There has been a fair amount of social media activity recently regarding the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill – which would attempt to enshrine UK obligations on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees and protecting biodiversity, amongst other aims. I’ve had quite a lot of emails from constituents too.
I absolutely support the intent behind this Bill, as a means of drawing attention to the dual climate and ecological emergencies. It is only right though, to be straight with people: this Bill is not going to become law, and that’s why I believe it’s better to focus on other parliamentary means by which we can try to achieve the same goals. It is not a case of supporting or not supporting the Bill (although as a frontbencher I don’t get to sponsor backbench bills) – it is about being honest with constituents, which is, I hope, what you would want.
The CEE Bill is what is known as a Presentation Bill. It is not listed for a hearing until 12th March 2021. It is currently ninth on the list of Bills on the Order Paper that day, which means we will not get to debate it, nor vote on it – it is rare to get onto even the third Bill on a sitting Friday in the 5 hours we have for debate, especially given that filibustering is allowed (and often encouraged by the Government whips).
One caveat to the above is that the CEE Bill could proceed to Committee Stage without a debate on the 12th March, if no-one shouts ‘object’ when the Bill title is read out at the close of proceedings at 2.30pm. This would usually be the Government whip, or one of the usual suspects on the Tory backbenches. Speaking of whom…
Not one, but five of the Bills listed ahead of the CEE Bill on the Order Paper for March 12th are tabled by the notorious Tory MP, Christopher Chope, who has made it his mission to wreck Friday sittings. His five Bills includes one that appears to be mocking climate anxiety experienced by young people: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/tory-climate-change-environment-chope_uk_5e419bf2c5b6bb0ffc1695e6
This is both offensive and a waste of Parliamentary time, which only serves to deny MPs the opportunity to debate meaningful legislation. I have long called for reform of Friday sittings, but as it stands, the CEE Bill will be lost in this ridiculous and arcane process – so there is simply no point in pinning one’s hopes to it. You could argue that the Government could adopt the Bill now, and give it parliamentary time – but I think we need to be realistic about the chances of that happening.
Fortunately, there are other – more immediate and effective – means of addressing the climate and ecological emergencies through parliamentary action.
The Government’s Environment Bill will return to the Commons in the coming weeks. It’s crucial to ensuring environmental protections are not weakened after the end of the Brexit transition period, and I’ve tabled amendments, working with WWF and Global Witness, calling for due diligence in UK supply chains, so that UK companies are not, directly or indirectly, complicit in deforestation.
The Agriculture Bill is soon to be back in the Commons after the Lords defeated the Government by 95 votes on a ‘non-regression’ clause saying there should be no drop in food or welfare standards in future trade deals. The Government will now seek to overturn this in the Commons, and it’s really important that we rally public opinion and try to persuade as many Tory MPs as possible to vote with Labour.
We also have opportunities to push for a green economic recovery package from the Chancellor and for action under the Climate Change Act of 2019 (which strengthened the 2050 ambition from cutting emissions by 80% to reaching net zero by that date), including scrutinising progress against carbon budgets. I’ve been focusing in my shadow ministerial role on the decarbonisation of transport, including bringing forward the phasing out of diesel and petrol vehicles to 2030 from the Government’s current end date of 2040.
Labour has managed to persuade the Government to commit to ending support from UK Export Finance for fossil-fuel projects overseas, and we are pressing them to come good on the promise to include international aviation and shipping emissions in the net zero target. And of course, there are the preparations for next year’s COP26 UN climate summit, and the need for the UK to demonstrate global leadership on our climate ambitions. I am setting up an All-Party Group on Small Island Developing States, specifically to ensure that their interests and the impact of climate change on their islands are very much on next year’s COP agenda.
I know that some people do not accept the idea of trying to achieve incremental change; they tell me that the crisis requires something more immediate, more urgent. But the fact is that even if the CEE were to become law, then there would still be a need to introduce legislation and policies to get us towards the end goal. Bearing in mind the time it takes to get a Bill through the Commons and the Lords, and with the need to establish another Climate Assembly* too, it would be 2022 before any action resulted from the Act. I would rather get on with things now!
* There has just been a report from the UK Climate Assembly established by six Select Committees – https://www.climateassembly.uk/ – which was introduced in the Commons by my Labour colleague and neighbour Darren Jones, in his role as chair of the BEIS committee, which leads on scrutinising the Government on climate change issues.
To conclude, I believe no challenge is more urgent than climate change, but – with time running out – we must now focus on the most practical and immediate means to address the climate crisis rather than focusing our efforts on bills that are unlikely to ever become law, and that is what I will continue to do.