That is why the Countryside Stewardship and Woodland Carbon Fund has been created—to ensure that we reforest this country.

We are lucky in this country to have a concentration of blanket bog and peatland, one of the most effective carbon stores in the world, and this Government are committed to restoring more than 6,000 hectares of peatland to a state where they can play their role in acting as a carbon sink. All of these steps are part of the 25-year environment plan, which is intended to ensure that, for the first time, we hand on to the next generation a restored environment. This means more trees planted, more habitats restored to good or better status, more investment in clean air and water and, above all, more investment in making sure that the organic content of our soil is improved—a critical measure not just in improving fertility for future food production, but for dealing with carbon.

The landmark Environment Bill will mark a step change in how this country tackles the twin challenges of climate change and our broader ecological degradation is a test for us all.

The day after this important debate, the independent UK Committee on Climate Change published its response to the Government’s request to review our carbon budgets. The programme of carbon budgets, set up as part of the 2008 Climate Change Act, that the committee has set, has enabled us to make significant progress so far in the meeting of our obligations to the earth, but we all know that we need to do more.

Last October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear that the Paris target of a 2°C temperature rise was, as the science showed, not ambitious enough and that we need to ensure that we slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions and hopefully achieve net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. After that IPCC

report, the Secretary of State for Business, immediately commissioned the Climate Change Committee to tell the Government what more we should do to meet that target. That level of ambition was endorsed by a range of different organisations, from the NFU, which says that we should try to have net zero in agriculture by 2040, to companies such as Tesco, our biggest single retailer, which have also committed to the net zero target.

The Government has welcomed the report and will carefully consider the recommendations. The Comprehensive Spending Review, that starts in the summer and ends in October, sets out government expenditure for the next three years and will be a good opportunity to commit the resources necessary to increase our investment in necessary changes. This report now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely.

Setting this goal isn’t just about ending the UK’s contribution to climate change. Net zero is also a significant economic opportunity. The low carbon economy is growing two or three times faster than the rest of the mainstream economy, with almost 400,000 people working in these industries already. I fully support the Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership’s Clean Growth Strategy that recognises this opportunity for many local businesses.

Finally, I hope that you will consider signing my petition, that I am presenting in Parliament on 19th June, for the U.K. to host the 2020 global climate change conference that will be so important to agreeing further global action. For your ease of reference, here is a link:

https://www.sarahnewton.org.uk/campaigns/climate-change-pledge-group

First published in The Falmouth Packet on 20/6/2019

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