The case for a net zero climate change target – Write to your MP

In my recent blog I urged people to write to their MPs and ask them in turn to write to Ed Miliband offering their support for his campaign (and sharing any response they get). If you are so inclined, here is a copy I drafted and sent:

Dear xxxx xxxx MP,

As one of your constituents, I am writing to ask you to add your support to Ed Miliband’s campaign to amend the 2015 Energy Bill to include a commitment to set a date by when the UK will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposed fifth carbon budget’s 57% cut in emissions by 2032 was laid out before Paris by the CCC and has yet to be legislated on. In a letter last week to energy and climate change secretary, Amber Rudd, the CCC said that: “…the pledged contributions by the EU and others have not yet changed. On that basis we repeat our recommendation that the fifth carbon budget be legislated at 1,765 MtCO2.” This is very disappointing as we’re failing to increase our ambition in light of the Paris climate deal. Whilst we could take aim at the CCC for the advice given, as some campaigners have done, the fact of the matter is they are working to legislation that is now, quite frankly, out of date.

Ed Miliband wrote in the Guardian last November, even before the Paris summit had begun, conveying what the science was already telling us; that we would need to go further with our emissions targets to achieve net-zero emissions at some point in the second half of this century. The Paris Agreement has subsequently quite rightly acknowledged the very same thing.  

The net-zero emissions goal is crucial and already many cities and companies are adopting this goal. As Ed Miliband pointed out: “…the right step now would be for Britain to become the first major country to enshrine net zero emissions in law, with the date determined by advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change.” He went on to say that that this “would show our determination to face up to this existential challenge. It will provide an essential framework for business and government so that we make the right decisions now on key energy and infrastructure issues. And it will inspire the inventors, engineers and businesses that can deliver on this challenge.”

From Ed Miliband’s conversations with people across the House of Commons, including the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Caroline Lucas of the Greens and Conservatives such as Nick Hurd and Graham Stuart (chair of Globe, the international parliamentarians group on climate change), it is clear there is cross-party support. Does that include you?

Mr Miliband finished with this: “Paris must be the start of a journey of the whole world towards this goal. And far from this commitment holding Britain back, we can be a leader again on climate change. Leadership which does not mean harm to our economy, but will put us ahead in the race for the new jobs, businesses and advantages of this new world. I hope the government will support this initiative. We can build an alliance, put aside our party differences as we have before, and seize this moment.”

The Industrial Revolution that began in the North West of England ultimately transformed society into the fossil fuel dependent society we have become. It is right therefore that we also led the world in taking action to reduce emissions by becoming the first country to legislate for deep, long-term cuts (The 2008 Climate Change Act) and it is essential that we continue this leadership and remain on track by introducing updated legislation and making the right decision about the period to 2032, which the government now faces.  

As I am sure you are aware, the Energy Bill is currently passing through parliament. This Bill is a public bill presented to Parliament by the Government and passed its second reading on 18 January 2016 without a vote. Ed Miliband spoke during the Energy Bill debate, making the case for putting zero emissions into UK law. The next stage is committee stage when MPs consider the Bill line by line.

The Public Bill Committee is to conclude by Tuesday 9 February 2016 but it may finish earlier. Can you please write to Ed Miliband and the members of the committee to offer your support for his campaign and efforts to include an amendment to the Energy Bill. I would also be grateful if you would provide me with a copy of your letter and any response you get.

Looking back again at the history of the the first Climate Change Act, shortly after the 2005 general election, 412 of the 646 Members of Parliament signed an early day motion calling for a Climate Change Bill to be introduced. Only three other early day motions had ever been signed by more than 400 MPs. On 8 June 2008, following the Second Reading of the Bill, only five members of the House of Commons voted against it. I think this can be done, we just need to build the political will. Please can you add your political support to this important change in legislation.

Thank you for taking the time to read my email.

Yours Sincerely,

Name

Full address including post code

Further Reading:

 

  • In January, a report was commissioned by Sandbag to explore why the UK, in the light of the Paris Agreement, could consider an additional ‘net zero emissions’ long-term goal.
  • Sandbag have also recently blogged about the inclusion of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) provisions, added to the Energy Bill in it’s initial passing through the Lords

 

 

The Infrastructure Bill – Letter to my Labour MP

I am writing to you as one of your constituents to express my concerns over the new Infrastructure Bill. This bill is so big and complex, and covers so many topics, that it makes a mockery of democracy. It epitomises the rising trend of legislation-stuffing: cramming so many unrelated issues into one bag that parliamentary votes become meaningless. MPs must either accept this great bundle of unrelated measures in its entirety or reject it in its entirety. This means laws can pass which no one in their right mind would have voted for. 

The three main elements of the bill that concern me most however are:

Roads

Air pollution is now the world’s chief killer. In 2012, it was the source of around 7 million premature deaths. In the UK, it has reached illegal highs and takes the lives of 29,000 people every year. A new report from the environmental audit committee dubs air pollution “a public health imperative”, and concludes that to save lives “urgent change is needed”.

