Why I’m backing the climate and ecological emergency bill tabled by Caroline Lucas

Nadia Whittome
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Today parliament returns after recess. As MPs, we have plenty to be getting on with right now. But as our attention is focused on the unfolding public health crisis and the recession facing us, we can’t lose sight of the third crisis that’s threatening our very existence: the climate crisis.

Because while we were busy tackling the pandemic, the climate emergency hasn’t gone away. Global warming has not paused for lockdown, and saving the planet we live on cannot wait for quieter times. We must act now.

The 2018 special report by the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change set out that to prevent runaway climate chaos, we need “rapid and far-reaching transitions” that are “unprecedented in terms of scale”. We are not talking about minor tweaks here and there, but a complete restructuring of our economy.

We simply can’t accept the answer that this is impossible. Covid-19 has shown us that when governments believe that there is an emergency, they can act fast. It has shown us that austerity was always a political choice, and that there’s nothing inevitable about the status quo under which our economy and society have operated.

For too long, we took for granted that our society is run by and for the privileged few, that power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a small minority, and that the poor must suffer cuts upon cuts while the rich get richer and our environment is trashed. But we’ve had enough. Let’s make sure this moment is a wake-up call.

It’s disgraceful that the government is trying to distract us from their colossal failures by scapegoating migrants who are trying to cross the English Channel. Let’s be clear: migrants and refugees are not a threat to our civilisation – but climate chaos and ecological breakdown are real threats. Instead of attacking migrants and refugees, let’s attack the power of energy companies that are making profits as the world burns or a government that refuses to invest in a truly circular economy.

Just as we won’t accept the falsehood that it is immigrants who are to blame for mass unemployment, we cannot accept the idea that it is ordinary working-class people who are to blame for climate change, or that we can solve it by just shopping a little less. No – this is a crisis of a system and a government that has failed to grasp the scale and urgency of the crisis we face. That’s why we say ‘system change, not climate change’.

As lockdown ends, there can be no going back to normal, because normal wasn’t working. We don’t need a ‘recovery’ that takes us back to how things were, but a transformation towards how things should be. We need a real green new deal, huge-scale investment in green jobs and infrastructure and a reordering of our priorities so that people and planet – not private profits – come first.

That’s why I am proud to be one of the MPs supporting the climate and ecological emergency bill, which has been initiated by activists and tabled by my colleague Caroline Lucas. It’s a bill that demands that the climate and ecological crisis is not merely declared, but acted upon with the urgency it deserves.

In May 2019, after parliament declared a climate and ecological emergency, it would have made sense for the government to have brought forward its own comprehensive legislation – but instead here we are over a year later, having to cajole and drag them into any action. Make no mistake, it is grassroots pressure from people like the demonstrators today that is making lawmakers pay attention.

While I’ll be in parliament campaigning for this bill to become law, I am asking those who are attending demonstrations and mobilising in communities to keep organising, keep challenging and keep holding us to account. And if the government refuses to listen, be so loud that they can’t pretend not to hear.

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