Government response to Committee on Climate Change 2019 progress report and Opposition plans to decarbonise energy system

On 15 October 2019, the Government published its official response to the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC’s) annual report on progress in reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions. The report, published in July, found that UK action to curb emissions was lagging behind what is needed to meet our legally-binding climate targets. Indeed, it found that since June 2018 the Government had delivered only 1 of 25 critical policies needed to get emissions reductions back on track.

In its response, the Government said it agreed with the CCC’s call for further, faster action, both to meet our existing targets and to get on track to delivering net zero emissions by 2050. It said its priority would be building on its Clean Growth Strategy to provide firm policy, ambitious implementation and a co-ordinated approach across all sectors.

I do not believe having only what the CCC describes as “a plan for a plan” is good enough at this stage. To have any hope of keeping global temperature rise to a manageable level we need immediate and radical action. This could include the sort of policies set out by independent energy industry experts as part of a fast-track plan to clean up the UK’s energy system: retrofitting 24 million homes to the highest energy standard feasible, installing eight million electric heat pumps, and building 7,000 offshore and 2,000 onshore wind turbines, alongside other measures, to produce 90% of electricity from renewable or low-carbon sources by 2030. Such measures would create new jobs, deliver great economic benefit and make the UK a pioneer in decarbonisation.

Back in 2013, I presented a Private Members Bill which would have decarbonised the UK energy market by 2030. It has now been six years since I warned of the climate emergency and I am pleased that finally politicians are starting to take notice. It also became Labour Party policy in 2015 and 2017.

You can watch my speech introducing my Bill here.

Higher air pollution linked to additional deaths

An interim report published this week by King’s College London (KCL) shows the risk of stroke and heart attack is increased on days with higher air pollution. Figures collected from nine cities in England show days of high air pollution trigger an extra 124 cardiac arrests, 231 stroke admissions and 193 hospitalisations for asthma each year.

The Chief Executive of NHS England responded: “it’s clear that the climate emergency is in fact also a health emergency”.

It is estimated that between 28,000 and 36,000 people die as a result of air pollution every year in the UK. The World Health Organization advises that meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement to combat climate change could save around a million lives a year worldwide by 2050 through reductions in air pollution alone.

The Government states that the Environment Bill will take action to address air quality. It will also set a legally-binding target for fine particulate matter, which is known to have both short- and long-term effects on a range of health conditions, including asthma and lung cancer.

However, I have concerns that the Government has a track record of missing environmental targets on air quality, with the High Court having previously ruled the Government’s air quality plans as unlawful.

I believe we need a Clean Air Act, a network of clean air zones and an ambitious clean transport strategy to tackle illegal air pollution as a priority. In addition to a strong Environment Bill, we need a comprehensive transport bill to deliver a transformation to a world-leading, clean transport economy.

The full report from KCL, Personalising the Health Impacts of Air Pollution, is due in November 2019.

UK is ‘net importer’ of carbon dioxide emissions

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK had become the biggest net importer of carbon dioxide emissions per capita in the G7 group. While UK emissions have decreased domestically for many years, the UK has created indirect emissions by outsourcing the manufacture of consumer goods to countries with lower environmental standards and labour costs such as China.

Whatever we do to try to protect the environment and solve the climate and ecological emergency, it is incredibly important that we do that on a global level. If we do not, we will never achieve the results that the planet needs.

I am further concerned that the Government is undermining action on reducing emissions at home by continuing to use UK export finance to support fossil fuels abroad. We must take action to ensure that UK aid does not support fossil fuel projects, divesting from fossil fuels as soon as possible.

I believe we must reclaim the UK’s leading role in tackling climate change, working hard to preserve the Paris Agreement and deliver on international commitments to reduce emissions, while mitigating the impacts of climate change on global South countries.

National Audit Office report on fracking in England

On Wednesday (23 October 2019), the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report on fracking for shale gas in England. It found that fracking is years behind schedule, despite the Government having spent £32.7 million supporting it since 2011.

The NAO further reports that fracking has placed financial pressures on local bodies, such as councils and police forces, which have had to manage protests and maintain security. The Lancashire, North Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire police forces, for example, have spent over £13 million in two-and-a-half years providing security at shale gas sites.

The report also notes that decommissioning arrangements for shale gas wells are unclear, with the Government unable to explain what would happen if operators and landowners were unable to meet the costs of dealing with fracking sites after they have been used.

Fracking is fiercely opposed locally and unpopular across the UK. Instead of continuing to waste millions supporting an industry that threatens air and water quality and contributes to the climate crisis, the Government should ban fracking immediately.

Note: fracking is not banned in Scotland, there is simply a moratorium which could be dropped at any point by the Scottish Government.

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