But the infrastructure bill doesn’t mention anything about clean air targets. Instead, it emphasises big road investment to the tune of £15bn. This includes 1,300 miles in new traffic lanes. Road traffic is the primary contributor to air pollution in most parts of the UK. And new roads don’t cut congestion. Even government studies show that. They simply lead to more jams, exacerbate emissions and erode our countryside. Increasing major road capacity simply stimulates a further growth in traffic, which means that more road schemes are needed etc etc. In the long run, congestion returns and pollution is greater as total traffic volume increases. The main beneficiaries are road building companies.

Labour is outraged of course, but not from any climate or health concern – it simply sulked that the government was all talk, and chastised it for failing to invest sooner – not just for roads but for airport expansion too.

Recent Department for Transport figures showed that local sustainable transport schemes returned £5 for every £1 spent. Clearly therefore, our £15bn would be far better used repairing existing roads, improving footpaths and adding cycle paths and on initiatives to boost public transport, walking and cycling.

Oil & Gas

Worst still, among this bill’s outrageous and scarcely-debated provisions, slipped in by the government some time after parliamentary debates began, is a measure that undermines every claim it has made about preventing dangerous climate change. It is a legal obligation on current and future governments to help trash the world’s atmosphere.

The government already has a legal obligation to do the opposite. The Climate Change Act 2008, supported by all the major parties, commits successive governments to minimise the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Infrastructure Act 2015 will commit successive governments to maximise them. Needless to say, that’s not quite how it is expressed. The bill obliges governments to produce strategies for “maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum”: in other words for getting as much oil out of the ground as possible. Oil is extracted to be burnt; burning it releases greenhouse gases; maximising recovery means maximising greenhouse gases.

The Infrastructure Act, if passed – and so far it is scarcely being contested will be the Climate Change Act’s evil twin. Both acts oblige current and future governments to report at fixed periods on how they will achieve their contradictory objectives. The same person, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, will be responsible for both policies: ensuring that the UK both consumes less oil and produces more. 

But there could not be a greater contrast between the ways in which the two acts (or their relevant clauses) were developed. The Climate Change Act was the result of a massive campaigning effort, over many years, by citizens’ movements that mobilised public opinion and pressed MPs to act on it. The provisions in the infrastructure bill were slipped surreptitiously into the back of a legislative juggernaut that was already rolling down a six-lane motorway. In other words, the first act was an example of how democracy is supposed to work; the second is an example of how it gets corrupted.

Now, on the day that MPs sit down in committee to discuss this bill, the journal Nature publishes the most detailed scientific paper yet on how much fossil fuel should be left in the ground if we’re to have a chance of preventing more than 2C of global warmingTo deliver a 50% probability (which is not exactly reassuring) of no more than 2C of warming this century, the world would have to leave two-thirds of its fossil fuel reserves unexploited. As I’m sure you know, reserves are just a small fraction of resources (which means all the minerals in the Earth’s crust). The reserve is that proportion of a mineral resource which has been discovered, quantified and is viable to exploit in current conditions: in other words that’s good to go.

The Nature paper estimates that a third of the world’s oil reserves, half its gas reserves and 80% of its coal reserves must be left untouched to avert extremely dangerous levels of global warming. 2C is dangerous enough; at present we are on course for around 5C by the time the century ends, with no obvious end in sight beyond 2100. The only sensible response to such findings, which some have been advocating for years, is a global agreement to leave these unburnable fossil fuels in the ground. But it’s not just that no such agreement exists, no such agreement has ever been mooted.

Researching Don’t Even Think About It, George Marshall discovered that there has not been a single proposal, debate or even position paper on limiting fossil fuel production put forward during international climate negotiations. “From the very outset fossil fuel production lay outside the frame of the discussions and, as with other forms of socially constructed silence, the social norms among the negotiators and policy specialists kept it that way.”

While most states have not taken the astonishing, ecocidal step of making it a legal obligation, almost all are pursuing the same policy as the United Kingdom: maximising the production of fossil fuels. And almost all pay lip service to the idea of minimising greenhouse gas emissions. There is no attempt to resolve this contradiction, or even to acknowledge it.

George Mombiot was the first person to suggest in the media that the best means of addressing climate change is to leave fossil fuels in the ground, in a Guardian column in 2007. Since then, this solution has been championed by the indefatigable Bill McKibben, through his Do the Math tour and 350.org, and it has been picked up by many other organisations. But still politicians pretend not to hear. Even the current secretary of state for energy and climate change in the UK, Ed Davey, who is often fairly responsive, blocks his ears and sings loudly when the crashing contradictions in his role are mentioned.

Were the world’s governments to regulate the wellhead rather than just the tailpipe, logistically the task would be a thousand times easier. Instead of trying to change the behaviour of 7bn people, they would need to control just a few thousand corporations. These companies would buy permits to extract fossil fuels in a global auction. As a global cap on the amount of fossil fuel that could be burnt came into force, the price would rise, making low carbon technologies, such as wind, solar and nuclear, much better investments. The energy corporations would then have no choice but to start getting out of dirt and into clean technologies. The money from the auction could be used either to compensate poorer nations for not following us down the coal hole or to help them survive in a world in which some dangerous warming – but hopefully no more than 2C – will inevitably occur.

