Westminster Hall Debates: Net Zero Targets and Decarbonising Transport, Climate Justice and Waste Incineration Facilities
The House of Commons debated several topics related to climate change and the environment in Westminster Hall over the last fortnight.
On Tuesday 4 February, MPs considered decarbonising transport. Dealing with transport is critical to confronting the climate crisis. It is the most emitting sector of the UK economy and is responsible for more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. I believe the Government needs to provide the necessary resources and investment not only to encourage drivers to scrap polluting vehicles, but also to move our economy away from its car dependency, increase the use of public transport, and improve the uptake of walking and cycling.
Later on the same day, a Westminster Hall debate took place on climate justice. There will be no true solution to the climate emergency unless it is fair and equitable. I believe there are five ways we could make climate justice central to the COP26 UN climate conference later this year:
- Provide climate finance for adaptation, resilience and mitigation, targeted at those worst affected by climate change
- End UK investment, finance and aid funding for oil, gas and fossil fuels overseas
- As demand for renewable energy expands, ensure we do not allow large corporations to extract raw materials for products such as solar panels on the back of cheap labour and conflict
- Start to make amends for our role in historical emissions
- Take immediate action to cut our carbon emissions and set an example for other wealthy nations.
Finally, on Tuesday 11 February, MPs debated waste incineration facilities. Several Members highlighted what they described as “monster”, “giant” and “enormous” incinerators planned in their local areas. I believe we have to recognise the era of waste incinerators is over. While two decades ago, incinerators may have been an improvement on waste disposal practices, this cannot be true today when we are aiming for a zero-carbon economy. We must instead be climbing up the waste hierarchy, moving from waste disposal and recovery, to much greater recycling, re-use and reduction of the waste we create. It is important that the Government provides local councils with the resources for this.
Government Launches UK-Hosted UN Climate Summit
On Tuesday 4 February, the Prime Minister launched the UK’s presidency of the next UN climate summit (COP 26), due to take place in Glasgow in November. He called for international efforts to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and aimed to position the UK as a world leader on tackling the climate emergency.
However, as campaigners have highlighted, the Government needs to provide a plan for how the UK is going to reach net zero if we are to make a success of COP 26. Yet the Government has not yet set out clear plans for how it will reach the 2050 net zero target enshrined in law last year. In fact, as the independent Committee on Climate Change said in its most recent annual report, current policies are not enough to meet even our interim targets, which were set when the aim was to reduce emissions by only 80%.
I am also concerned at the seeming lack of progress in preparations for the UN climate conference. Clare O’Neill, the now ex-president of COP 26 said the Government was “miles off track” in setting a positive agenda for the summit and that it had shown a “huge lack of leadership and engagement”. Indeed, a new COP 26 president, Alok Sharma MP, the new Business Secretary, has only just been appointed, despite Ms O’Neill having been removed from the role at the end of last month. There have also been reports of increasing costs, chaotic preparations and plans to move the conference from Glasgow to London.
Hosting COP 26 should be a clear moment for the UK to step up the urgent work that needs to be done to avoid climate catastrophe and to deliver more ambitious global targets. We need action now to make sure the summit becomes the point when the world turns its back on the levels of pollution and emissions we are creating and go forward to a sustainable future.
UK Air Industry Sets Net Zero Target
On 4 February, members of the UK Sustainable Aviation coalition committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, launching Decarbonisation Road-Map: A Path to Net Zero. Members of the coalition include aerospace manufacturers, and most major airlines and airports in the UK.
Currently, UK aviation gross emissions account for 7% of total UK carbon emissions, with the UK responsible for 4% of global aviation CO2 emissions. Just 15% of flyers took 70% of the total flights in the UK, according to a 2014 survey.
The decarbonisation plan estimates that under a ‘do nothing’ scenario, carbon emissions from UK aviation would rise from around 37 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 in 2016 to around 71Mt in 2050.
The roadmap proposes to achieve net zero through what it describes as: carbon pricing impact on demand; better air traffic management and operating procedures; introduction of known and new, more efficient aircraft; sustainable aviation fuels; and effective market-based measures. “Market-based measures” include carbon pricing, offsetting and the development of “carbon removal solutions”.
Commenting on the expected 25.8Mt of CO2 expected to be tackled through offsetting in the roadmap, Greenpeace’s Executive Director stated: “Carbon offsetting is simply an excuse to carry on with business as usual while shifting the responsibility to cut emissions… It’s greenwash pure and simple and ministers should be wary of lending it any credibility.” The United Nations has advised that although it supports carbon offsets as “a tool for speeding up climate action… it is not a silver bullet.”
At the launch of the plan, the Transport Secretary stated: “Aviation has a crucial role to play in reducing carbon emissions, and with the help of new technologies, renewable fuels and our continued international co-operation through the UN agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, we’ll be able to strike that balance, creating a greener and cleaner future.”
Climate targets cannot be met without curbing pollution from air travel and I support the shift towards sustainable, pollution-free transport systems. We should be making it easier for people to travel between countries by rail, not encouraging flying by making rail travel more expensive and difficult.
I believe any expansion of airports must pass our tests on air quality, noise pollution, climate change obligations and countrywide benefits. We should examine fiscal and regulatory options to ensure a response to the climate crisis in a way that is fair to consumers and protects the economy.