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‘We can’t wait until 2050 to reach net zero’: Campaigners call for climate crisis to be enshrined in law

Sean Russell
Getty
Getty

A new Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE Bill) demanding the UK government act with emergency measures on the twin crises has been written and will be put before parliament if it receives enough support.

A campaign is set to be launched on Thursday and supporters have high hopes that the Bill will be introduced in the House of Commons when it reconvenes on 1 September.

The CEE Bill comes a year after the British parliament declared a climate emergency. If passed, it would substantially amend the Climate Change Act 2008, tightening the framework and accelerating the speed in which the UK has to act.

“I welcome this campaign for a new Bill on the climate and ecological emergency,” says Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, in a statement to The Independent.

“I will look at it in detail before Parliament resumes. The Climate Change Act was ground-breaking when it became law over 10 years ago, but it’s nowhere near ambitious enough for the scale of the crisis we face today.”

Kumi Naidoo, ex-Secretary General of Amnesty International and former Executive Director of Greenpeace International, declared his support, saying the Bill is “farsighted, aiming to protect those at risk now and in the future".

The Bill also has the backing of Extinction Rebellion and Volans, a business sustainability firm.

The CEE Bill, written with contributions by respected climate, energy and ecology academics, alongside a lead author of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, aims to bring urgent action on the climate and ecological crisis into law.

It will be put forward as a Private Member’s Bill and requires one lead MP to table the bill, and 11 sponsors, to be put before parliament. Eventually the CEE Bill will require a majority in the Commons before being passed into law.

If passed, the government would have to:

- Create a plan to completely reduce its carbon emissions in real terms with immediate effect;

- Calculate the entire carbon footprint of the UK, including emissions caused internationally through import and export;

- Actively conserve and restore nature here in the UK with focus both on biodiversity and soils’ protection and produce ways to evaluate how effectively this action is implemented;

- Actively mitigate the damage to nature along the UK’s supply chains – both in the UK and internationally. The bill calls for accountability on the impact on the natural world as a consequence of our consumption;

- Reduce reliance on speculative future carbon capture technologies, and to actively restore natural carbon sinks, such as the conservation of woodlands, and restoring peat bogs and the overall vital function of soils that act as a natural reservoir for carbon and keeping it out of the atmosphere;

- And create a “Citizens Assembly” so the people can have a real say in the way forward, bringing social equity into decision making.

Doug Parr, chief scientist and policy director of Greenpeace, said: “We completely support the direction of where this Bill is seeking to take UK, and in setting up new objectives and processes to tackle the climate and nature emergencies.”

The new campaign comes after a report by the government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) which revealed that the UK’s net zero by 2050 target gives only a “greater than 50%” chance of averting climate catastrophe. Their most recent report released in June recommends preparing for a 2-4 degree increase in global temperatures.

A four-degree increase would cause massive food and water shortages, irreversible loss of biodiversity and ecosystems and the inundation of coastal towns.

“We can’t wait until 2050 to reach net zero,” Ms Lucas said. “We will have long missed the moment by then if we are to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5C. That has to be the goal and is a welcome focus of this Bill.”

The CCC is set to broaden its reporting to include all of the UK's emissions from 2033, incorporating those caused internationally by the country in the production and transportation of goods and services.

Campaigners have said that "we cannot wait until 2033 as this is almost half of our emissions completely unaccounted for. Secondly, we need more than reporting, we need the government to step up and put this into emergency action".

Currently, 46 per cent of total UK emissions are emitted overseas. The Bill would require these emissions to be included immediately in an emergency measures strategy.

If total emissions are included and the potential use of speculative carbon-capture technology is removed, the true picture of the climate crisis is revealed and the need to act long before 2050 becomes vital.

The CEE Bill also seeks to address one of the notable weaknesses in the 2008 Climate Change Act: The complete overlooking of ecological breakdown.

“The climate and ecological emergencies are two sides of the same coin,” said Dr Charlie Gardner, an interdisciplinary conservation scientist at Kent University and a contributor to the Bill.

“We can’t solve one without addressing the other. We have little hope of saving species or ecosystems if we aren’t able to slow planetary heating, but we also can’t address the climate without protecting and restoring nature. So it’s a real problem that nature and climate are always treated separately in policy.”

A survey by Opinium found 48 per cent of the public agree that the government should respond “with the same urgency to climate change as it has with Covid-19” and that the desire for more radical Green policies is high.

The campaign is seeking to bring together individuals and groups around the UK in support of this “game-changing” Bill which Dr Gardner says is exactly “what we need”.

The UK is the host of the next UN climate change conference - or COP26 - which has been delayed until November 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Campaigners say that passing the Bill would set an unprecedented example that the UK is a world leader in fighting the climate crisis.

“It’s fantastic to see nature and climate addressed synergistically in this Bill,” said Dr Gardner. “This is absolutely the kind of joined-up policy we need if we are to avoid a future defined by droughts, floods, food shortages and the continued destruction of the places we love.”

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