I stood for Parliament to confront the pressing political issues we face in our communities, neighbourhoods and our workplaces, so I’m glad that the climate crisis is increasingly being recognised as the definitive challenge of our time; it is the issue that every politician – in the UK and worldwide – needs to face up to.
I know it’s important for people in Sheffield, too – a city with a proud history of climate activism. In his 1890 article The Smoke-Plague and Its Remedy, the Sheffield socialist, Edward Carpenter, took aim at the smoke pollution that prematurely claimed thousands of lives in the city and other centres of industry. As Carpenter said:
And now, having sketched the evils resulting from our present habits, let us turn to the question of how they are to be remedied. Here let me say at once that they can be remedied. With existing scientific knowledge, with existing methods, with existing appliances, the smoke-nuisance might practically be abolished and become a thing of the past.
Despite knowing the remedy, his struggle continues today. Air pollution is predicted to cause 15,000 deaths in Yorkshire by 2030, with 1,430 deaths in Sheffield alone. Smoke now rises from our moorlands, set ablaze in acts of vandalism for grouse shoots. The fires endanger species and invite repeats of the flooding that communities across South Yorkshire faced before Christmas last year.
Across the country, peat fires throw millions of tonnes of CO2 into our atmosphere. Internationally, the last 12 months alone have seen wildfires sweep across California, floods and dangerous heatwaves ravage India, and bushfires consume Australia.
The climate chaos that we all face is unprecedented, and the Government have failed to respond with the urgency our situation requires. They desperately need to wake up and face up to the challenge ahead.
They have maintained that they are taking steps to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As the recent Committee on Climate Change (CCC)’s progress report makes clear, Ministers are off-track to meet this. Even if they succeed, 2050 is far too late; the 2019 CCC report stating that if the UK were to achieve net zero by 2050 and other countries follow suit, this would still give us only a 50% chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2100. A 50% chance is a gamble we cannot take.
To limit global warming and its disastrous impacts, we need to decarbonise rapidly. Climate change is not an issue for the future—we already face its effects in the here and now. We are already past the point of preventing the crisis, and our role now is to act immediately to prevent its most damaging effects.
The UK must show global leadership on this issue. We have a particular responsibility to decarbonise earlier than 2050 deadline, given our nation’s wealth, technical capacity and our substantial historical accountability for carbon emissions. That’s why I’ve long campaigned for, and strongly support, Labour’s position that we would achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.
It’s also why I’m happy to support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.
As you may know, this is a Presentation Bill, and therefore does not involve a debate or a vote in parliament, but it’s a way of drawing attention to an issue that requires a change in the law.
But we also need to go beyond raising awareness of the impact of climate breakdown. We need to be clear that this current Government and its values are incompatible with meaningfully tackling the crisis. Climate justice will not arise without firm actions.
For the UK, it requires a Labour Government in power and able to deliver the radical transformation of our economy necessary to green our infrastructure and challenge the big polluters. It’s why I made Labour’s Green New Deal a focal point of my campaign, and broke parliamentary convention to use my maiden speech as an MP to highlight the urgency of tackling the climate emergency.
The crisis necessitates a rapid and total decarbonisation of our economy and society over the next ten years. This Government has repeatedly shown itself not to be up to the task.
It’s only through socialist policies—including public ownership of railways and buses, energy companies and water; investment in thousands of thousands of high-quality, unionised green jobs; and greening the built environment and building hundreds of passivhaus standard eco-social housing—that we can hope to tackle the climate crisis.
We need more than rhetoric from Ministers—we need a plan to invest in the green industries of the future, create good, green jobs across the country, and support workers and their communities as we make a just transition to a green economy. Like the Sheffield great, Edward Carpenter, we have the ‘scientific knowledge… existing methods… [and] existing appliances’ and I will fight to make this happen.