Serious action must follow

| 13th May 2019
Westminster and Scottish Parliament declare a climate emergency – but we must make the radical changes needed to keep to 1.5C of warming.

To de-carbonise at the rate required by the science, nothing short of a radical rewiring of our economy will do.

Government declarations of a climate emergency are welcome - but they must be backed up by concrete action to match the severity of the crisis that is being faced globally.

The adoption by MPs of Jeremy Corbyn’s motion to declare a climate emergency is symbolic ­– but it is irreconcilable with plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, a new coal mine in Cumbria and to expand fracking across the UK.

The Scottish Parliament has now followed suit, but their declaration already appears to be having a concrete impact. Nicola Sturgeon has dropped controversial plans for an aviation tax cut – which at least demonstrates a willingness to accept that change is required and business as usual just won’t do.

Further action

Arguably, as Labour’s transport spokesperson Colin Smyth has said – the policy should have been scrapped years ago. The announcement does however demonstrate a willingness to translate words into action at one level or another.

The Scottish Government will soon announce the outcomes of a policy review in light of the declaration. One major area that environmentalists will be looking at is spending on road building, which has long been a cause for major criticism by Scottish campaigners.

What remains unclear is how the declaration of emergency will affect the oil and gas industries. It’s worth noting that Holyrood cannot halt exploration in Scottish waters as these powers are held by Westminster, but many will be looking to the Scottish Government to take some concrete action to address these industries if the declaration of a climate emergency is to have weight.

Despite the steps forward in Scotland, the ever present focus upon economic growth at all costs is coming into conflict with the need to reduce emissions. For meaningful action to take place and lead to the kinds of emission reductions that the science requires, GDP must be replaced as the primary marker of human progress.

UK commitment

Our government has repeatedly acted to undermine initiatives that could help cut emissions and drive the transition to a low carbon economy in the UK. From cutting solar subsidies to all but banning  further development of on-shore wind power and attempting to develop a large scale fracking industry – the last few years have seen us hurtling in the polar opposite direction to where we need to be.

Extinction Rebellion and the Schools Strike for Climate have put the climate crisis firmly back on the agenda and made it impossible politicians to continue to ignore calls for a drastic change in direction.

Holyrood’s declaration is at least appearing some bearing on policy. We will have to wait and see whether Westminster follows suit with any kind of meaningful commitment.

To decarbonise at the rate required by the science, nothing short of a radical rewiring of our economy will do. Declaring a climate emergency is important as far as a gesture can be – but to give it any real meaning we must move beyond GDP as the principal measure of the progress of our society.

In an age where we constantly have the green credentials of consumer products marketed to us, it’s important to recognise that individual action and ‘shopping better’ is not going to cut it.

We can’t overcome this crisis with a greener brand of toilet roll or better cotton buds.

The root causes of the problem are structural and require a serious concerted response. Recognising the climate emergency is the easy part – it’s now down to activist groups, campaigners and concerned citizens to demand the action that is required. The response a true emergency demands.

This Author

Andrew Taylor-Dawson has been involved with the social justice and environmental movements for over a decade. He works in the NGO sector as well as writing about civil society, campaigning and progressive causes. He tweets at @Andrew_J_Taylor.

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