Here are some frequently asked questions from campaigners about the CEE Bill and its progress in Parliament. Over the first half of June 2021, we will be adding further answers to questions around campaigning strategy and why the Bill is needed on top of existing and other proposed legislation.
What is the climate emergency?
The science is clear—greenhouse gas emissions are making the planet hotter. If they keep rising, we face unacceptable risks including the loss of the Amazon rainforest, sea level rise and frequent failures of staple crops.
Since humans started burning fossil fuels, the average global temperature has risen by just over 1ºC—see this graph from NASA. That might not sound like much, but it is already causing a marked increase in fires, floods, crop failure and extreme weather across the planet. Every extra fraction of a degree amplifies these effects, adding to suffering and economic cost both here in the UK, and around the world. And the longer we leave it, the greater the risk of crossing dangerous tipping points which would accelerate warming, threatening our very way of life.
There is still time to act, to clean our air and restore and protect nature. Scientists tell us that it is not too late to bring climate change under control and restore the health of the natural world for our children and grandchildren, but only if we are prepared to take bold action immediately.
David Attenborough said in 2019: “It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies. We are running out of time, but there is still hope.”
What does it mean to be a sponsor, co-sponsor or a supporter?
With a Private Member’s Bill (PMB), one MP presents the Bill and is the lead sponsor. You can have up to 11 additional MPs co-sponsor the Bill. Their names appear on the official parliamentary document. Other MPs can publicly declare their support for the Bill, which is fantastic, as for a bill to be eventually passed into law, we will need the support of a majority of MPs. Caroline Lucas MP is the primary sponsor of the CEE Bill, and all co-sponsors and supporters are listed on our website.
What is the ecological emergency?
The last few decades have seen a major loss of wildlife around the world, which scientists are calling the sixth mass extinction. This degradation of the natural world is not just a tragedy for the plants and animals forever lost, but also poses a huge risk for human populations.
We depend on a healthy planet for our survival—for the pollination of our crops and for clean water and air. Scientists have warned of looming ecological collapse if politicians fail to take emergency action.
The UK has some of the most depleted wildlife and nature in the world. The RSPB’s 2019 State of Nature report on the UK’s biodiversity states:
- 41% of all UK species have declined since the 1970s (hedgehogs by 95%).
- 26% of the UK’s mammals are at a very real risk of becoming extinct.
- A third of the wild bees and hoverfly species have been lost, likely due to pesticides, habitat loss and climate change.
- 97% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have disappeared in the last century. Read more from Kew Gardens on why wildflower meadows are so important.
The Government must give more focus to this issue, which is closely connected with climate change. The climate and ecological crises must be tackled together, with an appreciation of their interdependencies. The CE Bill would formally recognise the link between the climate and ecological crises, helping ensure that solving problems in one doesn’t inadvertently create problems in the other.
What will the Climate and Ecology Bill do?
The CE Bill calls for an emergency strategy for the UK to address the crisis. By passing the bill, the Government would be making a legal commitment to follow the science.
The CE Bill would ensure that the UK:
- Makes its fair share of emissions cuts necessary to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C (the more ambitious end of the Paris Agreement).
- Accounts for its entire carbon footprint wherever the emissions occur. This means taking real action on the emissions we cause overseas through the production, trade and transportation of the things we consume.
- Actively conserves the natural world. It would protect and restore our ecosystems, and encourage biodiversity, healthy soils and thriving natural carbon sinks.
- Takes responsibility for its impact on nature around the world. This means being honest about the damage to the environment caused by our consumption, making sure we reduce our global impact.
The Bill sees the creation of a Climate Assembly that would put forward recommendations for the emergency strategy to Government and Parliament. This group of ordinary citizens, selected at random like a jury, would listen to expert evidence before reaching conclusions on the best way forward. Their recommendations would be debated in Parliament, but MPs would still have the final say.
This is also the only proposed legislation in the UK that integrates our response to the climate and nature emergencies. The repair of our natural world and action on climate are two sides of the same coin.
For more information, briefings and presentations on the CE Bill, see this section of the Campaigner Hub.
Why doesn’t the bill offer specific environmental and climate policies?
What this country is missing is a mechanism to ensure that the Government’s strategy does what it says on the tin – i.e. limit warming to 1.5°C and restore nature. The Government is talking the talk but avoiding taking any serious action now. There is currently no obligation on the Government to ensure its plans will achieve the desired results. This allows the Government to avoid confronting the issue. The CE Bill will ensure that Government policy and action is in line with the scientific advice.
It is then for Government to determine the specifics of the strategy, with input from a randomly selected group of ordinary citizens (the Climate & Nature Assembly). And we really don’t have to hunt around for answers: scientists and experts have been formulating these for decades. But what is missing is a sense of political urgency and a joined-up, cross-party way of thinking away from day-to-day politics.
The CE Bill creates a robust framework that would hold the UK to the science, making sure that whichever path we take, we do everything we can to limit global heating and the destruction of the natural world. No specific policies are mentioned. It is down to Parliament and Government to identify these in formulating the emergency strategy, with the help of the Climate Assembly. The Bill makes sure that whatever the precise contents of the Government’s strategy, it is consistent with the overall aim of keeping global warming within 1.5ºC and limiting our impact on nature.
