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A week is a long time in climate politics

A week is a long time in climate politics

23rd April 2019

In the last week, activities of UK protesters and the arrival of student climate striker Greta Thunberg have driven unprecedented public and political attention to the climate issue. At our special parliamentary reception Greta told MPs they have not acted fast enough on climate change, drawing words of contrition from Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP.

On Tuesday, 23rd April, the APPCCG teamed up with a wide range of other organisations (see below) to host student climate activist Greta Thunberg at a special parliamentary reception. After a welcome from our Chair, Caroline Lucas MP, Greta gave a trademark frank and disarmingly erudite speech to a room packed full of MPs. We heard responses from Layla Moran MP, Ed Miliband MP and Secretary of State Michael Gove MP, who admitted feeling guilty for not having yet done more to address climate change. 

Through the Q&A session it became clear the audience would not be placated by warm words and contrition from the panel. The records of the current and past UK governments were held up to scrutiny by politicians and youth strikers alike. This may seem unfair in the context of substantial increases in the annual reductions of UK emissions, which recently reached 3% per year. But to contextualise this figure - we are not on track to meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets and reaching net zero emissions by 2050 requires at least 8% per year for all subsequent years. Also, as Greta pointed out in her speech, statistics from the Tyndall Centre show UK emissions have actually shrunk by 0.4% per year since 1990 once aviation, shipping and imported goods are factored in. 

Earlier in the day, Greta met with the Westminster leaders of Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens for a round table meeting. UK youth climate strikers Anna Taylor, George Bond and Holly Gillibrand joined this discussion and were able to secure significant commitments from the senior politicians present, these were:

  1. To continue the dialogue - opposition leaders agreed to take part in an ongoing series of round tables with the student strikers
  2. To take part in youth climate assemblies - all parties present committed to exploring the idea of setting up youth citizens assemblies to include the views of younger generations in the creation of climate policy
  3. To have their manifestos climate stress-tested - all agreed in principle to having future manifestos 'stress tested' by an appropriate body to ensure they are compatible with below 1.5oC of global warming

A week is a long time in politics, but things can just as quickly move back the other way. The Greta effect has been a shot of adrenaline for those working on climate change within Westminster, it is now the role of the APPCCG and others to make sure this momentum is carried forward into significant change.

Our parliamentary reception was held in association with Amnesty International, the Climate Coalition, WWF, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Labour Environment Network (SERA), the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), Green Alliance, UK Youth Climate Coalition, UK Student Climate Network, and 10:10. The full script of Greta‚Äôs speech can be found in this newspaper article.