The harrowing scenes from David Attenborough’s ‘Our Planet’ documentary series clearly show the impacts humans are having on the natural world. While the scale of the global challenge facing humanity can feel overwhelming, the latest data shows a record 80 percent of British people are concerned about climate change and support taking action to tackle it. As a Member of Parliament, I meet many constituents of all ages and backgrounds who want to do more.
Scientists from around the world have shown that we need to reach net zero emissions of harmful greenhouse gases by 2050. They warn that inaction risks the world reaching tipping points at 2°C warming that will see the melting of permafrost releasing greenhouse gases that have been stored for millennia. Furthermore, they say this will severely impact our food, water and air quality.
The Government’s independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), have recently published a report showing that it is entirely possible for the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050 if we act now.
This will require a rethink for many policies across Government to enable our public services, businesses, communities and people reduce harmful emissions. That is the task before politicians now. Work by leading businesses, engineers and the Bank of England has shown we can do this without wrecking our economy. In fact, if we carefully manage the transition there are opportunities to develop new technologies, products and services.
Many of my constituents also want to know what they can do. 60 percent of the emissions reductions outlined by the CCC involve some societal or behavioural changes, so it’s vitally important to build on people’s interest in this challenge and involve and empower them to make a difference on an individual level too.
In 2009, my constituent Luci Isaacson and her organisation, Climate Vision, set up the 10 Pledge Challenge working with ten local community leaders and people to reduce their emissions. Over four months, 3,000 tonnes of CO2 was saved. I learnt a lot about what changes we can all make to help. These choices don’t always need to be big and expensive like investing in an electric vehicle, although the total cost of ownership for an EV is now cost competitive, and they’re on their way to being cheaper up front too. I have recently retaken the pledges and they were relatively simple things that we can all do, like switching energy provider, walking more often and eating more local in-season produce.
In fact research shows that more than half of us would be happy to reduce our energy use, avoid using cars or try to minimise food waste. It’s not just about helping tackle climate change – simple steps can also save us money, make us feel healthier and contribute to our local economy too. They don’t have to make life more difficult, as some sceptics would have us believe. I want to make sure that everyone has the right information at their fingertips to make informed choices.
As the Government considers its response to the CCC and sets out policies to reach net zero, I want to ensure that we can make informed choices, by encouraging businesses to provide relevant information, transparently setting out where their products come from, how they got here, and their impact on the environment. For example, in addition to improvements to country of origin labelling, supermarkets could show how beef or lamb was reared, for example 100% grass fed. More than half of people say they would spend more on a sustainable product, but knowing what to choose isn’t always made easy. Information is power, and labelling has an important role to play.
Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to reassess what information we expect businesses to provide on labels, as it previously fell under their jurisdiction. One of the most debated examples of this is plastic packaging, and making sure it’s clear what is recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. At the moment there is no legal definition for these terms, and a recent study by the University of Plymouth found that so-called ‘biodegradable’ shopping bags could still hold a load of shopping after three years in the marine environment. This can’t be right. If consumers are making the switch to buy supposedly more sustainable products, even at an increased price, then they must have confidence in what they are purchasing.
In Parliament I set the challenge for every MP to take on the 10 Pledges, as leaders of their communities to encourage everyone who wants to play their part to make a difference. However, I know that we can’t expect anyone to do this without knowing how, and our job as policymakers is to give them those informed choices. It’s time to step up to the greatest challenge that we will face in our lifetimes to tackle climate change – internationally we can lead the world forward, nationally we must set a net zero target to end our contribution to global emissions, and individually we should empower people to make more environmentally friendly choices.
First published in the Falmouth Wave June edition