As I write, Theresa May has just announced she will resign as Prime Minister. Perhaps by the time you will read this that will be old news. History may look back on May solely through the prism of her bad Brexit Deal which alienated Leavers and Remainers alike. However, amid all this drama, I’m afraid May failed to act on other urgent issues, like climate change. Like successive leaders before her, there was always something else to do. Judging by my inbox, many of you, especially our younger residents, simply don’t think that’s good enough.
Climate change won’t wait until we get round to it. We know the science, we see the evidence all around us -the world is getting warmer and if we don’t take dramatic action to reduce carbon levels, the consequences will be catastrophic.
Whatever you think of the methods of Extinction Rebellion -a grassroots movement of young people who shut down Waterloo Bridge and other landmarks over Easter- they deserve credit because they have forced climate change up the agenda. They’ve made Parliament talk about it again. Fair play. On the back of their demands, the Labour Party hosted a debate calling for the UK to become the first country to declare a Climate Emergency. It received cross party support.
The UK should lead the global fight against climate change by cutting greenhouse gases to nearly zero by 2050, according to the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC). This is ambitious but imperative. So far, the UK has decarbonised faster than any other country, but the reality is it’s still isn’t enough. We’re nowhere near meeting the 4th carbon budget set by the CCC. Targets and budgets are meaningless if we don’t make a serious effort to achieve them.
Greta Thurnberg, the Swedish teenager who kicked off the Extinction Rebellion with a schools walk out, came to parliament to make her pitch. In her speech to MPs, she told us two main things: 1) that the UK has the biggest carbon debt, as the first major industrialised economy, and 2) once you factor in shipping, aviation, and the carbon cost of manufactured goods made overseas and imported into the UK, things look far less good. Why are right wing journalists so threatened by a 16 year old saying these things? They’re all fair. And, as a parent of a 16 year old with autism myself, I find her plain spoken advocacy, and the success of it, frankly inspiring. A child has spoken and the world is now listening.
There are some immensely difficult questions in this debate. For instance, the UK has the most energy efficient ceramics industry in the world, but it’s still carbon intensive. We need to be honest about the challenges. But let’s start by saying we need to do more. Beating the climate emergency requires directing billions of pounds of mainly private investment into low carbon technology. That requires certainty. Yet since 2010, we’ve had the opposite. Zero carbon homes were cancelled by the government (they’ve just been re-announced), the ECO home insulation programme was announced by the government yet lasted less than a year, the Green Investment Bank was created by Cameron but has already been privatised. The sector won’t flourish when the building blocks keep changing.
Where certainty has existed, such as in offshore wind deployment, progress has been vast and hugely impressive. If you download the UK Energy app you can monitor UK electricity production in real-time. That’s pretty cool. We should all support and encourage this tech.
Some people say we shouldn’t build any more houses to fight climate change. This is unrealistic and will only make meeting the challenge harder. We simply have to find a way to make house building more sustainable. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework isn’t perfect but it does suggest ways in which we can address the housing crisis whilst also supporting Mayor Andy Burnham’s goal to make GM carbon neutral by 2038.
The big challenges are in transport and heating. We’ll all have to give up our petrol cars and gas boilers eventually. This can’t happen without government action. They have to lead and make decisions, but ultimately the benefits will speak for themselves – better air in cities, improved public transport, lower energy bills through more efficient housing, etc.
So what can each of us do now? Fly less, drive less, eat less meat, reduce our plastic use. Plastic cotton buds, straws and stirrers are to be banned next year- let’s get on board with the bamboo and paper alternatives now and support #PlasticFreeGM. Addressing the climate change emergency needs leadership but it also needs good citizenship. Let’s all be those good citizens.