Climate change isn’t just an environmental problem, it’s a human one too.
Look at our country – and the impact of weather extremes likely linked to climate change. This summer, Manchester’s Moorlands were turned into an inferno. Food prices spiked as farmers struggled in an unseasonal heatwave. Back in March, parts of the country were brought to a standstill with massive snowfalls from the Beast from the East.
And in many other countries, such extreme weather impacts are already far worse – from forest fires to devastating floods, as rising seas levels threaten low lying coastal communities.
Ten years ago, the Climate Change Act was a radical and forward-looking step to tackle this crisis. For the first time, it set meaningful and achievable targets to help us decarbonise. It’s a model that has been adopted all over the world and it has been a great success.
As Secretary of State, working towards the “carbon budgets” and targets set by the Act, I more than trebled investment in renewable power, helped developed Britain’s off-shore wind industry into a world leader and secured an EU-wide agreement on new ambitious climate change targets for 2030.
But that progress is not being taken forward by the Conservatives. Since 2015, the Tories have gone backwards in some areas, like their decision to scrap our Zero Carbon Homes regulation and with Brexit, they threaten Britain’s previously strong international influence on European and global climate change policies.
So far, they’ve slashed subsides to solar power, they’ve banned on-shore wind, they’ve cancelled the ambitious Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and they’ve pressed on with fracking despite its obvious problems.
With policies like slashing support for solar power, banning on-shore wind farms and failing to develop tidal power, with the decision not to proceed with the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, coupled with their obsession with fracking, the Conservatives simply lack any credibility on climate now.
We need a Government that puts climate change at the heart of decision making, not one that relegates it to a small sub-office of a minor department.
Liberal Democrats must demand far better for our environment and our planet. We would restore the green heart to our government, with a whole of Government approach to tackling climate change and all environmental issues. And this would start with a Queen’s Speech focused on five new green laws.
First, we would introduce a Zero-Carbon Act – a sort of Climate Change Act Mark II. This would commit Britain to becoming a net zero carbon emitter as soon as possible, and no later than 2050. We would toughen up the original Act, to give more teeth to the Climate Change Committee, and include new financial regulations to promote green finance and fast track the switch away from fossil fuel investments into clean energy and green tech. The Act would be a cornerstone of the new green economy Liberal Democrats want.
A Green Transport Act would not just cut emissions, but also tackle the public health crisis of air pollution, with a National Air Quality Strategy with specific timetables and policies. Liberal Democrats would, for example, bring forward the ban on new diesel and petrol cars to 2025 and 2030 respectively and help fast track the uptake of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Our Green Transport Act would toughen up our own air quality legal standards to at least World Health Organisation levels and introduce an investment programme to retrofit or replace buses and trains with those that meet the cleanest standards and introduce new low emission zones in towns and cities.
A Green Buildings Act would reintroduce our Zero Carbon Homes standard that have been recklessly scrapped by the Tories. It would set meaningful targets to improve the energy efficiency of our existing homes, currently some of the worst in Europe. We would implement fully the Fuel Poverty Strategy we developed in Government, but with the more ambitious targets the Conservatives opposed.
A Nature Act would aim to achieve the same goals as Climate Change Act but for our natural environment. It would set goals to improve bio-diversity and targets on the restoration of species. Farmers would be paid not just for farming land, but on a public money for public goods approach, putting the restoration of the environment and the reduction of carbon emissions at the forefront of farmers thinking.
Finally, a Zero-Waste Act would introduce legally binding targets on cutting waste, including plastics, helping reduce our emissions from over-consumption, and would develop a new framework for more efficient use of resources.
To underpin these laws, we would establish an independent Office for Environmental Responsibility. This body would scrutinise all aspects of environmental policy not already covered by the Climate Change Committee and be empowered to take enforcement action against Government where it was failing to meet standards and targets.
This radical approach to climate change is vital if we’re to build on the legacy of the Climate Change Act. Liberal Democrats have always been at the forefront of progress on the environment, and by linking the environment to the economy and health more clearly than ever before, we can show why action is so important and urgent.