Fracking

This government’s on a shale crusade and the infrastructure bill paves the way for this whole new fossil fuel industry. The bill awards the fracking industry sweeping new powers to run pipelines under private land without the consent of owners. It’s opposed by 75% of us, but what does public opinion matter?

Meanwhile, the UK’s renewables industry struggles to get a word in edge ways. The bill rightly talks a lot about jobs creation – the Department of Energy and Climate Change predicts fracking could generate up to 32,000. But despite the government’s cuts, the renewables industry already supports more than 100,000 jobs and a nationwide energy efficiency programme could create an additional 108,000 jobs every year between 2020 and 2030. The UK has some of Europe’s least energy-efficient housing – energy efficiency should be our number one infrastructure priority. But the infrastructure bill doesn’t even mention it.

To be fair, the bill does give a nod to community energy ownership rights – a small step in the right direction. But we should be taking giant leaps. Fracking has a limited lifespan. 

Ed Miliband recently proclaimed tackling climate change as “the most important thing” he could do in politics. If that’s true he should oppose The Infrastructure Bill and oppose Fracking. We’d receive a far richer return on our billions, economically and in energy security by going all out for homegrown renewables and energy efficiency. This would create jobs, slash emissions and cut fuel bills.

The Infrastructure Bill

air pollution

As the Lima climate talks enter their second week, MPs gather for the second reading of the government’s Infrastructure Bill. This bill, as Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, points out is written in a way that will lull you into a stupor. But the contents of the infrastructure bill she says should snap you wide awake.

The main elements of the bill are:

Roads

Air pollution is now the world’s chief killer. In 2012, it was the source of around 7 million premature deaths. In the UK, it has reached illegal highs and takes the lives of 29,000 people every year. Today, a new report from the environmental audit committee (of which Caroline Lucas is a member) dubs air pollution “a public health imperative”, and concludes that to save lives “urgent change is needed”.

But the infrastructure bill doesn’t mention anything about clean air targets. Instead, it emphasises big road investment to the tune of £15bn. This includes 1,300 miles in new traffic lanes.

Road traffic is the primary contributor to air pollution in most parts of the UK. And new roads  don’t cut congestion. Even government studies show that. They simply lead to more jams, exacerbate emissions and erode our countryside. Increasing major road capacity simply stimulates a further growth in traffic, which means that more road schemes are needed etc etc. In the long run, congestion returns and pollution is greater as total traffic volume increases. The main beneficiaries are road building companies.

Labour is outraged. Not from any climate or health concern – it simply sulked that the government was all talk, and chastised it for failing to invest sooner – not just for roads but for airport expansion too.

Earlier this month, Department for Transport figures showed that local sustainable transport schemes returned £5 for every £1 spent. Clearly therefore, our £15bn would be far better used repairing existing roads, improving footpaths and adding cycle paths and on initiatives to boost public transport, walking and cycling.

Oil & Gas

This year, David Cameron dubbed climate change one of “the greatest threats” we faced. Just yesterday Ed Miliband proclaimed tackling climate change as “the most important thing” he could do in politics. But the infrastructure bill doesn’t mention climate change. Whilst the science is clear that to avoid catastrophic climate change about 80% of our existing fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground, this bill includes a new duty to maximize the recovery of oil and gas – just when we’re duty-bound to reduce it.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise as we know that the government’s on a shale crusade and the infrastructure bill paves the way for this whole new fossil fuel industry. The bill awards the fracking industry sweeping new powers to run pipelines under private land without the consent of owners. It’s opposed by 75% of us, but what does public opinion matter?

Meanwhile, the UK’s renewables industry struggles to get a word in edge ways. The bill rightly talks a lot about jobs creation – the Department of Energy and Climate Change predicts fracking could generate up to 32,000. But despite the government’s cuts, the renewables industry already supports more than 100,000 jobs and a nationwide energy efficiency programme could create an additional 108,000 jobs every year between 2020 and 2030.

To be fair, the bill does give a nod to community energy ownership rights – a small step in the right direction. But we should be taking giant leaps. Fracking has a limited lifespan. We’d receive a far richer return on our billions, economically and in energy security by going all out for homegrown renewables and engergy efficiency. This would create jobs, slash emissions and cut fuel bills.

The UK has some of Europe’s least energy-efficient housing – energy efficiency should be our number one infrastructure priority. But the infrastructure bill doesn’t even mention it.

Public sector land assets

The proposed bill will also in some cases end the rights of councils in granting or denying planning consent.

The bill would permit the transfer of up to 90% of brown field sites (previously developed sites that have become vacant) to the Homes and Communities Agency (a new quango) where Eric Pickles (and his successors) and just 2 inspectors will control planning decisions.

From the government’s perspective, it’s all about speeding up planning decisions and avoiding the delay caused by local ownership of the decision making process. Is this because the landed classes would rather new things be built on our land than theirs? The fact that The Queen is exempt from the Bill despite being the largest landowner in the world, surely confirms this.

This government promised localism, but is delivering a further shift of power from local to central government.