Labour has declared a “national environment and climate emergency” amid growing pressure on ministers to take drastic action to preserve the planet.
Addressing the House of Commons, shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman asked if the Conservatives would join them in their call.
“Does the minister and secretary of state agree with around 50 councils and thousands of young people who have declared an environment and climate emergency?” she said. “Will the government join Labour in declaring a national environment and climate emergency?”
Environment minister Therese Coffey replied that her party was “already ahead of the game”, pointing to last year’s 25-year environment plan as evidence.
“We are making significant improvements in improving our natural environment,” she said. “And I genuinely hope that the whole house comes together to make sure they get behind the plan, so we can make sure that we do leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it.”
Ms Hayman dismissed the minister’s response as “a bit of a fudge”.
Shadow fisheries minister Luke Pollard said if the government “refused to work” with them, they would take action “with or without them”.
The news came as the government released its official greenhouse gas figures for 2018, which show emissions down 3 per cent on the year before.
Significant progress has been made in cutting out coal in particular, but experts are concerned that efforts to tackle emissions from other sectors are stalling.
Protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion have taken to the streets to demand policies that reflect the scale of the approaching climate change catastrophe.
Last year, a report by scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that global CO2 emissions must be nearly halved by 2030 to prevent a global warming disaster.
With Michael Gove at the helm, the environment department has taken widely publicised steps towards cutting out plastic pollution.
However, the government has also faced criticism over its support for fracking and failure to meet biodiversity targets.
The additional strain of Brexit has raised concerns among green groups who fear the UK will lose many of its environmental protections after leaving the EU.
Mel Evans, senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said Labour’s declaration would only be worth anything if they backed it with meaningful policies.
“It’s clearly significant that Labour are declaring a climate emergency and we’d urge the government and other major parties to follow suit,” she said. “No UK politician can now ignore the growing public demand for immediate, radical action. A ‘climate emergency’ can’t just be a slogan so the key question remains – what are Labour going to do about it?”
As well as halting all new fossil fuel projects, Ms Evans added that Labour must commit to massive tree planting projects and block the expansion of Heathrow airport.
Friederike Lurken from campaign group Extinction Rebellion agreed that the announcement was welcome “after two years of nothing by Brexit” but said all the political parties needed to commit to making “making massive changes to tackle climate change and the ecological crisis”.
“We are living through a climate emergency because governments and industry have not shown the necessary leadership, and, so far, have not acted fast enough,” she said.
Earlier this week, shadow treasury minister Clive Lewis and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas tabled a “Green New Deal” bill that would bring in a range of “radical” plans to preserve nature and boost green jobs.
Mirroring the deal proposed in the US by Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the proposals have already seen support from a grassroots Labour campaign, but are unlikely to make their way into policy in their current form.
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