"The people of Sheffield Hallam have been clear - they want radical and rapid climate action"
We all know well the threat the climate and ecological emergency poses to the future of our country and our planet as a whole.The UN said that this year’s IPCC report must be taken as a ‘code red for humanity’—that the risk of catastrophe is perilously close, and we need an unprecedented unity of response at a global scale.
You would think, then, that the UK being the host of COP26, the UN Climate Summit, next month, would present us with a huge opportunity to push for the radical action we need to tackle the climate crisis, to show real leadership and meet it with the mobilisation it demands.
Unfortunately, while this Government has not been short of rhetoric, it has time and again failed to materialise rhetoric into action on the ground. The Tories will try to turn November’s Conference of the Parties into a PR exercise, talking up their meagre credentials while sitting on a track record of grandiose statements and risible results.
While the UN Secretary-General said their latest climate report must sound a “death knell for fossil fuels”, the Government spent months toying with the idea of opening a new coal mine in Cumbria, are ploughing ahead with plans to open a new oilfield in Scotland, and continue to hugely subsidise fossil fuel production.
Where they have acted on nature it has been to the detriment of our natural environment—public spending on biodiversity has been cut by 29 per cent since 2012, leaving the UK as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with 1 in 10 UK wildlife species now at risk of extinction.
Boris Johnson is a man who likes to act up, and I’m sure he took great joy in telling world leaders to “grow up” on climate change. But his record, as someone who talks big and acts small, puts us all at risk.
The climate crisis is a global crisis—it can’t be left to the whim of one man, one party, or even one country. It affects everyone, so everyone’s voices must be heard in deciding how to respond.
Back in January I launched a series of climate assemblies as the MP for Sheffield Hallam, to bring the issues that will be discussed at COP6 back to my constituents—so that, in the absence of a government willing to act, we could begin to build our own vision of what a green recovery looks like.
But I also launched these assemblies because, if any transition to a green future is to be successful, the decisions taken must be truly democratic, led by those who will be affected. Previous COP summits have unfortunately been talking shops of world leaders divorced from the reality that for millions, climate catastrophe is not some dystopic future but the here and now.
Climate action needs to be led by those on the frontlines of environmental degradation, who feel the worst impacts of the crisis.
Only by giving everyone a say will we be able to ensure that climate action is not continually delayed by those who stand to profit from fossil fuels, or is not co-opted in ways that sustain the inequalities baked into our economy.
Over the course of our monthly discussions, held over zoom, Hallam constituents put forward their ideas about how our new green economy should take shape, and the principles that must underpin any transition.
From these conversations and the points raised, we have drawn together a Hallam Citizens’ Climate Manifesto, describing the changes my constituents said they would like to see at a local, regional, national, and international level, and setting out a vision for a post-carbon future for Sheffield.
These conversations were, of course, shaped by the pandemic, held on Zoom in the interest of public health. But in so doing they brought in people who might not ordinarily have attended a climate discussion, or couldn’t because of conflicts with work or caring responsibilities.
It did not come as a surprise that Hallam constituents valued so highly local green spaces, for example, and the need to increase the access and availability of nature for good mental and physical health.
I believe the context of Covid-19 helped focus all of us to realise that COP26 must be seized as the opportunity it is to build a fairer, greener, and more just post-pandemic society.
I will not talk through every point of the Hallam Citizens’ Climate Manifesto, as I believe the document speaks for itself in its calls for a greener and brighter future. I am, however, incredibly proud to be launching it in Sheffield today with the constituents who helped to craft it, and that some of them will be making the journey down to London tomorrow to present it to 10 Downing Street.
With this Government not having a handle on how to tackle the climate crisis, I hope Boris Johnson will consider these thoughtful, considered, and practical suggestions the people of Hallam have put forward. They provide an excellent starting point for COP26, and the debate over how we build an economy and society with climate justice at its core.
As the nation co-hosting COP26, we have a historic opportunity to divest from decades of missed targets and push us back on track to net-zero emissions, introduce commitments to ensure every nation can decarbonise, and ensure all climate action is done justly.
The people of Sheffield Hallam have been clear in telling me that they want radical and rapid climate action. Tomorrow I will tell Boris Johnson and Alok Sharma that they cannot let COP26 be a cop-out. No ifs, and no buts, we must see an unprecedented mobilisation of resource and power to tackle the climate emergency.