At December’s Paris summit, for the first time ever leaders from nearly every country in the world came together to agree to cut carbon pollution and set us on the path to a cleaner, greener future with the goal of building a carbon-neutral global economy within a generation.
All countries agreed to raise their ambition every five years until the job is done. The Paris accord is something to celebrate, not because the agreement is sufficient—we must be honest about the fact that the pledges made by each country do not add up to a commitment that will keep temperature rises well below two degrees — but because it gives us enough to take us much, much closer to climate safety, and sends a clear signal to global financial markets that the era of unchecked fossil fuel use is coming to an end.
The agreement is a phenomenal achievement that marks the culmination of years of diplomacy. It is testimony to the fact that we are stronger and safer when we work together, both at home and abroad. Labour has a strong record on climate change, from the Kyoto agreement to the 2008 Climate Change Act. The cross-party consensus on climate change that has existed in Britain since 2008 helped to build the road to Paris, and gave the United Kingdom its voice in the negotiations. Another reason our voice was heard more loudly was because we worked closely with our friends in the European Union and we spoke together – united and with one voice. This consensus in Britain, and cooperation with the rest of Europe, is precious and we must not allow it to be destroyed.
But what does the Paris deal mean for us now?
On news of the agreement the director of the CBI told the BBC, “Businesses will want to see domestic policies that demonstrate commitment to this goal.” Yet in recent months, in spite of the success of the UN talks and even as other major economies doubled down on their clean energy transitions, the Chancellor has made a series of decisions that have reversed our progress on the road to climate safety.
Ministers have attacked the cheapest options for achieving emission reductions, and household energy bills may rise as a result. Hundreds of millions of pounds will go to dirty diesel generators even as investment in wind, solar and home insulation is slashed. The government have wasted no time in blocking new wind farms even where they enjoy strong local support. The Green Investment Bank is being sold off in a manner that could see its green mandate removed and a new tax on more efficient vehicles has been introduced. Thousands have lost their jobs, and thousands more could still do so.
Ministers have also undermined our progress on carbon capture and storage, which is crucial to ensuring a just transition and support for climate change action from the communities of Britain who work in the important industries that rely on fossil fuels. In Yorkshire and Scotland, communities, scientists and engineers are reeling from the Chancellor’s decision to axe a £1 billion fund for CCS.
David Cameron was right when he said when we look back we will ask, “What was it that was so difficult when the world was in peril?” Yet his positions are taking us backwards. His own advisers, the committee on climate change, have warned that his energy policy is “failing.”
That is why I have referred the Chancellor’s decision to axe CCS investment to the National Audit Office who have agreed to investigate, and why the shadow Energy team have consistently used the House of Commons to expose the short term nature of the decision to make such deep cuts to investment in solar and wind.
We must hold Cameron to account and not let him forget his words, but more importantly we must take action where we are in power in towns, cities and counties across the country. Ahead of the Paris summit 60 Labour Councils pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050. In the coming months we will work together to breathe life into this commitment, building on the good work of councils like Nottingham, Oldham and Plymouth who are already leading this clean energy revolution.
It is through real action that Labour will defend our legacy of leadership on climate change, and play our part in reducing the risks posed by flooding and extreme weather in Britain and around the world.
This article first appeared in the spring 2016 edition of New Ground the magazine published by SERA, Labour’s Environment Campaign. For more information please go here: http://sera.org.uk/