Labour Leadership Election 2016 | Owen Smith

A few weeks ago we wrote to the two candidates in the Labour leadership election to ask them several questions on their plans for the environment. Today we are pleased to publish the responses from Owen and Jeremy on our website. We warmly welcome both Jeremy’s and Owen’s support for our A Breath of Fresh Air Campaign and their commitment to a new Clean Air Act.


Ambition: What do you think are the key environmental challenges ahead?

I believe that climate change remains the number one environmental challenge that we face. The scale of the challenge is immense both at home and abroad and we need urgent action to deal with it. Yet we have a government that has failed to tackle climate change at every level. From the scepticism we have seen from key ministers responsible for the environment to the extraordinary decision taken by Theresa May to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Britain used to lead the world on this agenda with Labour making history by being the first Government to pass a Climate Change Act. We invested in low carbon technology and put in place a regulatory framework to drive forward the transition to a low carbon economy. Under this government, we are failing to meet our carbon budget targets and we have pulled the rug from under the renewables industry. To me this is an unforgivable dereliction of duty – one that we must fight day in day out to redress.

If elected Labour leader, I will fight to get climate change back on the agenda and take the government to task for failing to meet its targets. I would commit to reinstate DECC as a department; create an Office of Environmental Responsibility to ensure climate change is a consideration for all departments; boost investment in new renewable technologies such as CCS and hydrogen and give certainty to the existing markets such as wind and solar; invest in a major energy efficiency programme; and reclaim Britain’s position as a world leader on this crucial agenda.

Challenging the Government: The government is failing to meet carbon budget targets, and will need to fulfil commitments agreed at Paris and agree new commitments flowing from COP21 in the next two to three years. How will you and your team call the government to account and encourage them to pursue a stronger environmental agenda?

The government has been able to get away with downgrading the importance of climate change and failing categorically to meet its obligations. Labour has been far too quiet about this and too timid about holding the government to account. Under my leadership, this will be one of the key issues that we will challenge them on – because the consequences of their failure are far too great for our children. We will campaign relentlessly on this agenda and build a movement to put pressure on the government to take the agenda seriously. And we will take the lead within parliament by putting forward alternative ideas and working with colleagues across all sides of the house to turn these into reality.

Brexit: There is a huge threat to environmental laws, protections and enforcement due to Brexit? How will you work with NGOs, SERA and across parties to get the best deal post-Brexit for the environment and challenge vested interests seeking to water down commitments?

Brexit is a big threat to the environmental protections we have built up through many years from the Birds and Habitats Directive to clean air laws and protection of bees from pesticides. I have no doubt that many of the Brexiteers in government will see this as an opportunity to scrap this. This is one of the reasons I believe that we as the Labour Party should fight to stay within the European Union. If I am elected leader of the Labour Party, I am clear that once the terms of the Brexit deal have been finalised, I will demand a second referendum or general election. And if our environmental protections have been downgraded – which I fear they will be with Theresa May’s Government in charge – I will fight tooth and nail to stay within the European Union.

Devolution: There is an important role and agency for the nations, combined authorities, Mayors and local authorities in driving strong environmental agendas. How will you work, support and further empower sub-national organisations in tackling climate change and securing ambitious environmental policies?

I have seen first-hand in Wales the benefits of taking power out of Whitehall so I am a big advocate of devolution. But not enough has been done to empower local areas to drive the environmental agenda. There are big opportunities for local areas, for example, to take the lead in generating low carbon energy and in delivering energy efficiency programmes. As Labour leader, I would set up a taskforce with future mayors and local leaders that have been at the vanguard of this to develop a joint plan for how Labour in government nationally and locally would deliver a more ambitious decentralisation agenda on the environment.

Mainstreaming: How will you mainstream progressive environmental policy, not just promoting ‘green’ policies like increasing recycling or biodiversity but across all areas of policy: housing (low carbon homes), economic development and growth (green jobs, skills and businesses), transport, procurement, and energy.

If elected Prime Minister, I would embed environmental policy into the fabric of government. To do this, I would create an Office of Environmental Responsibility, along the lines of the Office of Budget Responsibility, so that we can start valuing our nature when decisions are being made across Government. I would also create a climate Cabinet committee to co-ordinate climate leadership and the UK’s role in the world. And finally, I would ensure that there was a cross-departmental parliamentary committee on climate change that would hold all departments to account and ensure a joined-up approach across Government.

Just Transition: What is your commitment to ensuring people aren’t left behind in the move to a low carbon society, such as connecting environment programmes to former industrial areas (green jobs), promoting co-operative energy to give people a stake; and challenging climate change skepticism?

The transition to a low carbon economy is a massive opportunity for this country. The last Labour government recognised this and positioned the UK as a world leader on renewable energy and low carbon technology. We must build a green economy in order to create the jobs of the future in a sector that is growing globally. This is how we ensure that people aren’t left behind as we transition to a low carbon economy. This is why I have committed to an ambitious green industrial strategy that will create tens of thousands new green jobs. And as part of our £200bn New Deal, we will boost investment in low carbon technologies, high skilled re-manufacturing and deliver the biggest energy efficiency programme we have had in this country.

Inspire Members: How will you promote a strong environmental agenda within the Party and work with SERA to inspire members, activists and organisations? Also SERA runs a number of campaigns. SERA is currently campaigning on air quality and supporting a call for a new Clean Air Act. Will you support A Breath of Fresh Air and join a growing number of Labour MPs, MEPs, AMs and councillors demanding action?

If elected leader, I would put the Labour Party front and centre of the environmental movement working closely with SERA and other NGOs. I would use our mass membership and campaigning might to put environmental issues back on the political agenda and inspire people to fight against the Tory’s abject failure.

Air pollution still blights many urban areas. It is responsible for 40,000 early deaths a year, and particularly affects children and those in poorer communities. It has to be tackled. It is 60 years since the Clean Air Act 1956 was passed; we need to refresh this to take account of the realities of modern Britain. This is why I have committed to a new Clean Air Act with higher standards for tackling air pollution. And so I would be happy to support the Breath of Fresh Air campaign.

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