A national emergency: Corbyn backs climate change activists

30 April 2019, 23:06 | Updated: 1 May 2019, 09:54

Jeremy Corbyn is attempting to force a Commons vote on a Labour demand for Parliament to declare a national emergency on climate change.

The Labour leader is taking the unusual step of personally opening an opposition debate on a motion calling for "rapid and dramatic action" from the government.

Labour's Commons move follows weeks of protests, blockades and disruption by militant environmental campaigners Extinction Rebellion, who also staged a nude protest in the Commons public gallery.

There has also been a series of Friday protests by school children and a high-profile visit to London by 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who met Mr Corbyn and other senior MPs.

The opposition debate, the first granted to Labour by the government for some months, will coincide with a further demonstration in Westminster by Extinction Rebellion, the left-wing Labour group Momentum and UK Student Climate Network.

Calling on Parliament to declare an environment and climate emergency, Mr Corbyn will demand:

:: New targets on renewable and low carbon energy and transport;
:: Increased funding for environmental protection;
:: Moves to reverse the dying out of endangered species; and
:: Plans to move towards a zero waste economy.

The Labour leader will tell MPs: "We have no time to waste. We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now.

"Young people know this. I was deeply moved a few weeks ago to see the streets outside this parliament filled with colour and noise by children on strike from school chanting 'our planet, our future'.

"For someone of my generation, it was inspiring but also humbling that children felt they had to leave school to teach the adults a lesson. The truth is they are ahead of the politicians on this, the most important issue of our times.

"We are witnessing an unprecedented upsurge of climate activism with groups like Extinction Rebellion forcing the politicians in this building to listen. For all the dismissive and defensive column inches the protests have provoked, they are a massive and necessary wake up call.

"Today, we have the opportunity to say, 'We hear you'."

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Mr Corbyn will claim: "Parliament rarely leads change, it usually drags its feet. Think about the huge transformations to our society: workers' rights, women's rights, gay rights.

"The impetus has always come from outside, from social movements and communities, while Westminster is often the last place to understand it. Let's not repeat that pattern. Let's respond to the younger generation who are raising the alarm.

"By declaring a climate emergency, we could set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the world. It's a chance that won't be available to succeeding generations. It is our historic duty to take it."

Mr Corbyn will also warn of the threat of damage to plants, animals and the soil, claiming: "The warming of our climate is contributing to the terrifying loss of animal and plant species that we are only just recognising.

"Earlier this year, the first global scientific review of its kind found that insects could become extinct within a century unless action is taken. Insects pollinate plants and keep the soil healthy. Without pollination and healthy soil, there is no food and without food, there are no humans.

"Meanwhile intensive farming is pumping the earth full of fertilisers and taking its toll on our soil. The environment secretary himself has warned that we only have 30 to 40 years left before our fertile soil is "eradicated"."

And outlining Labour's plans for a "Green Industrial Revolution", Mr Corbyn will say: "The facts say that it is an emergency. But an emergency does not have to be a catastrophe. We could use it as an opportunity to rebuild our economy so that it works for the many not the few.

"What we need is a Green Industrial Revolution, with huge investment in new technologies and green industries. It is a chance to bring new manufacturing and engineering jobs to places that have never recovered from the destruction of our industries under Margaret Thatcher.

"The hidden hand of the market is not going to save us. Technological solutions are not going to magically appear out of nowhere. An emergency of this magnitude requires large-scale government intervention to kick-start industries, to direct investment and to boost research and development in the green technologies of the future.

"The solution to the crisis is reprogramming our whole economy so that it works in the interests of both people and the planet. This is not a time for despair. It is a time for action."

:: Labour's motion states: "That this House declares an environment and climate emergency and resolves to act with commensurate urgency following the finding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that to avoid more than 1.5°C of warming, global emissions would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching 'net zero' around 2050; recognises the devastating impact volatile and extreme weather will have on UK food production, water availability, public health, flooding and wildfire damage; calls on the Government to increase the ambition of the UK's climate change targets under the Climate Change Act to achieve net zero emissions before 2050, to increase support for and set ambitious, short term targets for the rollout of renewable and low carbon energy and transport, and move swiftly to capture economic opportunities and green jobs in the low carbon economy while managing risks for workers and communities currently reliant on carbon intensive sectors; further notes that the UK is currently missing almost all of its biodiversity targets, with an alarming trend in species decline, and that cuts to Natural England of almost 50 percent are counterproductive to this end; and calls on the Government to bring to the House within the next six months a series of urgent measures to restore nature and move towards a circular, zero waste economy."