Many constituents have contacted me about the climate emergency.

Following the recent IPCC report, there is no doubt at all now that our climate is being seriously damaged by human activity and we have very little time left in which to change course.

Each country must act and although the UK Government claims that it is taking steps to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as the Committee on Climate Change’s most recent progress report makes clear, the gulf between the Government’s rhetoric on climate action and the reality is vast. Not only are Ministers set to miss the 2050 target that Parliament legislated for just over a year ago, but they are not even on track to meet the less ambitious one that would precede it.

2050 is too late for the UK to end its contribution to climate breakdown. According to the UN, we have less than ten years left to avoid the worst impacts of catastrophic climate change and that’s why the Government must act with far greater urgency. I believe we should aim to achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030 and that we need to do so through a world-leading Green New Deal.

I support the aims of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill which, as you may know, is a Presentation Bill (one that does not involve a debate or a vote in Parliament but is a way of drawing attention to an issue that requires a change in the law) although there are a couple of things in it that need further debate. I also think that a citizens assembly could be really useful, but I’m not sure that it would guarantee the progress that is needed and, anyway, we already have a citizens assembly – it is called Parliament and I think we have to get our principal democratic institution to face up to the decisions that are required.

The task now is a very practical one. We know which areas of our society and economy need to be decarbonised – for example replacing gas central heating in around 22 million homes – but at the moment there is no plan to make this happen. I think therefore that we should focus all our energy on pressing the Government to come forward with proposals that will do this.

This matters for a whole host of reasons, not least because the UK’s credibility as the President of the COP is hugely affected by whether other countries think we are getting on with doing the job at home.

So what we need now is, above all, a practical plan to invest in the green industries of the future, put people back to work in good, green jobs across the country, and support workers and communities as we make the transition to a low-carbon and socially-just economy. This should focus on eliminating emissions from heating our homes and offices, and changing to zero emissions transport. With a plan like that, we can raise our domestic climate ambition with a significantly enhanced 2030 emissions reduction target and demonstrate real leadership as the host of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

On the natural world, we must stop its degradation and increase our efforts to restore habitats and ecosystems. When I was the Environment Secretary, I introduced the Marine and Coastal Access Act which led to the creation of the first marine conservation zones around the UK. This is one example of what can be done with shared effort and commitment.

Time is short and speed is now of the essence. So, we better get on with it.

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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