Maria Eagle MP pledges swift action on climate if Labour wins election
Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle has vowed to make climate change a top priority for the Government if Labour gets voted into power at next year's general election.
Speaking at WWF's UK headquarters in Woking yesterday, the Labour MP said human-induced climate change was "the biggest challenge facing the world today".
"No sensible government can govern in these challenging times without putting tackling climate change at the core of what they do. It must be done consistently over time, beyond just the confines of one parliament, across all government departments led by the Prime Minister," she argued.
Eagle slammed the Tory-led coalition's track record on the issue, and said that David Cameron's "apparent conversion" to the realities of climate change at the beginning of his tenure failed to materialise.
"David Cameron has gone from wanting to lead 'the greenest Government ever' to ditching 'the green crap'," she stated. "In fact, lately, he has taken to calling the new environment secretary the agriculture secretary as if he can't even bear to say the word anymore. We've seen a damaging reversal of progress."
Eagle also accused the coalition of undermining the UK's renewable energy industry by refusing to set up a 2030 decarbonisation target, and pointed to the controversial appointments of former Environment Secretaries Caroline Spelman and Owen Paterson.
"The first thing Caroline Spelman did as Environment Secretary was slash flood defence budgets. The second thing she did was try and sell off the Public Forest Estate. Owen Paterson was worse. He refused to meet his own scientific advisors to be briefed on climate change and repeatedly put his own personal prejudices ahead of following the science."
She warned that the consequences of another Tory victory would be "dire" for the environment and pointed to future flood risk as an example.
"Committee on Climate change calculations show that current Tory plans will put an extra 330,000 properties at serious risk from flooding by 2035. This means another five years of David Cameron's Government would on average, put over 80,000 new properties at serious risk of flooding every five years. By 2015 almost three-quarters of the flood defence systems in England will not be maintained according to their identified needs."
Under a Labour government, Eagle pledged that flood protection would be taken seriously. "We will re-prioritise flooding as a core responsibility of Defra. We will end this Government's short-term approach to flood investment and prioritise preventative spending that can save money in the long-term.
"As part of the Armitt Review, we will establish an Independent National Infrastructure Commission to identify the UK's long-term infrastructure needs, which will include flood protection. It will be answerable to Parliament and will enable Parliament to hold the government to account for meeting the needs and priorities it identifies."
She added that the party would produce a new plan for climate change adaptation to replace Owen Paterson's National Adaptation Programme, and work towards improving the UK's record on air pollution.
"The UK has one of the worst records of any European country for exceeding EU air pollution limits," she said, adding that 93% of British zones for assessing pollution levels currently exceed these limits.
"It is a problem crying out for Government action - not least because from next year the EU will be able to levy hundreds of millions of pounds in fines for our failure to meet the targets set for safe air quality in the UK."
Eagle said a Labour government would deliver a national framework for low emission zones and that it would consult with businesses, NGOs and local authorities on how best to deliver it. "Many local authorities already wish to implement various forms of low emission zones in their respective geographical areas but are being discouraged because there is no such framework."