With this Bill, we want to make sure that politicians begin by recognising our current reality and the scope of the challenge. This is the first essential step that lays the ground for detailed and adequate policy decisions.
How did the CE Bill campaign begin?
The CE Bill was developed by scientists, academics and lawyers, along with members of the Big Ask campaign, which led to the Climate Change Act back in 2008. The campaign for the CE Bill was launched in August 2020 and the CE Bill introduced in Parliament the following month as a Private Members’ Bill. The Bill was tabled in the House of Lords this summer by our ally Lord Redesdale and it will be re-tabled in the Commons this Autumn.
The Bill was first introduced in September 2020 and gained the maximum support of cosponsors with 12 members of parliament (MPs) from seven different parties. Cosponsors are MPs who put their name to a Bill in order to present it in Parliament.
The Bill (like nearly all Private Member’s Bills) fell in the last Parliament. CE Bill has been updated, strengthened and will be reintroduced in Parliament again as a Private Members’ Bill this autumn.
Caroline Lucas (Green) was the primary sponsor of the Bill again, alongside the following co-sponsors; Barry Gardiner (Labour), Clive Lewis (Labour), Alex Sobel (Labour), Ed Davey (Lib Dem), Sarah Olney (Lib Dem), Alan Brown (SNP), Brendan O’Hara (SNP), Ben Lake (Plaid Cymru), Liz Saville-Roberts (Plaid Cymru), Stephen Farry (Alliance) and Claire Hanna (Social Democrat and Labour Party).
What is a Private Members’ Bill and why are we using one? What are its different forms (Presentation Bill, Ten Minute Rule Bill and Ballot Bill)?
There are several ways that a Private Members’ Bill can progress through Westminster to become law. One way is for the Government to take it up for themselves and make it law as a Government-led proposal. This is what happened with the ‘Big Ask’ campaign. The group introduced a Private Members’ Bill in 2005, which eventually led to the Government-supported Climate Change Act 2008.
There are three (main) types of Private Members’ Bill: the Presentation Bill, the Ten Minute Rule Bill and the Ballot Bill. The CE Bill started life as a Presentation Bill. This was a first step into Parliament. It allowed us to gain support inside and outside Westminster, familiarise MPs and Peers with the Bill and develop our counter arguments in response to any objections. To read more about what happened with the Presentation Bill in the first phase of the campaign, see this blog.
With the start of a new parliamentary session in May 2021, Caroline Lucas reintroduced the CE Bill on 21 June, again as a Presentation Bill. This means we keep a foothold in parliament and can continue to build support for the campaign. However, just like in the first phase of the campaign, it is unlikely that the Bill will be debated as a Presentation Bill. That’s why Caroline is also seeking to obtain an upcoming slot in summer/autumn 2021 to introduce the Bill as a Ten Minute Rule Bill. With this type of Bill, the MP sponsoring the Bill (in our case, Caroline Lucas) has ten minutes—known as the “first reading”—in the House of Commons to make the case for it. An opposing MP (if there is one) is then also given ten minutes to outline arguments against the proposal. That’s why it was important that we build support for the campaign before taking this step. We can now anticipate what that counter case will look like. And second, the campaign now has enough momentum behind it to withstand a critique in Parliament: campaigns that begin life as a Ten Minute Rule Bill risk falling at this first hurdle.
The next phase would be to introduce the CE Bill as a Ballot Bill. Ballot Bills are introduced by MPs (and Peers) who are randomly drawn by lot. These Private Members’ Bills are the most likely to become law in their own right, as they are prioritised on the parliamentary timetable. We haven’t pursued a Ballot Bill yet as we need to make sure that we have enough MPs on side first. Ballot Bills are much more likely to get onto the next rung up the ladder to becoming law—the “second reading”—than Presentation or Ten Minute Rule Bills. During the second reading, MPs decide whether the Bill can progress onto the next stage—”committee stage”—and are often vulnerable to opposition. It’s therefore critical to have support of close to 50% of MPs before taking this route. Without that level of support, a Ballot Bill risks being knocked back with nowhere else to go for the entire parliamentary session.
All the time we are ‘on the books’ in Parliament using the mechanisms available to us, we raise the profile of the Bill among MPs and Peers and apply pressure on the Government, making it ever more likely that it takes up the Bill itself.
So if your MP says that “it’s just a Private Members’ Bill and won’t lead to anything,” it’s important to remember that using this kind of parliamentary mechanism is a strategic step in a well-trodden campaign path to success. We know that Westminster processes are complex and unclear, but when it comes down to it, it’s pretty simple: the more MPs that support the CE Bill, the more likely it is to become law—one way or another.
For a helpful explanation of Private Members’ Bills more generally, take a look at the Hansard Society site.
Are there other ways to get the Bill debated? (Westminster Hall and Adjournment debates)
To drum up support for the Bill in Parliament, you can apply for various debates. While these debates don’t form part of the Bill’s official passage into law, they provide an opportunity to raise its profile and get MPs talking about it. This is a super important part of our campaign. Just because a Bill has been presented in Parliament, this is by no means a guarantee that MPs will take it seriously—or even read it. So we need to use every opportunity to put it on their radar, familiarise them with its contents, and persuade them that they need to back it.
