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Time is running out

It’s people who will suffer if we miss our climate targets

By Craig Bennett  
This article was produced in association with Friends of the Earth

Nearly ten years on from our world-leading Climate Change Act, the UK is off track for meeting our climate targets, and yet policy solutions which are good for the climate are right for people across the UK too.

The historic Climate Change Act was ushered in with cross-party consensus and popular support but why has it dropped down the environmental to-do list?

If Michael Gove is to uphold the Conservative manifesto promise to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”, he will need to work with cabinet colleagues across departments to address the decarbonisation of transport and heating and improve energy efficiency – issues, that if done right, will improve peoples’ daily lives as well as the climate.

Our climate is already changing. While we shivered with the ‘beast from the East’ in March, the Arctic experienced its warmest winter on record. Britain then felt its warmest April day since 1949 and the warmest May for 100 years, before a sultry summer that continues to break records across the northern hemisphere.

I like chilling out in a deckchair as much as anyone, but when temperature records are being broken around the world, almost every month and every year, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

A warmer world means that what was once extreme weather becomes the new normal. Floods, droughts, and storms are becoming more frequent. Lives, homes and businesses have been ruined, in the UK and abroad. And, as sea levels and temperatures rise, more areas of the globe are becoming uninhabitable; worsening the refugee crisis.

But despite the urgency and government rhetoric, the reality of action on climate change is mixed at best.

There have been some successes: in the power sector emissions have fallen by 59% as the UK has moved away from coal-fired power stations. In April, Energy Minister Claire Perry asked the UK’s climate advisors whether targets should be tightened – a nod to the recognition that we will need to do more.

But then Chris Grayling announced plans for a third runway at Heathrow, without even referring to climate change. This, in 2018, is environmental illiteracy; the third runway at Heathrow will mean the airport’s climate impact is equivalent to the whole of Portugal.

Transport is now responsible for the largest share of UK emissions. It’s clear that we need to do much more to slash emissions from road and air travel. And yet, rail chaos, and appalling local infrastructure, is forcing more people into their cars, as they can’t trust local transport to get them from A to B.

White elephants like HS2 aren’t the solution either. Not only will it cost the UK taxpayer at least £60bn, and concentrate ever more economic activity in London and the South East, the route also threatens over 90 ancient woodlands: a further problem for both nature and the climate.

What we need is a joined up national transport policy. One that delivers for people on their daily commute. One that helps to rebalance south to north. And one that recognises the role that transport can play in preventing runaway climate change.

Michael Gove’s record as DEFRA minister has seen a renewed focus on environmental issues like pollution. As the government’s green champion we need him to also unite cabinet colleagues, from BEIS to DfT, in addressing climate change. Otherwise, he and the rest of this Government will have been guilty of chilling out in the deckchair while the planet burns.

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