Wednesday 1 May 2019 / 2:00 PM Climate Change / Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn declares environment and climate emergency


Moving a motion in the House today, Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition declared an environment and climate emergency, said:

Today this House must declare an environment and climate emergency.

We have no time to waste.

We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now.

This is no longer about the distant future.

We are talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes.

Young people know this. They have the most to lose.

I was deeply moved a few weeks ago to see the streets outside this parliament filled with colour and noise by children on strike from school chanting “our planet, our future.”

For someone of my generation it was inspiring but also humbling that children felt they had to leave school to teach the adults a lesson.

The truth is they are ahead of the politicians on this – the most important issue of our times.

We are witnessing an unprecedented upsurge of climate activism with groups like Extinction Rebellion forcing the politicians in this building to listen.

For all the dismissive and defensive column inches the protests have provoked they are a massive and necessary wake up call.

Today we have the opportunity to say: “We hear you.”

I’ve been an MP for 36 years and in that time I’ve observed something about this place that is glaringly obvious but seldom acknowledged: parliament rarely leads change. It usually drags its feet.

Think about the huge transformations to our society: workers’ rights, women’s rights, gay rights. The impetus has always come from outside. From social movements and communities. While Westminster is often the last place to understand it.

Let’s not repeat that pattern. Let’s respond to the younger generation who are raising the alarm.

By becoming the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency we could set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe.

And surely if we lead by example, and others follow, that would be the best possible answer to the all-too-common excuse for inaction: “why should we act when others won’t?”

We are responsible for our own actions. We are not a small player. We can make a difference on the global stage.

Let’s work more closely with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe, especially those at the sharp edge. Like the Maldives – so vulnerable to rising sea levels. They told the UN climate talks last year: “we are not prepared to die” and implored countries to unite.

And Bangladesh, whose foreign minister recently warned of the “existential threat” posed by climate breakdown to the 160 million people of his country as he urged others to adhere to their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.

I attended the Paris conference in 2015 with the Honourable member for Brent North who I’d like to thank for his passionate commitment on this issue.

He, along with the whole Labour Party, strongly supports the UK’s bid to host the UN Climate Change Conference in 2020.

And let’s make clear to Donald Trump that he must re-engage with international climate agreements.

But we must be absolutely clear-eyed about the Paris Agreement. As significant as it is – it is not enough.

If every country meets its current pledges temperatures will still rise by three degrees this century.

At that point southern Europe, the horn of Africa, Central America and the Caribbean will be in permanent drought.

And major cities, like Miami and Rio de Janeiro will be lost to rising sea levels.

At four degrees, which is where we’re currently heading, agricultural systems will collapse.

This isn’t just climate change. It is a climate emergency.

We are already experiencing the effects around us.

Here at home our weather is becoming more extreme.

The Chief Executive of the Environment Agency recently warned that we’re looking into what he called the “jaws of death” and could run short of water within 25 years.

Yet at the same time flash flooding is becoming more frequent.

Anyone who has visited the scene of a flooded town or village knows the devastation that it brings to families.

That was vividly brought home to me when I visited Cockermouth after the 2015 floods along with the Honourable member for Workington, who is now doing such brilliant work as the Shadow Environment Secretary, and who first challenged the government to declare a climate emergency a month ago.

And around the world we’re seeing ice caps melting, coral reefs dissolving, droughts in Africa, hurricanes in the Americas and wildfires in Australia.

Cyclone Idai recently killed more than 900 people in south east Africa, largely in Mozambique, and affected 3 million more, only to be immediately followed by the current horrors of Cyclone Kenneth.

The heating up of our climate is contributing to the terrifying loss of animal and plant species – something we are only just recognising.

According to the WWF, humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970.

Earlier this year the first global scientific review of its kind found that insects could become extinct within a century unless action is taken.

Insects pollinate plants and keep the soil healthy.

Without pollination and healthy soil there is no food and without food there are no humans.

Meanwhile intensive farming is pumping the earth full of fertilisers and taking its toll on our soil.

A more sustainable farming system will actually lead in the longer run to better yields and less cost in pesticides, herbicides and fertiliser.

The Environment Secretary himself has warned that we only have 30 to 40 years left before our fertile soil is “eradicated”. I trust he will be voting for the motion today.

Mr Speaker, at its heart this environment and climate emergency is an issue of justice.

It’s those here and around the world who are least to blame for it who bear the highest cost.

A 2015 study found that children living in inner city areas can have their lung capacity reduced by up to 10% due to air pollution.

And of course it is even more extreme for those children growing up in the polluted cities in India or China.

Children shouldn’t have to pay with their health for our failure to clean up our toxic air.

And it is working class communities that suffer the worst effects of air pollution – who are least able to rebuild their lives after flooding and who will be hit hardest by rising food prices while the better off, who are responsible for most emissions, can pay their way out of trouble.

And internationally, in a cruel twist of fate, it is the Global South which is facing the greatest devastation at the hands of drought and extreme weather.

This fuels poverty and war and creates refugees as people are forced to flee their homes. Some of the 65 million refugees in the world right now are climate refugees.