Westminster Hall debates give MPs an opportunity to raise local or national issues and receive a response from a Government minister. These debates take place in a specific place in Parliament—Westminster Hall—and involve a small number of MPs. MPs put forward for these debates and can be joined by others who speak during the debate. A government minister then responds at the end of the debate.
Adjournment debates last about half an hour at the end of each day in Parliament. They are an opportunity for an individual backbench MP to raise an issue and receive a response from the relevant minister. In January 2021, our campaign organised an adjournment debate on the CE Bill. It featured MPs from the Greens, Labour, SNP, LibDems and Plaid Cymru all joining forces to make a strong case for why we need this Bill. To read more about our adjournment debate see our blog.
What is an Early Day Motion?
Early Day Motions (EDMs) are used to put on record the views of individual MPs or to highlight specific events or campaigns. It is expressed as a statement, or motion, written by MPs and formally calls for debate “on an early day”. In practice, they are rarely debated in the House and their main purpose is by attracting the signatures of other MPs, they can be used to demonstrate the level of parliamentary support for a particular cause and often get the attention of the press.
The Big Ask Campaign successfully used an EDM to gain consensus around the main contents of the bill that eventually became the Climate Change Act 2008. Towards the end of the campaign, the EDM had been signed by 412 out of 650 MPs.
During the CE Bill’s first outing in Parliament, Caroline Lucas laid down an EDM (no. 832), which you can read here. The previous EDM associated with the CE Bill received 92 signatures. We currently do not have an EDM associated with the Bill in this Parliament, but we have plans to introduce one soon. To find out more about EDMs, see this page on the parliament website.
What is the plan for the 2021 Parliamentary session?
In this current Parliamentary session, we introduced the CE Bill again on 21st June as a Private Members’ Bill. Caroline Lucas was the primary sponsor alongside a new list of co-sponsor MPs. The Bill is scheduled to have its Second Reading on Friday 10th September. However, like the first phase of the campaign, it is very unlikely that the Bill will pass this stage. But that does not mean that the campaign will be over…
We will continue to gain the support of MPs and Peers from across the political parties in Parliament. We made a goal to get members of every major political party to come out in support of the Bill and we have now gained the support from a Conservative in the House of Lords. We also have the opportunity in this session to introduce the Bill in the House of Lords as well as the House of Commons. And we can re-establish an Early Day Motion (EDM), which MPs can sign as an additional show of support. The process of translating support from one bill to the next is a really energetic moment for the campaign and we hope to get plenty of new support as well as building on the backing from our current MPs and Allies.
In the run up to COP26 in November, we will be focusing on key aspects of the summit and using the Bill as a platform to discuss what should be decided at the most important meeting of the world’s nations on climate since Paris in 2015.
Wouldn't tackling the climate & nature crisis just be too expensive?
Some newspapers say that tackling the climate & nature crisis is too expensive. They don’t tell us about benefits to be gained, such as cleaner air, quieter cities, and warmer, more efficient homes, as well as halting the damage that fossil fuel pollution causes to the natural world. Tackling air pollution, which causes 28,000 to 36,000 premature deaths a year in the UK alone, will really ease the pressure on the NHS. The papers choose not to mention the economic boost from the creation of hundreds of thousands of good jobs in areas like home retrofit and nature restoration. What’s more they remain silent on the cost of inaction, which we’re told would be very much higher than the cost of fixing the problem – $600 trillion by the end of the century – FT May 2020.
In their latest report, the Government’s independent advisor, the Climate Change Committee says that reaching net zero will cost only around 0.6% of GDP per year, with savings actually growing to outweigh costs by 2050 – Sixth Carbon Budget – p254
The truth is it’s too expensive NOT to follow the science. But the great news is that we will not just be responding to a crisis – we will be working for a better future for our children and grandchildren.
The costs of inaction are staggering. Morgan Stanley bank reports that climate-related disasters cost the world $650 billion from 2016-18, and according to research funded by Public Health England, air pollution in England could cost as much as £5.3 billion by 2035.
The UK Government acknowledges that there are between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths every year from air pollution. This needless suffering and cost could be avoided by switching from petrol and diesel vehicles to public transport, active travel like cycling, and electric vehicles, and switching from gas and oil boilers to clean electric heat pumps. When you also account for the long-term ill health associated with pollution, the burden on our NHS is very considerable. With the NHS already close to its limit, ending fossil fuel pollution could not happen too soon.
UN research shows that renewable energy employs significantly more people per unit of power produced than conventional fossil fuels
Why do we need the Bill if we have the Paris Agreement?
The 2015 international Paris Agreement sets out aims, but is not legally binding. Perhaps as a result, we have some relatively ambitious targets in the UK but few policies to deliver the action needed. The science has also moved on considerably since 2015. It’s now clearer than ever how important it is to try to keep the global average temperature rise within 1.5ºC. UN scientists have written an entire report on the importance of not crossing that threshold.
