Taking action to address the climate crisis

August 03 2019
Taking action to address the climate crisis

Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy writes for the Fishponds Voice

BRISTOL, like the rest of the UK, has been sweltering in record temperatures throughout much of June and July. But while there are heatwaves now, NASA has warned that rising sea levels and extreme weather events could lead to the city facing frequent flooding by 2050, if decisive action to tackle the climate crisis isn’t taken.

In November Bristol led the way by becoming the first council in the country to declare a climate emergency. Now it’s time to turn those words into action and Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, has put forward a detailed plan across jobs, energy efficiency, transport, renewable energy and consumption to ensure the city is carbon neutral by 2030.

A number of measures are already underway, with the council fitting solar panels on council housing, investing in renewable energy and low carbon heating schemes, and introducing a clean vehicle fleet and electric buses. It’s also committed to greater protection for food-growing land in local planning policy and is going for gold ‘Sustainable Food City’ status. These are all very welcome steps in the right direction.

But if Bristol is to achieve net zero, the Government too must play its part. Parliament has now unanimously declared an environment and climate emergency, on a motion brought forward by Labour, and MPs have voted through a net zero emission target by 2050 into legislation. The symbolism of this shouldn’t be underestimated, but words are not enough: we need radical action, and a step change in Government policy.

The Environmental Audit Committee, on which I sit, has quite rightly accused the Government of coasting on climate change. The Committee on Climate Change, the Government’s own independent advisory body, has said that preparations were ‘being run by the Government like Dad’s Army’. The Government has dropped its commitment to zero carbon homes, slashed subsidies for solar energy and will miss its own 2020 recycling targets.

For my part, I intend to push the Government every step of the way to ratchet up its ambition. To not do so would be a betrayal of the inspiring school climate strikers I joined at College Green, worried about the planet they will inherit, and to those who made the journey to London for The Time Is Now, the largest environmental mass lobby in Westminster’s history, last month.

I know many Bristolians will support their aims and those of Extinction Rebellion, even if their tactics divide opinion. I pay credit to the people who have contributed to these protests peacefully, as well as to Avon and Somerset Police for their round-the-clock operation to ensure everyone remains safe. But it is important to reach out to people, to persuade and to convince, not to alienate, and I think that is the challenge now for environmental campaigners. We need to bring the whole city with us on this mission, and I hope those organising future protests will consider carefully how this is best achieved.

As an environmentalist and as a Labour politician, I believe efforts to tackle the climate crisis are key to delivering social justice in our city too. Bristol can, as it often does, lead the way, and I will be doing all I can, in Parliament and in Bristol, to support this.