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UK parliament declares a climate emergency

Labour motion passed by the House of Commons, though government cannot be forced to act

Posted : 9 May 2019

The first step to dealing with any problem is to acknowledge there’s a problem to begin with. That’s what the House of Commons did last week, by approving a motion declaring a climate and environment emergency.

The motion was put forward by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and passed without a vote. While it expresses the will of the Commons, however, the declaration has no legal force, meaning the government cannot be forced to take steps to act on it. It is telling that, last month, all political party leaders bar the prime minister, Theresa May, were willing to meet the young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg to discuss the state of the environment.

Corbyn said the motion, which also urges the government to come up with plans to mend the UK’s natural environment and reduce waste to zero, was a “huge step forward” that could “set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe”. He added: “We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to US President Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis.”

The motion preceded the publication of a new report by the government’s environmental advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change, which has set the UK an ambitious target of becoming a zero-carbon economy by 2050. Published earlier this month, it details a host of ways to curb our harmful emissions, including eating less meat. So far the UK has only committed to cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent on 1990 levels by 2050.

The government’s lack of action on the environment has been cast into stark relief by the decision of Wales and Scotland, as well as towns and cities including London and Manchester, to declare a climate emergency. Many are working towards becoming carbon-neutral by 2030.

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