Ed Miliband and Caroline Lucas back new Environmental Justice Commission, as pressure on government to embrace net zero emission target intensifies
The pressure on the government to officially adopt a net zero emission target is set to intensify ahead of Thursday's publication of the Committee on Climate Change's (CCC) long awaited review on whether the UK should strengthen its long term emissions targets.
The Financial Times reported yesterday that as has been widely expected the CCC report will recommend the government adopt a new net zero emission goal for 2050 to replace the current target of an 80 per cent cut against 1990 levels.
Citing three sources briefed on the report ahead of its release, the paper said the CCC had concluded achieving net zero emissions by mid-century would reduce UK GDP in 2050 by just one to two per cent - the same cost estimate put forward when the government passed the Climate Change Act and its 80 per cent target over a decade ago.
It also revealed the report will recommend Scotland aims for a more ambitious net zero target date of 2045, while Wales is given more leeway on account of its sheep farming industry and is advised to aim for a 95 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050.
The news comes as opposition parties seek to crank up pressure on the government to fast-track adoption of the CCC's recommendations and put a net zero target on the statute books as soon as possible. The FT reported the government could look to move forward with legislation before parliament's summer recess through amendments to the existing Climate Change Act.
A cross-party group of over 100 MPs have previously called on the government to adopt a net zero target for 2050 at the latest and while a handful of Tory backbenchers are expected to voice opposition to any strengthening of the Climate Change Act there is likely to be strong backing across Parliament for following the CCC's recommendations.
For example, today will see the official launch of a new cross-party Environmental Justice Commission by the IPPR think tank, which will be co-chaired by Labour's Ed Miliband, the Green Party's Caroline Lucas, and former Conservative MP Laura Sandys.
The new commission aims to bring together leading figures from business, trade unions, civil society, academia, and climate activists to explore the practical policies that could help deliver a rapid net zero transition and enable a 'Green New Deal'.
It is also expected to seek views from people around the country and explore how recent proposals to use deliberative democracy to develop climate policies could work in practice. And in recognition of growing concerns over how a 'just transition' could be engineered, the group will consider the economic and social injustices associated with climate issues, including the disproportionate impact climate risks have by gender, class, and ethnicity.
Miliband said it was now clear that the UK faces a "climate emergency". "Climate change is the biggest threat to our economic and social wellbeing, and to our national security," he said. "Politics needs to be on a war footing to deal with this enemy but too often it sends the message that business as usual will do. We need a revolution in political leadership; the problem we face is not just climate denial but climate appeasement. This commission brings together people from all walks of life, generations and political parties to bring about the solutions we need."
Sandys offered a similarly blunt assessment of the scale of the climate risks the UK economy now faces. "While some have felt disruption from campaigners across the country over the last few weeks, this is nothing in comparison to the social, economic and national disruption, upheaval and change to our way of life that we will face if we don't take transformative action to address the climate emergency now," she said.
But she also stressed that rapid climate action would bring huge benefits to the UK economy. "We should see 'greening and cleaning' our economy as a route to turbocharge the modernization of our economy away from old fashioned 19th century norms, accelerating change for the benefit of our globe, our society, our health and delivering a more resilient and progressive economy," she said.
Lucas urged the climate movement to now build rapidly on its recent march into the mainstream. "We must now focus on what is scientifically necessary, not what is seen as politically possible," she said. "Maintaining the status quo is to gamble with the fate of humanity and the prosperity of all who live in this country. The environmental crises can only be tackled through a transformation of our whole economy."
The launch of the new commission comes a day after SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government would declare a "climate emergency" and the Welsh government similarly confirmed it intended to declare an "emergency". It also comes a day ahead of Labour's staging of an opposition day debate in parliament that will call on the Westminster government to formally back a "climate emergency" declaration.
The precise wording of the motion Labour will table is yet to be finalized, but it is expected to call on the government to strengthen the UK's carbon targets in line with the CCC's recommendations and set new targets for the deployment of clean technologies.
As an opposition day motion the result of any vote will be non-binding, but Labour is seeking to put the "ball in the government's court" and force ministers to either agree to the climate emergency proposal or attempt to explain why they do not regard climate change as a priority that demands an emergency response.
BusinessGreen understands Labour will also reiterate its offer to work with the government to fast track adoption of the CCC's recommendations and set a binding net zero target before the summer, amidst fears Theresa May's eventual successor as Prime Minister might oppose any new emissions goal.