By passing the CE Bill, the Government would be making a legally-binding commitment to follow the science and do what is necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C. This will provide the certainty needed for businesses to invest in solutions to the climate crisis. It will send a clear message that the Government is serious about protecting our environment and our way of life. The UK will then be set to lead the way for the world as we host the COP26 climate talks this November.
The Paris Agreement is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—an international treaty on climate change. It was signed and incorporated into the UNFCCC on 12 December 2015 with 191 member states ratifying it.
The Paris Agreement sets out an aim to limit global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels to ‘well below 2°C’ whilst ‘pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C’. But this is not legally-binding. Each member state has to provide National Determined Contributions (‘NDC’s) pledging emissions reductions, but only every five years – which encourages delay and prevarication.
The CE Bill would see the most ambitious end of the Paris Agreement – 1.5°C – placed into UK law. A focus on global temperature rather than a net zero date (see [link to FAQ2.4]) will ensure we do not get bogged down with debate over what is politically viable, and instead focus on delivering what is scientifically necessary. The CE Bill also sets annual climate targets (instead of our current five-yearly ones), with annual targets for restoring and protecting nature too.
The CE Bill will set into UK law the Paris Agreement principles of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ and ‘respective capabilities’ (‘CbDR & RC’ principles). These principles establish that wealthier, higher polluting countries with far greater responsibility for the climate crisis, must go further and faster than others. Developed nations will also provide technological and financial support to help poorer nations in their transition. Yet under the Paris Agreement, there is no obligation on countries to keep to their word, which is why the UK has been able to ignore these principles in its current climate legislation.
In what way has the UK ignored the CbDR & RC principles? MORE [the inset bit below]
Our Net Zero by 2050 legislation is based on advice from the Climate Change Committee. The CCC says that our plan is sufficient to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C but it is based on the unrealistic expectation that all countries will cut emissions as quickly as the UK. Here is the key excerpt from the CCC’s May 2019 report.
‘If replicated across the world, and coupled with ambitious near-term reductions in emissions, it would deliver a greater than 50% chance of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C.‘
We know that even if less developed continents like Africa reduce emissions per person, expected population growth along with industrial development will cause overall emissions to rise, not fall. So in order for the world to cut emissions fast enough to stay within its carbon budget, more developed countries like ours will need to cut emissions faster than the average to compensate. The CE Bill would ensure that the UK makes a realistic plan consistent with the CbDR & RC principles that we have already signed up to.
The Bill would make the UK a world leader in the race to cut emissions, driving major investment in areas like renewable energy and home retrofit, creating huge numbers of jobs, as well as cleaning our air and protecting and restoring nature.
Why do we need the bill if we have the Climate Change Act 2008?
The Climate Change Act (CCA) is based on science well over a decade old requiring only an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 despite the Government now aiming for net zero by 2050. The CCA only deals with one part of our total carbon footprint, emissions occurring within our territorial borders. It excludes our emissions from international aviation and shipping, and from the manufacture of the goods we import. Our carbon budgets (five yearly emissions reduction targets) are still based on this outdated legislation and hence far too easy to achieve. This gives a false confidence that we are doing well when in fact our emissions are falling far too slowly to avoid the worst of climate change.
The Climate Change Act (CCA) was world-leading legislation in 2008, but is based on science well over a decade old and its ambition now falls short in two key areas:
1. It requires only an 80% cut in net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 when the Government now is aiming for a 100% reduction to reach net zero.
2. It doesn’t account for our emissions from international aviation and shipping, or from the manufacture of our imports, and these have been allowed to grow since 1990.
Yet the UK’s carbon budgets (it’s five yearly emissions reductions targets) are still based on this outdated legislation. The new 6th carbon budget effective from 2033 is now consistent with net zero by 2050 and does include aviation and shipping, but still excludes imports. However, 2033 is far ahead, and we need action now.
This means we are working to targets that are far too comfortable to set us on a path to meet the Government’s net zero by 2050 aim. This has helped us meet our first three carbon budgets with few changes in how we do things.
But more than this, the Climate Change Act contains nothing to link the action we are taking to what’s necessary to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. It simply sets an emissions reduction target. UN scientists issued an entire report about why the 1.5°C limit is vitally important. In contrast, the CE Bill expresses its aims in terms of the desired end result of limiting warming to 1.5°C, thereby ensuring that we keep up with the latest science, always doing what is necessary to stay on track.
Other areas in which the Climate Change Act is no longer sufficient are:
- It does not provide an adequate mechanism to deal with failure to meet targets. Even though the UK’s 4th and 5th carbon budget targets are far too weak, the Government’s own figures show that the UK will miss them by quite a margin.
From Carbon Brief
Under the CCA 2008, the Government must respond to the passage of a carbon budget by presenting to Parliament a strategy for meeting that budget, yet no specific deadline is required. The plan must be produced ‘as soon as is reasonably practicable’. This means that there is a lack of urgency and the Government is not fully accountable. The CE Bill, in contrast, will set annual legally-binding carbon budgets to ensure emissions reductions remain on track.
- The CCA 2008 contains nothing to prohibit reliance on unproven negative emissions technologies that are not proven effective at scale. Our current Net Zero by 2050 legislation contains an assumption that we will compensate for higher emissions now by removing CO2 later. But we have no idea if this will be possible. If it isn’t, it will be too late. We will already have emitted too much CO2 and will miss our targets. The CEE Bill prohibits such reckless reliance on these technologies other than in exceptional circumstances.
