On the 19th October 2021, I wrote to the Prime Minister to express my deep concerns with the Government’s handling of climate heating and to press for stronger action.
You can read my letter below in full:
Dear Prime Minister,
I write to you about the urgent and comprehensive package of actions that are necessary to prevent catastrophic global heating and ensure the UK meets its climate promises.
There are clear signs that current global carbon commitments will be insufficient to prevent the world from heating in excess of 1.5C. There is a vast gap between the announced UK climate targets and the policies and strategies that are in place to achieve them.
The UK has a relatively strong record over the past two decades, which is largely the result of the action taken by the Labour Government to establish legal commitments and carbon budgeting. In recent years, narrow but significant progress has been achieved largely by replacing coal with gas generation in our energy mix, alongside welcome but too slow growth in renewables. As we are now seeing, such heavy reliance on gas, not only for electricity generation but for domestic heating and cooking, has its own severe flaws. The knock-on impacts across our economy from the gas supply crisis demonstrate just how far we must go in order to achieve net zero in time. There is no room for complacency in Government about the scale of the threat we face.
There are long-term decisions and concomitant investments that need to be made over the coming months and years, on issues such as domestic heating and insulation, food security as agriculture changes to use less carbon and lock carbon into vegetation and soils, on-street vs. collective charging locations for electric vehicles, and how to provide much larger quantities of electricity at peak times than are presently required without using fossil fuels.
If made well and fully resourced, these decisions will have major benefits for our society, increasing energy security, reducing energy poverty, ensuring cleaner air, and potentially increasing public health and reducing health spending, in addition to meeting the essential need to slash carbon emissions fast. However, these decisions need to be made soon, and backed by consistent strategies, resources, and accountability, because many of the transitions needed will take decades to fully implement. Time is running out.
The failure of the UK to truly grapple with the scale of the net zero transition challenge domestically over the past ten years does not put us in a strong position for international leadership. Neither does the prospect of Government approval and funding for irresponsible and unsustainable projects such as the Cambo Oil Field.
The public cannot have confidence that the UK Government will meet its climate promises and do its part to prevent catastrophic global heating, unless the future path of policy is based on binding legal commitments and clear transition strategies, backed with sufficient financing, for every sector of the economy. This must include a Net Zero and Nature test for all Government future spending, and a credible strategy to reverse deforestation both domestically and globally.
For example, the news that the Government will fail to legally guarantee that no new gas boilers will be fitted in homes beyond 2035 does not engender the confidence that the public, business, and international partners need if they are to do their part. Even this target does not begin to deal with the massively larger problem of converting existing homes to green heating, and, appallingly, there are still no clear signs that near-term action will be taken at scale to insulate Britain’s homes, which would support up to 500,000 jobs and slash the energy bills that are hitting my constituents hard. The Government has put off the fundamental decision about whether hydrogen is a feasible home heating technology until 2025, raising the prospect that serious efforts to create the infrastructure for this transition will not even begin until after the middle of the decade.
Government action to promote economic transitions rapid enough to meet UK promises must include action to ensure that the most egregiously polluting companies create their own plans to reduce emissions in line with the 1.5C commitment. I believe that FTSE 100 companies and the biggest financial institutions must be required to publish their carbon footprint alongside a credible Net Zero transition plan.
COP26 is focused on securing stronger international commitments, and ensuring that there is an adequate and sustainable supply of climate finance for developing countries is central to this. Ensuring that developing countries who have contributed far less than the UK to the problem of climate heating do not endure its costs is a matter of justice. This requires significant funding for adaptation and funding to repair losses and damages, and I simply do not believe this can be fulfilled without reversing the Government’s decision to break its promise to give 0.7% of GNI as Official Development Assistance.
An important aspect of help for the developing world over the coming years will be ensuring that access to clean water will be maintained as the climate heats and climate disasters become ever more common. More intense and longer droughts are already depleting water sources, while more frequent and extreme flooding pollutes clean water sources and renders them dangerous to life.
At the same time, without debt relief and sustainable funding at scale, most developing countries will find it impossible to lift their people out of poverty without pursuing the same dirty and disastrous development path that was taken by the UK and other wealthy countries.
Climate heating is the greatest threat faced by the UK, and by humanity. How this Government responds to it, and how you respond as Prime Minister, will be a key test. I do not believe the actions that have been taken over recent years are anywhere near sufficient to the scale of the challenge. I hope to see more meaningful and strategic action soon.
Member of Parliament for West Ham
CC: Chancellor of the Exchequer, COP26 President