Environment and Climate Change Debate


It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), with whom I share a role in my membership of the all-party parliamentary climate change group. That is very much cross-party.

I share some of the right hon. Gentleman’s frustration. I have been an environmental campaigner all my life—Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace. I used to be anti-nuclear, actually, although I am not anymore because it is low carbon. I vowed that if I ever came to Westminster, I would get involved in this agenda. Guess what? I have, and we are doing things. I am deeply frustrated about some of the misinformation peddled about the supposed lack of things we are doing.

There have been many good achievements, as the Secretary of State said, although that is not to say that there is not more to do. We have cut gas emissions by 25% and are phasing out coal-fired power stations. We have a renewables agenda and all the jobs. That is good work, but without a shadow of a doubt the degradation of the planet and the situation with climate change is very severe. We need to do more and quicker—I am not going to argue about that.

As I have said in this Chamber before, this issue is definitely bigger than Brexit. I reiterate the calls being made today for net zero emissions. I raised that in a question to the Prime Minister last week. I mean it, and I believe that our Government will absolutely mean business when we hear the advice of the Committee on Climate Change tomorrow.

All the Taunton Deane people I have met—Taunton Green Parents, the Extinction Rebellion people whom I met up here and all sorts of religious people of every shape and form—have asked me to put the environment at the top of the agenda. People care.

However, to really radically cut emissions and realistically hit the 2030 target, there has to be some really big thinking. As other Members have said, we are capable of sorting this out. It will require more of the right policies; we have good policies, but we need more of them. It will require driving societal change and investment into the right infrastructure and science, with vision, targets, market mechanisms and regulation that we check regularly to make sure it is all working. The overarching umbrella has to be sustainability. If we put sustainability over every single thing we do so that every Department comes under it, we cannot go wrong. Without sustainable soil, water, air and biodiversity, we simply cannot live. We can live for a short while, for one election period, but we cannot keep going. It is absolutely essential.

We need to line up our policies perhaps more cleverly than we are doing right now. One small example is the clean growth strategy, which I applaud. It needs to align ​itself much better with the prosperity fund. There is a bit of a conflict between the drive for ever more growth and productivity. We need to get sustainability in such initiatives as the prosperity fund.

I honestly think that every single person out there can share this with us. I genuinely think it is really exciting that we need to change society to solve this crisis. As the right hon. Member for Doncaster North said, it might be a bit uncomfortable but I think there will be great benefits. We will be healthier, because we will be cycling and walking, providing we put in the right framework for cycle lanes and walkways. We could have vehicle-free streets. How lovely would Taunton look if we did that? We could have prettier towns and not be breathing in fumes.

Only yesterday, I went to a superb event on cycling here, hosted by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), where that exact point was made. We need to take up many of that event’s recommendations. I agree that communities and local government are key, because they drive our developments and our homes. We need more eco-friendly, energy-efficient homes releasing less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with much more energy-efficient heating systems. I had a 10-minute rule Bill not very long ago which called for better consultation in this area and to embrace technologies. We have to ask ourselves how we are going to do all this. We have the clean growth strategy. As I said earlier, science and technology will play a really important role, but we need to put more capital in and we need a plan for raising capital to invest in the future technologies that we need to introduce at pace.

On the wider environment, we have such an opportunity to change our land use: the way we use our land and the demands we make on it; the natural capital impact approach; paying for public services and goods, so we plant more trees and have better soil management that holds and captures carbon, and helps to control flooding. All of those issues are important and we have the opportunity, if we can get it right, with the 25-year plan, the Agriculture Bill and the forthcoming environment Bill. This is a very exciting opportunity, but we have to get it right.

On transport, I am the chairman of the all-party group on electric and automated vehicles. This will be a big, growing and important agenda. I think the Committee on Climate Change will set us even stricter targets on getting rid of diesel and petrol cars, so we have to get the infrastructure in place right now. We have to get the ​issue of storage sorted out, because it will be so important going forward. I have not mentioned carbon capture, but it could be a really big part of this agenda if we invest in it correctly.

I honestly believe that this could be the new green revolution and I am pleased to be a part of it. We should all be a part of it. I know we will and I look forward to the announcement from the Committee on Climate Change.