8 September 2021
This Parliamentary term is make-or-break for effective climate leadership and global action

Philip Dunne, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee writes for The House Magazine

If we don’t take the necessary action now, and put some substance behind the bold and ambitious climate statements of intent, I have no doubt that we will live to regret it in years to come.

As we return to our desks at Westminster, in some cases for the first time in 18 months, I hope the government’s determination to tackle the climate change challenge has been reinvigorated. This Parliamentary term is likely to be the most crucial for turning the tide on environmental challenges, into action, as colleagues on all sides begin to pick through plans, strategies and policies with a fine-tooth comb.

We have less than two months to go until COP26, and so far, the depth of the UK’s climate leadership, beyond summitry and headline announcements, is in many aspects yet to be revealed. Other countries are looking to the UK to fill out and unashamedly champion policies to decarbonise energy and stem rising emissions.

Climate leadership comes from well-thought through policy, backed up by thorough strategies which give direction to industry and send clear demand signals to investors. Key strategies have been delayed, understandably due to the global focus on the pandemic, hence a backlog is accumulating. This is doing little to instil confidence across the numerous sectors, where new skills have to be developed and innovations brought forward.

It was a relief to see the Hydrogen Strategy published over the summer recess – albeit with issues outstanding – but we are still waiting for key policy papers such as the Heat and Buildings Strategy and the Treasury’s final Net Zero Review.

But I will not join the naysayers of doom and gloom: the narrative has been energetic and ambitious.

This government, like the conservative administrations before it, has no shortage of ambition. The phrase “leave the environment in a better state than we found it” has underlined the Clean Growth Strategy, the 25 Year Environment Plan, the manifesto on which my colleagues and I stood in 2019 and numerous other policy commitments.

The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution is characteristically ambitious, and a pivotal moment is to come when the long-awaited Environment Bill gets Royal Assent and is brought into force later in this parliamentary session.

However, there is a long road ahead in terms of tangible policies that will deliver the ambition to “leave the environment in a better state than we found it”.

Since I was elected chair of the Environmental Audit Committee in January last year, we have outlined a number of steps the government should take to promote repair of our precious environment.

We recommended that online giants take more responsibility to take back electronic goods to recycle precious metals properly, critical for low carbon energy. We called on Ofgem to consider alternative grid connection methods to enable more wind farms to get up and running. We have urged the government to invest more in hydrogen projects, to give the sector the direction and confidence it desperately needs.

We outlined how the economic recovery from covid-19 could drive forward the green future, if investments were suitably focussed. We warned that, with 19 million homes yet to reach EPC band C, net zero will never happen without decisive and long-term intervention on energy efficiency.

We identified how a confused and disjointed policy implementation across government departments has been hampering attempts at nature recovery. We found that a shortage of skilled engineers could threaten heat pump installations. We called for a clear support regime to enable tidal energy developers to create opportunities for domestic deployment and technology exports. We called for more support for community energy projects which are decarbonising energy in local areas.

It is solutions such as these that will help address the climate emergency, offering solutions at a local level, which could demonstrate climate leadership. They could also have significant public backing: a recent Ipsos MORI poll suggests that a growing proportion of people believe that climate change, the environment and pollution are all major issues for Britain.

Make no mistake about it: the green transition will be expensive. It is also likely to be disruptive. The government must level with people that this will be the case.  The cost and inconvenience pale into insignificance when we reflect on the potential repercussions from doing nothing, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently indicated: continued sea level rise, heatwaves, more intense rainfall, coastal erosion, damage to ecosystems.

The remainder of 2021 in Parliament is – in many ways – a make-or-break period for effective climate leadership and global action. If we don’t take the necessary action now, and put some substance behind the bold and ambitious statements of intent, I have no doubt that we will live to regret it in years to come.