David Cameron hasn't spoken about climate change for three years. Time is running out

It’s time the Prime Minister broke his silence and did something before it’s too late, writes Luciana Berger MP.

Climate change has not always commanded the attention it deserves, particularly in recent years. Two events this week have reminded us why we cannot afford to forget about it.

On Tuesday President Obama called for national and international action to tackle global warming.

Less than 24 hours after he finished speaking, the independent Committee on Climate Change warned [pdf] that the UK is not on track to meet its carbon reduction targets.

Their report highlights the grave threats but also the outstanding opportunities that combating climate change presents us with.

The case to act is both clear and compelling.

Our climate is changing. The causes are man-made. And we are already feeling the effects.

This shouldn’t be a matter of debate. The scientific consensus is overwhelming and includes 97 per cent of 4,000 academic studies carried out over the last 20 years.

As the President said himself on Tuesday, we don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.

He has listed Republican politicians who publicly deny climate change on his website. Judging by the noises that have been coming out of the Conservative Party over the past few weeks, we have enough material to start our own version here.

First the Energy Minister, Michael Fallon, dismissed climate change as “theology”.

Then Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, denied that the climate has changed – despite the twelve warmest years ever recorded all coming in the last fifteen. He added that any action to combat climate change may do more harm than good.

Elsewhere, Michael Gove is planning to airbrush climate change from the geography curriculum for key stage 3 students. And on the Tory backbenches, their ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’ includes a bill to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change altogether.

Taken in isolation and any one of these examples would be cause for concern. Together, they paint a deeply disturbing picture.

What is even more alarming than what Tory ministers are saying, is what David Cameron is not saying.

At a time when world leaders such as Obama and President Hollande of France are speaking up about why we desperately need to seize this moment, our Prime Minister has apparently lost his voice when it comes to talking about climate change.

Remarkably, David Cameron hasn’t made a single speech on climate change in the three years since he became Prime Minister.

This is the same David Cameron who hugged huskies; said “Vote Blue, Go Green”; promised that his would be “the greenest government ever.”

But when you look at this Government’s appalling green record, it’s understandable why he is keeping quiet.

Our greenhouse gas emissions are going up rather than down: the UK’s carbon output jumped by 18 million tonnes in 2012 – more than any other country in Europe.

Investment in clean energy has plummeted to a seven-year low.

Less people are insulating their homes and the Green Deal, the Government’s flagship energy efficiency programme, isn’t working.

Now the government’s own independent advisors have warned that the UK has fallen behind on meeting our carbon reduction commitments.

It shows what a complete folly it was for the Government to ignore the Committee for Climate Change’s recommendation to set a decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill currently progressing through Parliament. Pledging to clean up our power supply by 2030 would provide a shot in the arm for our flat-lining economy and give the certainty to investors which they are crying out for.

The combination of anti-green rhetoric and inaction also weakens our hand when negotiating with other nations for a new global climate change agreement.

We are approaching the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

We need to take every opportunity to build support for an international climate treaty before then and the UK should be at the forefront of that effort.

Regrettably, the Prime Minister decided to omit climate change from the official agenda for the G8 leaders meeting in Northern Ireland. When I asked him about this last week, he said he didn’t see the point of having “a long conversation about climate change.”

Climate change isn’t something that we can wait to talk about next week, next month or next year. Only a few weeks ago the concentration of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere passed through the landmark threshold of 400 parts per million.

We have to act now. If we do there is a chance we can avoid a rise in global temperatures of above 2C – the level that scientists have deemed to be dangerous.

With the right strategy, commitment and ingenuity, we can create a new green economy in the UK and unlock massive job opportunities in the process.

Delay or hesitate and we risk being left behind by other countries more willing to face the future and catastrophic consequences for future generations.

It’s time the Prime Minister broke his silence and did something before it’s too late.

Photograph: Getty Images/Alex Hern

Luciana Berger is the Labour and Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree and Shadow Minister for Energy & Climate Change.

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Has Brexit burst the British housing bubble?

The fall in value of the pound is having a negative impact on property prices.

The high cost of housing in the UK has almost nothing to do with supply and demand. What matters is political control. Rents are high because landlords have gained the upper hand politically. The consequences are vividly illustrated in Ken Loach’s new film focusing on inequality in Britain, I’ Daniel Blake.  As a student in the 1980s I paid £9 a week to rent a room in a shared house in Newcastle upon Tyne. Private rent was low because for decades before then rents had been regulated. It was the lifting of that regulation that meant rents could rise so that now students have to borrow vast sums of money just to have a place to live. Today’s students pay many multiples more in rent than I ever did, and millions of families with children are also struggling because they have to rent privately.

Because rents have been allowed to rise as high as landlords can get away with, the landlords have been encouraged to buy up more and more properties that were once social housing or lived in by a family, who had bought the property with a mortgage. The number of people renting privately doubled between the last two censuses of 2001 and 2011. That has never happened before. It was the end result of years of deregulation and the withdrawal of our government from representing our interests in housing. Well-regulated private renting is a benefit, but without rent regulation it becomes a social evil.

Housing prices are not determined by supply and demand because you do not have a choice about needing to be housed. Allow an unregulated market to develop when social housing is also being cut and there is no choice not to buy what is on offer, other than sleeping on the streets. Prices will go sky-high. The purchase prices for mortgage borrowers also rise to astronomical levels as first-time buyers are competing with landlords to buy properties, and so have to be able to secure a mortgage equal to the amount a landlords can wring out of people desperate for a home.

