UK Parliament becomes first in the world to pass motion declaring a ‘climate emergency’

The climate emergency was declared just hours before the Committee on Climate Change called on the Government to set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 'net-zero' levels by 2050

During a debate at the House of Commons this afternoon (1 May), Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a motion for the UK parliament to become the first in the world to declare a climate emergency – recognition that legislative action to date has been insufficient.

Corbyn noted that current trajectories would put the world on course to reach net-zero emissions by the end of the century. The Labour party leader called on Parliament to declare a climate emergency, and set new policies that would “set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe”.

And in the early evening, the motion was passed after Prime Minister Theresa May decided against ordering her whips to voted against the motion, instead focusing on Local Election campaigns.

In response to the motion, Secretary of State for the environment Michael Gove cited the recent ‘hottest years on record’ as undeniable evidence of climate change and called for a cross-party approach to tackle climate change once and for all.

“Not only do I welcome the opportunity that this debate provides, I also want to make it clear that on this side of the house we recognise that the situation we face is an emergency. It is a crisis, it is a threat, that all of us have to unite to meet,” Gove said, as reported by the Guardian.

Gove spent Tuesday afternoon meeting representatives of the Extinction Rebellion Group, discussing whether a climate emergency needed to be declared.

Towards net-zero

The declaration follows weeks of climate protests, ranging from the school children strikes orchestrated by 16-year old activist Greta Thunberg, to the “civil disobedience” protests led by the Extinction Rebellion activist group.

The devolved Scottish and Welsh parliaments have already made individual declarations of climate emergencies, as reported by Euractiv. Both declarations by the devolved parliaments noted the significant findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report, which warned that the world is already more than 1C warmer than pre-industrial levels, and that an increase to 2C would significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The IPCC report predicted that, if the world can become carbon-neutral by 2047, we will have a 66% chance of meeting the most ambitious end of the Paris Agreement pledge. The delivery of a ‘carbon-neutral’ planet hinges on nations committing to net-zero emissions in the timeframe, a move which the UK is now being called upon to make.

Advice on a net-zero target was published by the CCC on Thursday (2 May), and was specifically requested by Government officials following a host of business, academic and green economy experts clamouring for a target to be set that raised the UK’s climate ambitions.

More than 100 MPs have now signed a letter calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to establish a net-zero emissions target for 2050, while a group of business and civil society leaders, including Paul Polman, Christiana Figueres, Sir Richard Branson and Arianna Huffington have called for a similar target to be set at an EU level.

Notably, Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed that the UK will be joining 18 other countries that have committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 at the earliest through the Carbon Neutrality Coalition. The 19 members of the Coalition have now adopted a Plan of Action.

Matt Mace

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