The UK leads the world on tackling climate change. We have decarbonised faster than any major economy, reducing our emissions by 38% since 1990. Yet we know we need to go further and faster, which is why Parliament supported the world-leading net zero target.
Now the Government must outline a strategy, concrete policies and a road map on how we are going to get there. Climate change and decline of our nature is the most serious threat we face. Unchecked, it will lead to more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, damage precious natural habitats, and cause sea levels to rise. The response must therefore be similarly comprehensive, and action must be taken across our whole economy.
I am confident that we can do this. Why? Because there is comprehensive concern and support for action. We are an imaginative, creative, innovative nation and have what it takes to rise to this challenge. It’s an opportunity to grow our economy more sustainably. What’s good for nature is good for human health and wellbeing.
Every week I have meetings with people from a wide range of organisations – all fully invested in seeing us succeed in meeting our net zero target. In every meeting, there is agreement on what the challenge is and why we need to take action and the conversation moves onto the how and when they can play their part.
If we are to harness this enthusiasm and expertise, we will first and foremost need to provide more information about the Government’s plans. Not everyone will read the 277-page Committee on Climate Change (CCC) net zero report, or even the 630-page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the impacts of 1.5 degrees of global warming, or the daily announcements on action to reach net zero coming from different government departments.
It’s hard for businesses, public sector organisations or individuals to find impartial, accurate information about how they can make an impact by making changes. In going for net zero, we need to bring people with us, and that means empowering them to make different choices. The Government can provide that information by sharing its data and expertise on, for example, the smartest way to get to work or school, what local British food is in season and sustainably grown, and the suppliers of the cleanest forms of electricity and heating.
This should be provided in one place, where any individual, councillor, business or student can find out all they need to know to reduce their carbon footprint. Information for business and public sector organisations about how to access support to innovate too.
We have world leading universities and tech companies and I would like the Government to set up an Eco Tech Innovation Fund so we can harness this expertise to create user friendly and accessible apps and websites that seamlessly compile impartial and accurate data and explain what people can do and how they can access support.
Businesses also have an important role to play. It has been great to see businesses come forward with their own net zero targets, such as the water industry which has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030. To give hope to the citizens who are so worried about climate change this information should also be captured so people can see what all sectors of our society are doing. To level up the expectation on all businesses to take action, the Government should require goods for sale to include climate impact on their labelling. The requirement could cover items of food, electronic goods, and so on. It would help consumers make smarter choices when shopping and get companies measuring the carbon footprint of individual products. This will add a cost to business and that is why we must create a level playing field by insisting it is provided. We don’t want to see businesses doing the right thing undercut by those that don’t.
Information is power and will enable every workplace and home to make smarter choices. All this activity needs central coordination and I would like the government to introduce a new ‘net zero test’ for every Budget and Spending Review, to ensure all new government spending and investment is aligned with the target or at least isn’t harming decarbonisation efforts. The Government could ask the independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) to scrutinise whether the test was being met.
All the businesses I speak with want some clarity and certainty about what the government wants them to do, so they can start pricing in the changes they will need to make. Many see this as an opportunity not only to do the right thing but to innovate and reach new markets. Government departments and their arm’s length bodies should lead by example by making their buildings more energy efficient and switching to low emission transport. This will save money as well as carbon.
The climate change movement fails when it fails to bring people with it. As we saw in France, we have to make it clear why action to tackle climate change matters and ensure people aren’t left behind as we transition to new cleaner industries. It can’t just be about distant international summits with acronyms that few people understand. When the UK hosts the international UN climate summit in Glasgow next year, it must ensure that every sector of society, everyone is involved in the conversation. With an issue as big as climate change, we need everyone’s collective brainpower to find the right solutions and we must have everyone on board if we hope to implement them.
Post Brexit we need a unifying national purpose and I believe this is it. By enabling comprehensive action across the whole of society, with everyone involved, we can now start rebuilding a truly United Kingdom. One we can all be proud of.
First published in the Falmouth Wave November 2019 edition