- The 2016 Paris Agreement established the principles of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ and ‘respective capabilities’. These are that developed nations with far more responsibility for atmospheric carbon pollution must go further and faster to decarbonise, and must provide financial and technological support to poorer nations to help them transition away from fossil fuels. As the CCA 2008 pre-dates Paris, these principles have not been set into UK law. It is unsurprising then that our Net Zero by 2050 legislation is not compliant with them, which means we are breaking our commitment to this international agreement. The CE Bill would incorporate these principles into UK law, helping ensure that we play our part and set an example for the world.
Britain has cut emissions by almost 50% since 1990, so aren't we on track?
Watch our short video
Government figures show a 46% fall in UK territorial emissions. But this excludes emissions from international aviation and shipping, and from the manufacture, transportation and disposal of the products we import. The UK is just following international rules, but these rules are hopelessly outdated. Once these missing emissions are included, our total carbon footprint (‘consumption-based emissions) fell by just 18% from 1990 to 2019. That’s not even 1% per year!
The CE Bill would require us to take responsibility for all our emissions, wherever they occur. This is a well established principle, with best practice for companies now to include Scope 3 Emissions when calculating their carbon footprint.
The good news is that accounting for the emissions caused by imports will lead to policies that help bring back manufacturing – and jobs – to the UK, where we can make low-carbon products on our ever greener power grid. What’s not to like about that?
International aviation and shipping were omitted from the 2008 Climate Act due to complications determining which country bears responsibility. But these emissions are becoming ever more significant and we can no longer ignore them. The government has now announced it will include aviation and shipping in its targets from 2033 (the Sixth Carbon Budget), but it continues to allow airport expansion around the country which is not consistent with achieving those targets.
Equally we cannot ignore imports. Many of our companies have outsourced their manufacturing to countries like China. When we order products from abroad, the resulting manufacturing emissions are caused by our consumption decisions. It’s only fair to add these emissions to our account. But going beyond fairness, markets cannot operate efficiently if carbon costs are not recognised. It is already best practice for companies to include the emissions of products they purchase (Scope 3 Emissions) when calculating their carbon footprint. See British Standards Association’s PAS 2050 standard.
Recognising the carbon cost of imports will give an advantage to UK companies, helping bring back manufacturing and jobs to the UK where we can manufacture low carbon products with our increasingly green electricity grid. This will also help take the pressure off China to build new coal power stations.
The UK has made good progress in decarbonising power generation, but a large portion of the headline 46% cut in emissions has been achieved simply because we have moved so much domestic production overseas. Those emissions have not gone away.
This graph summarises the problem:
Total carbon footprint (consumption-based emissions) data from a leading study for the Global Carbon Project.
A WWF study running to 2016 shows an even less favourable picture, with just a 15% drop.
Isn’t the UK already addressing the climate crisis?
The UK is doing better than many countries and has taken welcome steps in the right direction with some ambitious-sounding targets. But the UK is heading worryingly off track even using the Government’s own figures. The Government’s independent adviser, the Climate Change Committee, warns that there has been ‘very little action, very little delivery’, and that ‘it’s hard to discern any comprehensive strategy’. What’s more, even if we deliver on our plans, they fall far short of what’s required to limit warming to 1.5°C.
UN scientists have written an entire report to explain the dangers of going beyond 1.5°C of warming. Effects include an increase in droughts, flooding, tropical cyclones and forest fires; sea levels continuing to rise by metres; an increase in species loss and extinction; coral reefs declining by more than 99%; reduced food availability; and new viruses becoming much more common.
The world is looking to the UK for leadership in its role as the president of the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow – a role which continues until late 2022 when we hand over to the next president. By passing the CE Bill and committing to follow the science, the UK could lead by example, encouraging other nations to follow. Failure to respond to the many warnings from the Government’s own advisors risks offers a convenient excuse to countries like China and India to continue building coal power stations.
Climate change is complex and there are a number of major problems with current government policy, all of which would be addressed by the CEE Bill:
Our 2050 net zero legislation falls far short of what’s needed:
1) It is based on a mere 50%+ chance of limiting global heating to 1.5ºC. These are terrible odds. The CEE Bill would have us work to the safer 67%+ chance pathway provided by the UN experts, the IPCC.
UN experts told the world in 2018 that we must not add more than another 420 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere for a ‘greater than 67% chance’ of limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5ºC. This is our carbon budget. But UK legislation is based on a weaker ‘greater than 50% chance’ of success. We don’t think a 50:50 gamble on our children’s future is good enough. The CEE Bill would work to the IPCC’s 67%+ carbon budget. We would prefer even higher odds of success, but humanity has delayed responding to climate change for so long that ‘greater than 66%’ is arguably now the best we can do. (For more on the global carbon budget, see the question on the net zero target date.)