Those people are paying the price for emissions that overwhelming come from the richer Global North.

As Sir David Attenborough recently said in his brilliant programme on the BBC:

“We now stand at a unique point in our planet’s history. One where we must all share responsibility. Both for our present wellbeing and for the future of life on Earth.”

That’s the magnitude of what we are talking about. The future of life on Earth.

It’s too late for tokenistic policies or gimmicks.

We have to do more than just ban plastic straws.

Individual action is not enough.

We need a collective response which empowers people instead of just shaming them if they don’t buy expensive recycled toilet paper or drive the newest Toyota Prius.

Mr Speaker, if we are to declare an emergency then it follows that radical and urgent action must be taken.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to avert the disastrous effects of warming greater than 1.5 degrees centigrade global emissions must fall by about 45 percent by 2030 and reach ‘net zero’ by 2050 at the absolute latest.

That’s not going to happen by itself.

So we are going to have to free ourselves from some of the harmful beliefs that have characterised our thinking for too long.

The hidden hand of the market is not going to save us.

Technological solutions are not going to magically appear out of nowhere.

An emergency of this magnitude requires large-scale government intervention to kickstart industries, to direct investment and to boost research and development in the green technologies of the future.

And that’s not a burden.

It is a chance to bring new manufacturing and engineering jobs to places that have never recovered from the destruction of our industries under Margaret Thatcher.

What we need is a Green Industrial Revolution with huge investment in new technologies and green industries.

Historically the industry that changed Britain was coal.

The miners who dug it out were the backbone of this country but were treated appallingly by the British establishment.

Coal powered the first industrial revolution but it was done on the backs of the working class and at the expense of our environment.

So the Green Industrial Revolution will be about unwinding both of those injustices. Harnessing manufacturing to avert climate breakdown while providing well-paid, high-skilled and secure jobs.

Imagine if the former coalfield areas of Derbyshire or Yorkshire became the new centres for the development of battery and energy storage.

Or if towns that used to make locomotives, like Swindon, became hubs for building the next generation of high-speed trains.

Or if shipbuilding areas like the Clyde were at the heart of making offshore wind turbines.

I want to thank the Honourable member for Salford and Eccles for her work on the Green Industrial Revolution and Labour’s plans to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in renewable energy.

The solution to the crisis is to re-programme our whole economy so that it works in the interests of both people and the planet.

That means publicly-owned energy and water companies with a mandate to protect the environment instead of just seeking profit.

It means redesigning public agricultural funding to benefit local businesses and sustainable farming that supports wildlife and plant life and not unnecessarily flying in basic produce from across the globe.

It means funding home insulation schemes, particularly in our poor quality private rented sector, and I pay tribute to the work done on retrofitting homes especially that of Salford University on its research into efficient conversion of back-to-back terraced houses into sustainable terraced homes.

It means investing in bus routes, cycling infrastructure and improved railway lines in public ownership so people can travel quickly and cheaply without cars.

It means investing in projects like the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and not prioritising fracking which rides roughshod over local communities and damages our climate.

It means planting trees to improve air quality and prevent flooding and it means expanding our beautiful forests that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and provide habitats for native wildlife.

The UK currently has some of the lowest forest cover in Europe. We must support and expand tree planting initiatives like those in Leicester or Milton Keynes.

It is actually very exciting to think about all the opportunities we have if we take them. But with funding to Natural England slashed in half we can see how austerity is hampering our ability to act.

Internationally, we must ensure our defence and diplomatic capacity is capable of responding quickly and effectively to climate disasters around the world.

We must take serious steps on debt relief and cancellation to deal with the injustice of countries trying to recover from climate crises they did not create while struggling to repay international debts.

And we must end UK aid support for fossil fuel projects in the Global South.

Mr Speaker, the last Labour government brought in some of the most ambitious legislation in the world with the 2008 Climate Change Act, thanks to the efforts of the Right Hon Member for Doncaster North, and others.

I remember his heroic work at the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 when the UK was given a prime seat in the negotiations as we had genuine credibility on the issue.

But since then we have fallen behind.

Conservative members opposite will boast that the UK is reducing its carbon emissions.

But I have to tell them it’s too slow.

At the current rate, we will not reach zero emissions until the end of the century. More than 50 years too late.

By that time our grandchildren will be fighting for survival on a dying planet.

The point Greta Thunberg made to me when I met her last week was: “listen to the science.”

The IPCC has said that “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” and that such action is urgent.

The science says this is an emergency.

But an emergency does not have to be a catastrophe. We could use it as an opportunity to rebuild our economy so that it works for the many, not the few.

This is not a time for despair. It is a time for action.

We can do this. Government can improve the lives of our people while defending our natural world. What we do in this country can have an impact around the globe.

So let’s embrace hope. The children in school get this. They get it right away. They grasp the threat to their own future. And in fact they want to be taught more about it as part of their curriculum.

Are we content to hand down a broken planet to our children? That is the question members must ask themselves today.

We have the chance to act before it’s too late. It’s a chance that won’t be available to succeeding generations. It is our historic duty to take it.

I urge members to vote for the motion.