As regular readers of this column will know, I take great interest in the protection and improvement of our environment. I often use this page to provide updates about my work as Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, as well as environmental commitments from the government which will deliver improvements in South Shropshire.
So I took to the trouble to meet the small group of Extinction Rebellion activists who lobbied peacefully in front of my office in Ludlow last Friday.
I was therefore completely shocked and exasperated to learn afterwards of the ludicrous actions of their fellow activists elsewhere, who sought to undermine vital press freedoms by preventing distribution of several national newspaper titles, imposed significant economic costs, and disrupted the life-saving work of our emergency services. It also helps undermine the viability of printed media as a means to disseminate news and information, which as pointed out to me by local newsagents in our market towns may hasten their demise.
For those of us who take climate change seriously, these underhand and foolish tactics severely undermine efforts to bring the public on board in reaching our target of net zero Britain. The justification used by Extinction Rebellion for their illegal actions fails to recognise the reality of the government’s record on climate change, which is objectively the best among G20 economies.
In the past year alone, this government has doubled climate finance for developing countries, brought forward the phase-out date for new petrol and diesel cars, and increased funding for home insulation with vouchers available to the public to help fund up to £5,000 of improvements.
I know we must go further, and so does the government as there is further legislation in the pipeline. But we will only succeed with practical and popular policies which grow the economy and create green jobs. My Committee is continuing to hold the government to account in delivering net zero, and groups in Parliament, like the Conservative Environment Network, are an effective lobby for progressing further measures along this agenda.
So my message to well-meaning local residents who feel it is OK to support extremists who endanger others and break the law in the name of protecting the environment, is that this is not acceptable to the vast majority of law-abiding citizens. Such tactics undermine generating goodwill and support from the general public.
Actions which break the law will be met with the full force of the law – as we have seen by over 500 arrests from those blockading newspaper printers last weekend, with 20 activists receiving £10,000 fines so far. There is no question these actions harm the very cause for which they are campaigning.
As we deliver our net zero target, we must ensure that we bring everyone with us and seize the economic opportunities for all areas of the UK in emerging clean industries.