Proposed Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill would see international aviation, shipping, and consumption fall within the UK’s 2050 net zero target, while putting climate assemblies on a formal standing
Spearheaded by Green Party MP Carline Lucas, the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill is being tabled as a private member’s bill with the support of MPs from Labour, SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, and the SDLP, as well as scientists, business figures and Extinction Rebellion (XR) campaigners.
The Bill would require the inclusion of emissions from the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping in the country’s existing 2050 net zero greenhouse gas target, as well as emissions linked to UK supply chains and consumption, none of which currently fall under the 2008 Climate Change Act.
Based on the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5C by the end of the century, the proposed legislation also aims to address the biodiversity crisis, by placing a stronger legal requirement for the government to protect and restore forests, soils, and ecosystems so as to deliver a natural means of absorbing CO2.
It also states that only natural carbon capture methods should be used to meet the UK’s net zero targets, effectively ruling out the use of negative emissions technologies and CCS as a means of meeting the targets.
Moreover, it would place ordinary voters at the heart of net zero decision-making, by setting up a citizen’s assembly to work directly with ministers to draw up a strategy for the fairest and most effective means of decarbonising the economy and lifestyles.
Such a move would mirror efforts by Parliamentary select committees, which earlier this year teamed up to establish Climate Assembly UK, a group of over 100 randomly-appointed members of the public who are shortly set to publish their final recommendations to government on how to deliver net zero emissions by 2050. Initial indications from the exercise suggest the British public would be highly receptive to lifestyle changes to combat the climate emergency.
Lucas, a former Green Party leader, said the UK’s existing Climate Change Act – which in 2008 established the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and imposed legally-binding decarbonisation targets on the government – “urgently needs updating in the face of an accelerating climate crisis”.
“We need far earlier, bolder and more comprehensive action to reduce emissions and to restore nature,” she said. “It is vital that we learn the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic, where we have paid a terrible price for poor preparation and a slow and inadequate response. We cannot say there were no warnings of the climate and nature crises – they have been there for years. It’s time we responded at the scale and speed the science demands by passing this Bill and acting on it.”
The Bill comes as major Extinction Rebellion demonstrations kicked off across the country in a bid to once again highlight the scale of the climate crisis facing the world, with protestors taking to the streets in Westminster, Cardiff and Manchester as part of a planned fortnight of action.
XR is reportedly backing the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, alongside a number of leading public figures including British actor Sir Mark Rylance, environmentalist Jonathan Porritt and US journalist Bill McKibben. Environmental business organisations Volans and Business Declares have also joined a host of legal experts in backing the draft Bill, which has been drawn up by academics and climate scientists.
“This Bill outlines the path needed to avoid the catastrophe outlined by the United Nations,” said Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty International, and former international executive director of Greenpeace International. “It is farsighted aiming to protect those at risk now and in the future.”
The Bill has secured backing from a number of opposition MPs, but like most Private Members Bills it is highly unlikely to pass without the government’s backing.
The government is also unlikely to back the Bill in its current form given parts of the proposed legislation remain controversial. While Ministers have in the past signalled they could consider international shipping and aviation emissions as part of the UK’s climate targets in the future, calls for a greater focus on consumption-based emissions have struggled to gain traction, while negative emissions technologies are widely regarded as a critical component of the net zero transition.
However, advocates of the bill will be hoping that it will effectively highlight the need for bolder climate action during an autumn when a raft of crucial decisions on the UK’s decarbonisation policies and the government’s promised green recovery package are set to be finalised.