The Climate Change Act ten years on: the global gold standard. Report by Dr Martin J Hodson
It was 10 years since the UK government introduced its Climate Change Act on 26th November 2008, and I was very pleased to be
invited by the Bishop of Salisbury to an event at the Houses of Parliament that would both look back on progress and look forward to the future. The event was organised in collaboration with Lord Deben, who has a long interest in the topic. The Whitehouse Consultancy provided the logistical support and produced some helpful background material HERE. The meeting was attended by politicians, scientists and industrialists, with a fair number of representatives from various faith groups. It began with a keynote address by Lord Deben and there followed short presentations from an invited panel and a question and answer session.
The last time I saw Lord Deben (then John Gummer) was the 16th July 2002 when he gave the after-dinner speech at Jesus College, Oxford, as part of Forum 2002, the international climate change conference that was jointly sponsored by JRI and Au Sable in the United States. He was Minister of Agriculture, fisheries and food (1989 to 1993) and the Secretary of State for the Environment (1993 to 1997). He is now Chair of the independent Committee on Climate Change. It is a strange coincidence that only four days earlier I had attended the Theos Annual Lecture where Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was speaking. Deben, like Gove, is a Conservative, but he is very pro-Europe and has been a long-standing critic of UK Government environmental policy. He is a committed Roman Catholic.
Lord Deben began his talk by outlining the process that led to the 2008 Climate Change Act, acknowledging the role that Friends of the Earth had in starting things off. He stressed the cross-party support for the act. Deben reckoned that only eight MPs voted against the Act, the same eight that are opposed now. “Older but not wiser” he quipped. He felt that climate change should not be a party political issue. The Act faced up to the fact that climate change does not fit neatly into five-year parliamentary sessions and is a long-term problem. Governments are required to set carbon budgets, and all five have been approved so far. Deben felt that the Act had made the Paris Agreement of 2015 more possible as it showed how to do this sort of long-term policy. The Act set up an independent Committee on Climate Change which reports every year to the government, and by law, the government has to respond. So the government can be held to account. Deben acknowledged that a lot remained to be done, but thought that the 10 year anniversary was a cause for celebration. (the Committee produced a short VIDEO marking ten years of the Climate Change Act). Like Michael Gove four days earlier, Deben referred to Laudato Si, in which Pope Francis acknowledges that climate change is a result of the way we treat our world.
The chair of the panel was Adam Vaughan (Energy Editor, The Guardian). In his brief opening comments, he stressed how much was happening on climate change: The recent IPCC report on 1.5oC; the Fourth National Climate Assessment Report in the United States; the fourth generation of UK Climate Projections, which were launched on the day of our meeting; and the Extinction Rebellion.
Sir Edward Davey MP (Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Home Affairs and Former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) was pleased that the Act was still there, but he would like to give it more power. He saw great successes with coal fading out and renewables taking over. We now needed a dramatic transition in financial affairs, and he cited pension funds, mentioning the possibility of stranded assets. Davey saw a link between tackling climate change and dealing with global poverty.
Nicholas Holtam (The Bishop of Salisbury, Chair Church of England’s Environmental Working Group, and lead bishop for Environmental Affairs) stressed the importance of faith communities in tackling climate change. At the Paris climate change meeting in 2015 an interfaith coalition handed in a petition containing 1.8 million signatures. Churches are connected across the globe, and are involved because of moral issues: intergenerational equity; and how we live with each other and creation? The Bishop was hopeful but was clear that we needed to wake up and move faster.
Meryam Omi (Head of Sustainability and Responsible Investment Strategy, L&G Investment Management) said that in 2004/5 she was involved in handing out postcards for Friends of the Earth in support of a climate change act. Then the thinking was that someone else could do it. Now we all have to worry. A big question for her concerns pension funds and are they in line with the Paris Agreement?
John Arnold (Catholic Bishop of Salford) not surprisingly also mentioned Laudato Si, the most widely read Vatican publication ever! He stressed the need for education. We must not bury our heads in the sand. There was a long way to go!
There followed a wide-ranging discussion and I will focus on just three issues;
It was not too surprising that the topic of fracking came up. Lord Deben responded by reiterating the position of the Committee on Climate Change: fracked gas should replace imported gas and not be in addition; there should be no new infrastructure for it; and very tough safety regulations will be in place. Total emissions must go down.
The Extinction Rebellion
It was interesting that the Extinction Rebellion came up a few times. One Jewish rabbi raised the topic. The Bishop of Salisbury responded by saying that he had been invited to a rally at very short notice and was unable to attend, but both of his children did! There are a number of Christians that are involved in this movement, and it is clear that it is having an impact even in parliament.
Lord Deben said that the main part of climate change legislation in the UK was contained in the Act, and should not be directly affected by Brexit. But he felt that we would hamper ourselves by withdrawing from the EU. Deben did not think that isolationism was a good way to tackle climate change, and if we leave the EU it will make the job much more difficult. Davey felt that EU legislation has also been very important, and so it was critical that the UK remained at the table. He concluded that it would be an “unmitigated disaster” if the UK leaves the EU. Later Deben said that he preferred the “alternative route called staying in”.
And so I left what had been an excellent, informative, meeting. On the way out of the building, I spotted Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party). While we were in our meeting the Prime Minister was taking questions about leaving the EU, including one from Caroline Lucas asking for a People’s Vote. This issue is not going away. Our role in JRI in the next few months will be to analyse the likely environmental impacts of leaving the EU from a Christian perspective. Stay tuned.
Dr Martin J Hodson (JRI Operations Director)