2) It assumes that other countries will cut emissions as quickly as we do. But we know that is just not realistic because populations and living standards are set to increase in continents like Africa. Developed, wealthy nations like ours must cut emissions faster to compensate. MORE
Regarding the UK’s 2050 net zero plan, the Climate Change Committee states:
‘If replicated across the world, and coupled with ambitious near-term reductions in emissions, it would deliver a greater than 50% chance of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C.‘
Yet we know that even if less developed continents like Africa reduce emissions per person, expected population growth along with industrial development will cause overall emissions to rise, not fall. So in order for the world to cut emissions fast enough to stay within its carbon budget, more developed countries like ours will need to cut emissions faster than the average to compensate – like it or not.
3) Leading British climate scientist Kevin Anderson warns that our net zero legislation was never enough to meet our Paris Agreement aim to limit warming to 1.5°C. He explains that the Climate Change Committee held back on their recommendations, offering only what they judged would be politically achievable.
Anderson finds that the UK plans to burn around 2.4 times more than our share of the global carbon budget per person. Rather than report the unvarnished scientific advice, the CCC moderated its recommendations based on how rapid a pace of change it believed was politically acceptable. Regarding its 2050 net zero plan, the CCC states:
‘It would constitute the UK’s ‘highest possible ambition’, as called for by Article 4 of the Paris Agreement. The Committee do not currently consider it credible to aim to reach net-zero emissions earlier than 2050.’
This stance was understandable before 2020, but covid has shown us that our society is capable of radical change in the face of an emergency. There are no prizes for trying when it comes to climate change.
What’s more, the CCC has taken no account of the UK’s historical responsibilities. As the first into the industrial revolution, the UK is one of the world’s largest contributors to atmospheric CO2 levels (5th in the world). Poor countries understandably believe that those who caused climate change should be doing the most to sort it out. By signing the Paris Agreement, the UK has already agreed to the principle that those bearing more responsibility for atmospheric pollution must cut their emissions faster. Yet we have entirely ignored this commitment in practice.
The fact that our plans don’t stack up seriously undermines the UK’s credibility as president of the COP26 UN climate talks this November. There is a need for realism and honesty. We believe the CCC should be asked to provide the Government, and the public, with the full unvarnished scientific advice – rather than building in failure from the start. And just like with covid, we would like to see the top CCC science advisors briefing the public directly on climate change at number 10 Downing Street.
4) It is now out of date. The science has moved on since our targets were set in 2018, with the impacts of global heating looking ever more serious. This calls for more rapid action. MORE
As we learn more about climate change, the prognosis is worsening. Here are just a few examples:
- Warming is closer to 1.5°C than thought in 2018 – Met Office Dec 2020
- Plants’ ability to absorb human-caused CO2 may halve within 20 years due to heating and drying, leading to a tipping point expected to accelerate warming – Northern Arizona University Jan 2021
- The Gulf Stream ocean current is weakening, threatening more extreme weather in Europe and the US. Circulation has already slowed by a huge 15%, and is heading ultimately for a dangerous tipping point – Potsdam Feb 2021
- It turns out that industrial fishing’s method of dragging heavy bars across the ocean floor releases more CO2 than air travel – Time Mar 2021
- A warning that chemicals & microplastics in waste water from sewage works, combined with ocean acidification from increased CO2 levels, could threaten a marine ecosystem collapse in just 20 years, with up to 90% of marine life at risk – GOES Foundation Jun 2021
We aren’t even keeping pace with the plan
1) The UK’s net zero by 2050 legislation is based on 2018 scientific advice that we could keep burning fossil fuels until 2050 only if we made rapid cuts in emissions right away. But those cuts were not made, which means we must now reach net zero sooner to compensate. MORE
The IPCC told the world in 2018 that we must not add more than another 420 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere for a greater than 66% chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. That’s our global carbon budget, and each country must work to its share of that budget. The UK failed to cut emissions as advised in 2018, so we have burned through our carbon budget a lot more quickly than we should have. That means our carbon budget will no longer stretch until 2050, and so we must reach net zero sooner to avoid exceeding 1.5°C of warming. If we do not adjust our plans, other countries like China will use this as an excuse to avoid cutting emissions – particularly since the UK is supposed to be leading the world as host of the COP26 UN climate talks this November.
2) The UK is predicted to stray way off track even against our now inadequate targets, both according to the Government’s own forecasts and to Climate Action Tracker which assesses every country’s performance on climate. MORE
- The Government’s own projections show emissions reductions stalling and heading way off track from its own (now inadequate) targets. Note that the UK still does not include emissions caused in the manufacture of the products made for us overseas. Neither do we yet include international aviation or shipping – although aviation and shipping will be included from 2033. Largely because we have moved so much of our manufacturing overseas, once we add these missing elements, our total carbon footprint has fallen by only 19% since 1990 – not nearly 50% as sometimes claimed.
International science organisation Climate Action Tracker, which assesses each country’s performance on climate, rates the UK’s policies as “insufficient” and on track for 3ºC of warming.
2050 to late 1
We aren’t even keeping pace with the plan
1) It is based on a mere 50%+ chance of limiting global heating to 1.5ºC. These are terrible odds. The CE Bill would have us work to the safer 66%+ chance pathway provided by the UN experts, the IPCC.
