MPs to debate UK’s climate change measures

With UK temperatures reaching over 20 degrees and wildfires raging, February is the hottest winter month on record. Lib Dem MP Layla Moran and Green MP Caroline Lucas have secured a debate in the House of Commons to question the government on its progress to net zero carbon emissions.

350.org climate activists outside Parliament
350.org climate activists outside Parliament

Image: Green Party

Activists from 350.org protest outside Parliament

Kate Dickinson

MPs will today discuss the UK’s progress towards carbon neutrality in the first House of Commons debate relating to climate change for two years.

The Parliamentary debate was secured by Green MP Caroline Lucas and Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, who explained in the application: “Climate change continues to be one of the biggest pressing issues, not just for the UK but globally. I was struck when I was first elected by how little time it seems to be given generally on the Floor of the House. I noticed that last year there were three debates, only one of which was in the main Chamber; the other two were in Westminster Hall. Given how important this issue is, I personally found that very disappointing.”

The House of Commons will debate the UK’s progress towards net zero carbon emissions – the total emissions being equal to or less than the emissions removed from the environment. This can be achieved both through lowering emissions and through balancing unavoidable emissions via carbon offsetting techniques, such as tree planting.

The 2008 Climate Change Act binds the UK into reducing its carbon emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050, from 1990 baselines. The government pledged to achieve net zero by 2050 when it joined the global Carbon Neutrality Coalition in November 2018, although this goal is not a binding target like the Climate Change Act. However, the UK may yet commit to an official net zero target date.

More than 180 cross-party MPs signed a letter to the Prime Minister last year calling for the government to formally enshrine the net zero 2050 target into law, in order to keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees celsius – a limit that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated must be adhered to to avoid devasting damage on a global scale. The IPCC’s report claimed that we have only 12 years to get global warming under control before the damage will be irreversible.

In October 2018, the government announced that it would mandate the Committee on Climate Change to map out how the Climate Change Act could be amended to be compliant with the recommendations of the IPCC’s report on 1.5 degrees warming.

Britain is hotter than Bermuda and temperatures in the Arctic are 28 degrees higher than normal. This is a climate emergency.

On the debate today, Moran and Lucas were inspired in part by the school climate strikes that took place on 15 February, where students walked out of school in protest against the government’s failure to act on reducing carbon emissions. Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: “Schoolchildren are striking, law-abiding members of the public are rebelling and extreme weather keeps on occurring in the UK and across the globe. MPs must respond to the mounting scientific evidence and growing public concern about climate change, by taking radical and urgent action to decarbonise our entire economy. This means phasing out fossil fuels and scaling up renewables – that are already providing millions of homes with clean energy in the UK”.  

This week has seen the hottest temperatures ever recorded in winter in the UK, with Ceredigion in Wales recorded 20.3 degrees celsius on Monday (25 February), the first time temperatures have ever topped 20 degrees in the UK in February. The record was broken again on Tuesday (26 February) as Kew Gardens in London reported a temperature of 21.2 degrees.

Wildfires have broken out across parts of the UK, with Saddleworth Moor in West Yorkshire suffering under a blaze that stretched for around 1.5 square kilometres. The fire, described by West Yorkshire FIre and Rescue as "one of the biggest moorland fires we've ever had to deal with", was put out by Wednesday morning but devastated the natural environment. Fires also broke out in Edinburgh and in West Sussex, all blamed on the unseasonally hot weather experienced this week, which dried the land out.

Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, called for a Green New Deal to invest in clean jobs and infrastructure. She commented: “It’s February, and wildfires are raging across the UK. Britain is hotter than Bermuda and temperatures in the Arctic are 28 degrees higher than normal. This is a climate emergency.

“It’s unacceptable that it’s been two years since the biggest threat humanity faces was debated in the Commons chamber. In those two years ministers have poured billions into fossil fuel subsidies, given the green light for fracking and paved the way for airport expansion. MPs should use this rare debate to pressure the government into transforming our economy with a Green New Deal to create thousands of decent jobs and secure our futures.”

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