David Attenborough says fixed-term parliaments could mean short-sighted climate action

Veteran naturalist expresses concerns at first citizens’ assembly 

Matt Drake
Sunday 26 January 2020 17:06
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Sir David Attenborough warns short governments could hinder climate action

Sir David Attenborough has warned that fixed-term parliaments could result in “short-sighted” action on climate change.

The broadcaster was speaking at the first UK-wide citizens’ assembly on climate change. He said he fears the standard five-year term for governments mean ministers are unlikely to make the long-term plans needed to tackle environmental issues and so could delay hitting the target of zero emissions.

Sir David said: “If you have a parliament that is of a fixed length of five years, it’s very difficult to persuade politicians that they should give money and time and attention and worry about an issue which is not going to come to a climax – and people won’t know if it is successful or not successful – for 10 years hence, 15 years hence.”

Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, an election must be held every five years unless two-thirds of MPs vote for an early poll.

The 93-year-old Blue Planet presenter said the public “ought to be extremely grateful” to the assembly for taking climate change seriously.

He added: “I am grateful to the 110 people from all corners of the United Kingdom who are giving up their weekends to take part in this very important discussion of how we in the UK reach our net zero emissions target.

“These people have been picked to represent our population as a whole, they come from all walks of life, and together they will deliberate carefully on behalf of us all.

“We should listen closely to their recommendations.”

The assembly was commissioned by six parliamentary committees to give politicians an understanding of the public’s views on how the UK should reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Some 110 members were selected to represent the UK’s population, and they will meet over four weekends between January and March at the Park Regis Hotel in Birmingham.

They will hear expert advice from more than 20 prominent business, faith and civil society leaders on issues from transport to agriculture, before making recommendations which will be presented to the government in April. But Sir David will not be speaking to the assembly about how to reach the net-zero target.

The assembly is funded by the House of Commons, which contributes £120,000, and philanthropic organisations the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the European Climate Foundation, which each contributed £200,000.

Nasa revealed this month that 2010-2019 was the hottest decade ever recorded. The UK Met Office determined that 2019 was one of the top three hottest years on record and the World Meteorological Organisation also ranked 2019 the second warmest on record.

The Committee on Climate Change recommends the UK hits net-zero greenhouse gasses by 2050. According to Scientific American, greenhouse gas emissions must be net zero across the globe before the end of the century if the planet is to limit the probability of more than 2C warming.

Additional reporting by agencies

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