This article was originally published in SERA's Summer 2019 edition of New Ground magazine. At the time of writing Sue Hayman was the Labour MP for Workington and Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Sue is running for re-election and in this article explains the action from Labour on declaring a climate and environment emergency in Parliament and the inaction by the Conservatives ever since.
For too long the climate crisis and the ecological crisis have been discussed in separate meetings but we know that both of these disasters must be addressed together.
Species decline is every bit as serious as the threat of climate change and only by addressing both ecosystems and climate do we stand a chance of safeguarding a stable planet for future generations. According to a report by the government’s official advisors, the UK will miss almost all the 2020 nature targets it signed up to a decade ago. A report by the Natural Capital Committee concluded that only half of our habitats meet minimum quality targets set by Natural England, with bees, butterflies, and farmland birds and bats either continuing to decline or stagnating in numbers.
Conservation charity, Buglife says that without sufficient action to tackle this fragmentation of our landscapes, 40-70% of pollinator species could become extinct.
You would think that given the state of the crisis faced by our natural world that the government would be strengthening the infrastructure designed to protect and enhance the environment, but the exact opposite is true. Natural England is the body responsible for maintaining and protecting England’s natural environment. It is responsible for protected sites such as national parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, countryside stewardship, helping farmers and landowners enhance the biodiversity of their lands, the marine environment and many more things that make our natural heritage what it is.
Since 2010 Natural England’s core grant has been halved. Over that time, the agency has gone from more than 2,500 staff in 2010 to just over 1,500 staff at the financial year end 2019, with the bulk of the reduction in the last year. The cuts to Natural England and its inability to carry out many of its basic functions is a key example of the impact of Tory austerity on our environment.
The Tories in government have not only failed to address and take seriously the causes of climate change and species decline, they are failing to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change too.
The Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Sub Committee has said that the government is not preparing for climate change across a series of key areas including habitats, fires, floods and heatwaves. This puts communities at risk and seriously undermines our infrastructure and security.
Most climate scientists agree that it is now too late to prevent 1.5C or more of global warming, even in the best-case scenario. Even if we reduced our emissions to zero tomorrow, we are almost certain to overshoot this crucial temperature limit. That is why it is so important that we do not allow adaptation to be side-lined in the debate on climate change as it is so consequential to the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Britain and around the world.
I was proud to lead action from Labour on declaring a climate and environment emergency in Parliament on 1st May. Our motion demanded that the government return with a fully costed, cross departmental plan to address the climate and environment emergency within 6 months. That means that the government has until 1st November. This, coupled with the upcoming budget, will present the first major tests of whether the new Prime Minister and Environment Secretary can couple high rhetoric on the environment with the urgent, systemic action and funding on the scale needed. My team will be working to hold the government to account in matching its rhetoric on the environment with meaningful support and leadership from the treasury.