Flooding and climate - we need action!

| 14th February 2014
Natalie Bennett presents Sunday Politics travel news, 2 Feb 2014. Photo: from BBC Sunday Politics.
Natalie Bennett presents Sunday Politics travel news, 2 Feb 2014. Photo: from BBC Sunday Politics.
It's time for the Government to get serious about the flooding - and the climate change that is driving it, says Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett. Cameron should begin by dredging the muck out of his own Cabinet.
The government's energy policy aggressively favours the dirty extraction of even more fossil fuels the with tax breaks to help whilst holding back low carbon renewables.

The Green Party is today launching its ten-point Flood Response Action Plan, seeking to shift the debate on from the blame game - recognising the fact that Britain has been let down by successive governments when it comes to investment in flood prevention and defences.

Households, businesses and farms are now paying the price, with thousands already hit by flooding and many more now facing sleepless nights and anxious days.

Meanwhile emergency workers, Environment Agency staff and volunteers are driving themselves to exhaustion trying to provide protection.

The Thames Barrier - closed 28 times since December

Our hearts go out to them all, and the Plan aims both to do everything possible to help them recover and to push for action that could save others from suffering similarly in the future.

I went to the Thames Barrier this morning to launch the plan. The barrier is an excellent example of both what we can achieve in keeping lives and property safe with effective flood protection.

It's also a stark reminder of the increasing necessity for flood protection: the Barrier has closed 28 times since December 6 - one fifth of its total closures since it was opened in 1984.

No Environment Agency cuts!

The Green Party Plan has 10 points divided into two elements: those directly dealing with flooding, and with climate change.

On flooding, the Green Party is calling on David Cameron to immediately reverse planned funding cuts to the Environment Agency of 36%, with further cuts planned that could see 550 staff now dealing with flooding made 'redundant'.

We also need to see immediate strengthening of planning rules in urban and rural areas to prevent further development on flood plains and ensure developers prioritise flood resilience and prevention.

Cut the fossil fuel subsidies, save the EA

Mr Cameron hasn't identified where the funding for his "money no object" promise is to be drawn from - indeed it's a promise that's unravelling fast.

But there's an obvious source in withdrawing the billions of pounds of UK fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks into assisting the victims of flooding.

In the longer term, the Green Party plan is calling for the establishment of a Cabinet-level committee on infrastructure and climate change resilience, and a Royal Commission to set out detailed recommendations on mitigating the impact of climate change - as recommended by the Planning and Climate Change Coalition.

Climate change is no laughing matter

On climate change, the first step is simple: for Mr Cameron to remove climate change sceptic Owen Paterson from the post of Environment Secretary.

To have an individual in that post who has hailed the "positive sides" of climate change and has overseen an almost halving of spending on climate change in his department is an insult to the flooding victims around Britain today.

For the Met Office has clearly linked the severity of our current weather to climate change, as has Lord Stern, and the leaping up of the environment as a top issue of concern to voters - 23% in the latest survey - reflects public understanding of this.

Where exactly does the Government stand?

There should be no place in the government for a minister who doesn't accept the reality of climate change. I was on LBC Radio last night with Nick Hurd, Charities Minister.

He said that Mr Cameron had made it clear that every minister had to do what they could within their portfolio to support flood relief efforts.

The same should be true of preventing and dealing with climate change. The compassion that we must display now must also extend into saving suffering in the future.

That puts real questions around Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State who removed the requirement on Councils to prepare for climate change - and fossil fuel enthusiast George Osborne, who persists on pursuing the fantasy of fracking.

With all this talk of dredging, Mr Cameron should begin by dredging the muck out his own Cabinet.

No more fossil fuel feather-bedding

We also need to close the revolving door between big business and government - to address the potential for all sorts of conflicts of interest to arise and to specifically tackle the dangerous corruption of governance by the fossil fuel industry.

Scientist have made it clear that we need to keep at least half of existing known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to meet the government's own aim of keeping climate change below the 'dangerous' threshold of two degrees.

Yet the government's energy policy aggressively favours the dirty extraction of even more fossil fuels the with tax breaks to help whilst holding back low carbon renewables.

The government must instead start to pay attention to the expert advice of the Met Office and the Committee on climate change.

The future is renewable

Critically, the government must abandon its resistance to an EU target for renewable energy generation.

We have to shift to renewables for climate change reasons. But no less important, they also present the only affordable and reliable option for our energy futures, combined with the energy conservation measures (such as the Energy Bill Revolution).

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are all very welcome to use this plan of action. After all, everyone benefits if they deliver the kind of response to our climate crisis that the science demands.

And I know from talking to people across the breadth of Britain that they'd like the Coalition to do something - anything - to live up to its claim to be "the greenest government ever" - a claim that today sounds like nothing more than a sick joke.



Natalie Bennett is the Leader of the Green Party of England & Wales.

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