2050 to late 2
2) It assumes that other countries will cut emissions as quickly as we do. But we know that is just not realistic because populations and living standards are set to increase in continents like Africa. Developed, wealthy nations like ours must cut emissions faster to compensate.
2050 to late 3
3.) Leading British climate scientist Kevin Anderson warns that our net zero legislation was never enough to meet our Paris Agreement aim to limit warming to 1.5°C. He explains that the Climate Change Committee held back on their recommendations, offering only what they judged would be politically achievable.
2050 to late 4
4) It is now out of date. The science has moved on since our targets were set in 2018, with the impacts of global heating looking ever more serious. This calls for more rapid action.
2050 to late 5
We aren’t even keeping pace with the plan
1) The UK’s net zero by 2050 legislation is based on 2018 scientific advice that we could keep burning fossil fuels until 2050 only if we made rapid cuts in emissions right away. But those cuts were not made, which means we must now reach net zero sooner to compensate.
2050 to late 6
2) The UK is predicted to stray way off track even against our now inadequate targets, both according to the Government’s own forecasts and to Climate Action Tracker which assesses every country’s performance on climate.
2050 to late 7
1) Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised just £4 billion as a green investment package. This seems like a large number until you compare it to the £106 billion price tag for HS2, or the £37 billion for Track & Trace. We cannot tackle a planetary scale problem for less than 1/25th of the cost of just one railway!
2) There are too many Government policies working against our emissions reduction plans such as: permitting multiple airport expansions, ploughing ahead with HS2, granting permits for new drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea, and a new coal mine in Cumbria, which has now been delayed but not cancelled. There is a lack of joined-up thinking, with promises made by leading politicians not integrated into all Government decisions.
3) There is no acknowledgement of the connection between the climate and ecological crises in any existing or proposed policy. The CE Bill would formally recognise the link between the climate and ecological crises, helping ensure that solving problems in one doesn’t inadvertently create problems in the other.
Is hydrogen the answer for heating and transport?
Hydrogen is being pushed hard by fossil fuel companies including the fracking lobby. They propose to produce hydrogen from natural gas, pumping the resulting CO2 emissions underground. They call this ‘blue’ hydrogen as distinct from clean ‘green’ hydrogen made by electrolysis from water.
But blue hydrogen is very expensive, causes unhealthy air pollution, relies on carbon capture unproven at scale, and carries the risk of explosion. A new study even concludes that blue hydrogen is actually worse than burning diesel or even coal. That’s due to the inevitable leaks of methane from gas fields or fracking sites. The head of the hydrogen industry association resigned in 2021, warning he would be betraying future generations by remaining silent on the problems with blue hydrogen.
Independent studies show that it is absolutely not the solution for home heating and mass transport.
- Too expensive: blue hydrogen is produced in a high energy process from natural gas. It will be significantly more expensive than natural gas. No-one wants home heating bills to skyrocket. An independent study concludes that air-source heat pumps would be cheaper to run than a hydrogen boiler.
- It’s far from zero carbon! Methane leaks from fracking or drilling operations – BBC May 2021 Estimates of these fugitive emissions range up to 3.7% (New Scientist). This is a major problem because methane is 84 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. So you only need fugitive emissions of just over 1% for the leaked methane to cause more warming than burning all the gas. And at 3.7%, blue hydrogen is worse than coal!
- Carbon Capture unproven at scale: The blue hydrogen production process releases CO2. Those advocating hydrogen say they will capture that CO2 and lock it away underground. But this process has not been proven at scale anywhere in the world. And what’s more, there are no guarantees that the CO2 will remain safely underground. It would take decades to develop and then properly test this process. And then, how would governments ever check that private companies are properly capturing the invisible CO2?
- Causes unhealthy air pollution: The New Scientist explains how burning hydrogen in air causes significant amounts of dangerously unhealthy NOx air pollution.
- Risk of explosion: Due its very small molecule size compared to natural gas, hydrogen can escape through pipework, and since it is odourless, this does present the risk of explosion.
- Encourages fracking: The lobbyists aim to secure permission to frack for natural gas to produce hydrogen. Fracking involves unavoidable leaks of potent greenhouse gas methane (‘natural gas’) into the atmosphere – BBC May 2021
- Public subsidies: Incredibly, fossil fuel companies are beginning to ask for public money to pay for the infrastructure to capture carbon.
- A new study concludes that the carbon footprint of blue hydrogen is actually even higher than that of natural gas, in part due to fugitive methane emissions (gases that escape during extraction).
It is likely that hydrogen will have a role to play for tough-to-fix challenges like aviation and steel manufacture, but that needs to be ‘green’ hydrogen produced using renewable power.
There is no role for blue hydrogen. Fossil fuel companies have had decades to diversify away from fossil fuels into renewables, but they have failed to act. They cannot now expect the public to subsidise an expensive and wholly inappropriate ‘solution’.
Existing clean solutions already exist for home heating and transport: heat pumps for homes combined with significant improvements in insulation, and for transport, electric buses and trains, cycle and walking ways, and EVs. We just need our government to create the right policy environment to accelerate the transition to these solutions, and to be wary of corporate lobbying.
What are Natural Climate Solutions, and can they help?
If we plant enough trees, will that save the day?
