Sometimes there is a sense of threads coming together, and a moment in time when everything could change. We are at such a moment.
We need to redesign our economy and society in the wake of Covid-19: to address the inequalities and unsustainable practices which have left us vulnerable to pandemics, to use the moment to turn away from the path towards climate chaos and biodiversity extinction, and to create a society where people’s wellbeing and the health of our environment is valued ahead of crass, blunt measures like GDP growth.
If we are to succeed, everyone must be involved. While government needs to set an ambitious policy framework, this is not something that can be done to people – it must be done with them.
And that’s why the report of the Climate Assembly is so important: it’s a reflection of what people from across our country – representing all communities, ages and backgrounds, who have been presented with and debated the evidence in a clear, dispassionate way – want to see. This is how democracy should operate.
It seems an age ago that the 108 Assembly members gathered in Birmingham for their first session in January. I was there to see it, and really encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment to the task in front of them.
I don’t know how much the coronavirus crisis, which forced later sessions online, has influenced their final report. But it’s striking that Assembly members highlighted the values of fairness and the protection of nature as key principles for the path to net zero, along with more widespread information and education, and leadership from the government that is clear, proactive, accountable and consistent (in other words, the opposite of this government’s performance over Covid).
In fairness, they talked about protecting the most vulnerable so that no-one is left behind because of their job, their income or where they live in the UK. In terms of nature, they want to protect and restore our natural environment, and our access to it. These are exactly the principles which underline the Green New Deal Bill, which I introduced in Parliament a year ago.
The Assembly came up with some brilliant suggestions, such as free bus travel, a frequent flier levy (both Green Party policies) and advertising bans on high-emission products. They backed a change in diet to reduce meat and dairy consumption, and better land use, including steps to restore woodlands, peatlands and gorse land.
They also wanted cross-party consensus and political parties to work together – exactly the kind of collaboration I’ve seen with cross-party support for the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill, which I introduced in Parliament earlier this month. Six other parties at Westminster have co-sponsored the Bill, which brings the Climate Change Act up to date, patches the holes in it and treats the climate crisis with the urgency needed.
The CEE Bill focuses on the Paris Agreement’s aim to limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5C, and includes the restoration of nature and the protection of soils that are vital for food production but also for carbon storage. And it includes a citizens’ assembly to work with Parliament.
The CEE Bill was drawn up by some of the UK’s leading climate scientists who believe the current goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is far too late to avoid climate chaos. I agree with them, and so did many Assembly members.
Ministers have a lot of catching up to do to match what the public wants to see in terms of action on climate and nature, and with the UK due to host the UN climate summit next year, the countdown is on for the government to start showing the ‘climate leadership’ that Boris Johnson constantly boasts of, but fails to deliver.