Meanwhile, pressure from activists for the government to back the net zero target will also step up this week with reports suggesting Extinction Rebellion (XR) campaigners will join with the School Strikes movement and members of the Labour-backing Momentum group to protest outside parliament on Wednesday.
XR activists are also expected to meet with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell today, before a meeting with Environment Secretary Michael Gove on Wednesday.
The government is yet to confirm how it will vote on the climate emergency motion. Last week in a Commons debate on the XR protests Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry ducked a challenge from the Greens' Lucas to declare a climate emergency, arguing the UK should seek to celebrate the decarbonisation progress it has made to date in order to encourage other countries to follow suit.
"We entirely accept that concerted and more action at national and international level is urgently required," she said. "[But] I still feel we must focus on the fact [the UK has made significant progress cutting emissions], because it shows it is possible, that we have shown real leadership in the UK thanks to the cross-party consensus we have forged on this since the passage of our world-leading Climate Change Act over a decade ago."
Responding to today's calls for the government to move onto a "war footing" to tackle climate change, a BEIS spokesperson said: "This government recognises the impact climate change is having on our environment, which is why we have made it our mission and are taking action to protect our planet for future generations. We've already gone further than any other G7 nation by cutting our emissions by more than 40 per cent since 1990 while growing our economy by two-thirds, but we want to go further. That's why last October we asked independent climate experts for their advice on a net zero emissions target, and its report this week will shape our climate targets for years to come."
However, pressure from businesses for the government to fast track more ambitious climate policies is also growing. Bloomberg reported over the weekend that the Treasury could delay plans for a new Green Finance strategy as calls grow from some business groups for Ministers to introduce bolder plans.
Meanwhile, a raft of business groups are expected to broadly welcome the CCC's recommendations, even as some unions and heavy industry groups continue to harbour reservations over the potential impact of deep decarbonisation on their competitiveness.
Campaign groups are also cranking up the pressure, with Greenpeace today launching a wide ranging 'climate emergency' manifesto and calling on businesses and community groups to contribute to a new net zero plan.
Separately, leading businesses from across Europe will today call on EU member states to back proposals for the bloc to set its own net zero emission target.
On the eve of the Future of Europe Summit, CEOs from more than 50 businesses, investors and business networks, including corporate giants such as Unilever, IKEA and DSM, will send an open letter calling on the EU to endorse a long-term decarbonisation strategy to achieve 'climate neutrality' by 2050.
Member states are currently believed to be split on proposals from the European Commission to set a more ambitious long term decarbonisation target and develop a net zero strategy.
However, today's letter argues "putting climate change at the top of Europe's agenda will provide business with the clarity and confidence to invest in the sustainable, net zero emissions industries of the future, driving innovation and protecting European competitiveness on a global scale".
"Collectively, we have an urgent task: to decarbonise the global economy in little more than a generation," the letter adds. "Every year more of us are setting science-based targets for our companies' emissions, we are purchasing clean energy and signing up to renewable energy commitments, using low emission and electric vehicles, converting land to carbon sinks and improving energy efficiency throughout our operations.
"We are doing this because we see the threat that climate change poses to our businesses. The impacts of climate change are already affecting our bottom lines: degrading worker health and productivity, disrupting our operations and supply chains, and damaging assets … A clear, coherent vision from European governments and institutions for climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest will give businesses like ours the long-term guidance we need to invest."
Eliot Whittington, director of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, which also backed the letter, urged EU leaders to back the Commission's proposal for a new EU-wide net zero emission strategy.
"The European Commission's 'A Clean Planet for All' document sets out a vision for a net zero economy that delivers a net economic benefit, including the development of new markets, business opportunities and jobs," he said. "Businesses from across the EU economy are standing up to make it plain that they know the only viable, sustainable business model is one that delivers sustainable prosperity and climate action. They are calling on Europe's leaders to set out a swift timetable to deliver net zero by 2050 at the latest and to deliver the right policies to unlock business investment and innovation.
"The next five years will be decisive in establishing the investment, infrastructure and innovations needed for a climate neutral Europe and securing Europe's competitive edge in the emerging global clean economy. We need to step up, now."
As governments in the UK and beyond mull whether to adopt net zero emission targets and declare climate emergencies one thing is clear: time is running out if they are to deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement and avert the worst climate impacts.
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