The UK Government Just Got An 'F' On Climate Change. What Are They Going To Do About It?

The Committee on Climate Change report proves Westminster is not fit for purpose. To tackle our climate crisis, we have to tackle our political crisis, writes Green co-leader Jonathan Bartley
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The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is an advisor to parliament, set up by the then world-leading 2008 Climate Change Act.

It is independent, but treads, as such bodies do, a careful line of trying to be encouraging and supportive of government, rather than overly critical.

So the headline on its release on today’s report on progress on tackling our climate emergency and dealing with the effects of the climate crisis, is carefully neutral: “UK credibility on climate change rests on Government action over next 18 months”.

It sounds like a “pull your socks up” message. The contents, however, are damning. On action to cut emissions, the Committee concludes that one of 25 targets are being met.

On action to prepare for the climate change we are already experiencing and know is built into our future by past and continuing emissions, it is zero out of 33 sectors on track.

If this was a school report, it would be a ‘F’ mark. It would be “you’ve written your name on the exam paper, so we’ll give you one mark”.

One ray of hope might – might – be the fact that we are of course in the last days of the Theresa May government. We’re about to see a new broom, if not a new party, sweeping into Westminster.

But there was no cause for optimism for the Committee on Climate Change in last night’s debate between the two Tory contenders to be prime minister.

The word “climate” crossed the lips of neither. Nor did “mass extinction”, or “food security”, or “water shortages” – not any kind of environmental issue at all.

This is a great contrast, of course, to the image the UK cultivates on the world stage. We’ve just won the right to host the crucial 2020 COP global climate talks. We talk about being a global leader.

The CCC says we need to embed “net zero policies” across every area of government. There’s no great mystery about what this means. In terms of reversing plans, no Heathrow expansion, no new roadbuilding, no fracking, ending fossil fuel subsidies, ending the mindless ban on the cheapest form of electricity generation, onshore wind, which business is crying out for.

In terms of positive moves, that’s not hard either: mass support for home energy efficiency, for active transport (walking and cycling) and public transport (particularly local buses), backing for community-owned renewable energy, a new food strategy that acknowledges the need to end factory farming of animals.

And it isn’t as though there isn’t public support – demand even – for such actions. It’s there on the streets from Extinction Rebellion, from the passionate young climate strikers.

It’s there in the understanding that all of these measures, as well as tackling the climate emergency, will also make lives better, tackle some of the pressing health, social and inequality issues that have left our communities so politically restive.

Air pollution, excess winter deaths from cold homes, pressure on the NHS and damage to our wellbeing from obesity and diabetes – these measures can have huge social benefits, as well as the business opportunities for local builders and solar installers, money from energy going into communities for reinvestment rather than shipped off to multinational companies.

It is hard to see hope in the immediate future in Westminster, but there is hope in our local government, where well over 100 councils have declared a climate emergency, a figure growing almost by the day, with the pioneers now starting to really get to grips with action to deliver on the emergency.

Westminster is failing on the climate crisis, as it is failing on Brexit, and on schools and regional development, on the NHS and transport.

The Committee on Climate Change can point to where the policies are failing. What falls outside its remit is to point out that the failure is institutional, structural.

Westminster is not fit for purpose. To tackle our climate crisis, we have to tackle our political crisis. Which means stopping the Brexit chaos, stopping the disastrous project of severing us from our neighbours and close allies in the climate battle, and building democratic structures in Westminster, and around the country, so the people can take back control of their lives, their communities, and their climate.

That the Tory contenders last night didn’t mention climate is hardly surprising. They were talking solely to the Tory Party members, the tiny, hugely unrepresentative selectorate that will decade their fate with their ballot papers.

But the country is listening to the Committee on Climate Change. It is hearing its message. Westminster must be made fit to do the same.

Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party