Caroline Lucas: facing up to climate challenge might bring our country back together after Brexit – here’s how

Caroline Lucas is a Green Party MP.
Caroline Lucas is a Green Party MP.
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CLIMATE change is not some kind of future threat; climate change is here and now. The records keep being broken not just in the UK, but right across the world. In January 2019, Australia had its hottest month ever, and prolonged droughts worsened California’s destructive wildfires. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2005.

To be clear, this is not normal. We are not in a time of normal. The implications of these seismic changes for the future of life on Earth and human civilisation are profound. Yet even after all the international conferences and pledges on climate action, the Earth is still set to warm by 3°C or 4°C.

A recent climate change protest outside a Scarborough school.

A recent climate change protest outside a Scarborough school.

In that scenario, huge swathes of the Earth would be rendered uninhabitable, while extreme weather would ravage whole countries. Time is quickly running out to limit warming, even to the still dangerous 1.5°C or 2°C aspirations of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. We face a climate emergency and we must choose now how we respond.

Here at home, the Government’s response to the climate crisis has been nowhere near ambitious enough. Since 2010, almost every existing sensible climate measure has been torched: zero-carbon homes scrapped; onshore wind effectively banned; solar power shafted; the Green Investment Bank flogged off; and fracking forced on local communities.

It is not possible to tackle the climate crisis and expand airports or build new runways. We cannot tackle climate change while ploughing billions of pounds into North Sea oil and gas. We cannot tackle the climate crisis while chucking billions into new roads. And we cannot tackle the climate crisis while our economy is built on the assumption that precious minerals, fresh air and clean water, can magically regenerate themselves in an instant.

The IPCC says that we need to cut emissions to net zero by the middle of the century, but during that very same period the global economy is set to nearly triple in size. Let us be clear that that means three times more production and consumption than we already see each year.

It is why I am calling for a green new deal in this country – not to be mistaken with the green deal which is a very different, failed British policy.

I am really proud to have been a co-founder of the first green new deal group here in the UK 10 years ago. The green new deal is now getting real momentum from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US. It takes its inspiration from Roosevelt’s new deal in the 1930s, which saw massive investment in jobs and infrastructure in order to pull the US out of the depression.

What we need now is a similar massive investment – not in infrastructure per se – but in green technology and green infrastructure. That means a complete and rapid decarbonisation of our whole economy on a much faster scale than our current framework dictates.

It means a huge programme of investment in clean energy, creating hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs. It means transforming huge areas of our country and allowing those proud communities that have been hollowed out through deindustrialisation and austerity to regenerate and thrive as they join a collective endeavour to protect the planet. To that extent, it might just be a way of bringing our country back together after all the divisions and polarisation of Brexit.

This is urgent. That is why the alarm call that young people gave us in the climate strikes is so very important. They know that in this moment of political paralysis and morally unforgivable inaction on climate, only something really big will shifts our politics in a new direction and attempt something new. Across the country, we now have over 25 local authorities that have declared a climate emergency, with our schools and universities doing the same thing.

This Parliament must also declare a climate emergency. These are extraordinary times and they call for extraordinary measures. Declaring a climate emergency would perhaps mean that we have a cross-cutting Select Committee on climate breakdown and that every new law is climate-proofed. It would mean redefining and reshaping the debate on climate change.

We have made some progress. But if we take into account our consumption emissions – the ​emissions linked to all the products that we consume because we have outsourced manufacturing – then actually our progress looks an awful lot less good. Let us be honest about the scale of the challenge that we face and deliver on the future for those young people.

Caroline Lucas is a Green Party MP. She spoke 
in a Parliamentary debate on climate change
 – this is an edited version.