In the first blog in this series on affordable housing published by Taxpayers Against Poverty, Stephen Hill, director of C2O Futureplanners, explained: “There are over one million less affordable homes than there were in 1980. The population has grown by nearly nine million people. Incomes at the median level are flat, and secure employment is increasingly scarce.” He is correct, but the situation is even worse than that — it is not lack of housing that is the problem. Each annual census in the UK records the amount of housing that exists at each point in time. It does this by recording the number of rooms in homes over a certain size. The number of rooms per person has risen at every census since 1981.

The 2011 census was the first to count bedrooms and found that in England and Wales there were 66 million for a population of 55 million (21 million of whom were married or in a civil partnership). So even if we make the ludicrous assumption that only married people share a bed and no children use bunk-beds, there were at least 22 million bedrooms empty on census night 2011. We have not been building a huge number of new houses or flats in recent years, but we have been adding extensions on to our existing homes and so we now have more housing than we have ever had before, per person and per family. We just share it out more unfairly than we have ever done before.

If housing prices were about supply and demand then our surplus of bedrooms would result in falling prices, but this is not a free market. You are not free to buy a flat that has been left empty in London to appreciate in value by its owner. They do not want to sell, or sometimes even rent it out, and you almost certainly would not have the money even if they did.

It is in the housing market that the majority of investments are made in the UK, housing is where most wealth is held. As we become more and more economically unequal it is through housing that we most clearly see that most of us are losers while just a few (who own multiple properties) are winners. Recent UK governments have been allowing wealth and income inequalities to rise and rise.

As Fred Harrison explained in the second blog in this series, government has not only withdrawn from regulating housing rents and profits to avoid this winner-takes-all-economics — it is now even prepared to provide £2bn to buy properties that home builders can’t sell so that they don’t need to lower prices even if landlords and first-time buyers will not buy their properties. The government sees renting-seeking as a social good, and believes that the market in housing should be regulated less and less with each year that passes, other than intervening to keep prices high and rising. Meanwhile, street homelessness rises, evictions rise, the debt of mortgage holders rises, housing prices rise and a small minority of the population become richer. So how will it end?

You might have thought that prices would stop rising when landlords stopped buying properties because the return on their investments in terms of rent would not making it worth their while paying, say, one million pounds for a three-bed house in a part of London near a tube station. Suppose that the most a family could pay was £20,000 a year in rent. The landlord’s “return” on their investment would only be two per cent a year, ignoring wear-and tear and anything else that they might be able to off-set against paying tax. If the forces that were actually at play were “supply and demand” then surely prices have to stop rising when people can no longer afford the rents?

However, landlords have another return: the escalating value of the property itself. If the property is rising by five per cent a year in value then they are making a seven per cent return when they rent it out, even if annual rents are just two per cent of its value. The rise of five per cent a year is due to speculation which is itself partly fed by a belief that the government of the day will do all it can to protect their investments, but it will only do that up to a certain point.

Because it needs to raise taxes a little given the state of the national finances, the UK government is now withdrawing its support of reckless profit taking by smaller landlords. In October 2016 a group of buy-to-let landlords lost their appeal in the courts to try to continue to be able to claim their mortgage interest payments as a business expense. From 2017 only the largest of landlords who set up companies to rent out their properties will be able to continue to do that.

The government knows that the housing market is in trouble. That is why Philip Hammond, the current Chancellor, announced that their “Help to Buy” scheme (which was aimed at the very best-off of potential first time buyers) will end in December 2016. The government knows that with the risk of falling house prices in future it cannot afford the guarantees that “Help to Buy” created. “Help to Buy” schemes were the previous Chancellor, George Osborne’s biggest spending commitment. They were designed to help inflate the housing market and keep prices rising, but eventually every speculative bubble has to burst.

On 21 September the first reports of a stalling market were released under headlines that included: “Q2 UK house sales at an all-time quarterly low says Land Registry”. UK Land Registry figures now show housing prices to have fallen in London by 7% so far in 2016, with the number of sales roughly halving. Investors have stopped buying; if a recent investor wants to sell they have to do so at a loss. Nationally prices fell by 4.5%.

So what happened to the magic-money-tree? In short the pound fell in value and it has been continuing to fall ever since the UK voted to leave the EU. There was always going to be “the event” that triggered the end of speculation and it is looking more and more likely as if Brexit was that event. Once the pound begins to fall in value then any overseas investor knows that if they buy property in the UK, even if its value in pounds does not fall, it will be worth less to them in future.

Suddenly UK housing is not a safe asset. Suddenly prospective landlords actually have to try to rely on their tenants’ rent to pay back their borrowings. Suddenly housing prices change despite no great alteration in supply or demand. Suddenly the whole edifice looks unsafe, not just for the majority of young and almost all poor people in Britain, but for the large majority of the population.

It was never “supply and demand” that determined our housing costs and profits. Relying on that belief did not result in greatly improved cheaper housing for most people, but it was easy to claim that somehow tomorrow would be better if we just left it to the market — until we left it to the ever more unregulated market for too long. Housing costs, prices and supply are determined by governments, including those that shirk their responsibilities and have too much concern for the economic fortunes of the affluent few.


This is part of a series of blogs on affordable housing published by Taxpayers Against Poverty. You can read others in the series on their website http://taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk/ or sign up to attend their seminar in Parliament on the 16th November here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/taxpayers-against-poverty-affordable-housing-seminar-tickets-28329123170