Natural climate solutions mean the capture and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the conservation and restoration of soils, forests, peat bogs, and coastal ecosystems. The Bill calls for active management of these natural systems both to increase optimise their carbon dioxide uptake and to improve biodiversity, a win-win situation.
However, there are hard limits to how much carbon can be drawn down by natural climate solutions. There are no silver bullets, and it will be impossible, for example, to plant enough trees to compensate for our current emissions. New studies have shown that previous estimates of how much carbon newly planted forests absorb had been significantly overestimated. What’s more, there are new worrying signs that our existing forests are under threat, with climate change causing drying leading to fires. A recent study concluded, shockingly, that the Amazon rainforest is no longer playing its role in absorbing CO2 and has now flipped to become a net emitter of CO2.
So even though the bill encourages restoring ecosystems for both improving biodiversity and storing carbon, this must not be used as an excuse to keep burning carbon now.
The UK is small compared to China, so does it really make any difference what we do?
Would we accept this thinking from a child about dropping litter? The UK is hosting the COP26 international climate talks this November. How can we expect China to listen to us about its coal power stations if our house is far from in order?
The UK’s territorial emissions may only be around 1% of total global emissions, but that still puts us near the top: 17th out of 195 countries. And if we account for our cumulative historic emissions, we are in 5th place, thanks to our role in leading the world into the industrial revolution.
It’s important to acknowledge that China’s emissions are high because they are making our stuff after we moved so much manufacturing overseas. The CEE Bill would require that we account for emissions on a ‘consumption basis’, including those caused by producing and shipping the products we import. The great news is that this is likely to lead to policies like the EU’s recently proposed carbon border tax, giving British companies producing lower carbon products here in the UK an advantage, helping bring back manufacturing and jobs. This will also take the pressure off China to build coal power stations.
We still have the opportunity to lead by example, showing the world a path out of this crisis – but the window for acting is fast closing.
The UK is the 17th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world (of 195 countries), so we aren’t insignificant at all. We are a major developed country and hence a high emitter. When you look at emissions per person, we’re even nearer the top at 8th in the world as the graph below shows. And if you account for cumulative emissions from the start of the industrial revolution, we are in 5th place: don’t forget, most of the greenhouse gases emitted since then are still in the atmosphere, or, just as bad, dissolved into the oceans, raising acidity.
These rankings are based on territorial emissions – occurring within our national borders. But many of our companies have outsourced their manufacturing to countries like China over recent decades. When we order those products imported from abroad, the resulting manufacturing emissions are due to our consumption decisions. The goods would not have been produced were it not for our demand. It’s only fair then to add these emissions to our account.. Imports, along with international aviation and shipping, are currently not addressed by the UK’s emissions reduction plans – despite being estimated by the WWF at as much as 46% of our carbon footprint.
The Bill requires the immediate addition of imports, aviation and shipping, to give a full picture of our global carbon footprint.
In Nov 2021, the UK is hosting the COP26 international climate conference. The world’s spotlight will be on the UK in its role as conference president, with an opportunity for our country to really make an impact on the world stage post-Brexit. Leading by example is the best way to get results. But if we continue to preach to other countries when it is clear our own house is far from in order, we are inviting failure at COP26.
What is the Climate & Nature Assembly mentioned in the Bill?
The Climate & Nature Assembly is a citizens’ assembly, a form of deliberative democracy in which ordinary people help guide politicians in making political decisions. A group of randomly selected members of the public representing a cross-section of society will hear from experts, ask questions, deliberate on policy options and make recommendations to help shape government policy. Citizen’s Assembles are growing fast in popularity around the world as a successful way to tackle difficult decisions, with hundreds taking place right now here in the UK. Find out more at www.participedia.net.
A great new BBC documentary follows some of the ordinary members of the public that took part in the limited scope Climate Assembly UK in 2020, interviewing them as they wrestled with the big decisions on how we should respond to climate change. Watch it on BBC iPlayer. Leading Conservative Alok Sharma has spoken out very favourably about this climate assembly.
Citizens Assemblies have been demonstrated around the world to be a very effective way to find consensus on difficult national challenges, helping provide politicians with the legitimacy to make tough decisions. We can probably all agree that our established confrontational political system has not delivered the action needed on climate change over recent decades.
A number of parliamentary committees set up the Climate Assembly UK in 2020 on their own initiative. This was smaller in scale and scope than the Climate & Nature Assembly called for in the CE Bill, but nevertheless, it was received very favourably across the political spectrum, demonstrating that this concept can work well.
Important note – The Climate and Nature Assembly will not override our democracy. The Assembly will make recommendations on strategy which will be debated in Parliament. But Parliament will remain sovereign at all times with the option to vote down any recommendation made by the Citizens’ Assembly.
A short video explainer on the benefits of citizens assemblies from the Economist.
Haven't previous citizens assemblies around the world failed to deliver?
Business-as-usual has failed for decades to deliver action. A Citizens’ Assembly giving ordinary people a say would help raise public awareness whilst giving the Government the mandate it needs to tackle difficult decisions quickly.
Some people quote the unsuccessful Canadian assembly, but this took place a decade and a half ago and much has been learned since then. Citizens’ assemblies are now used extensively and very successfully around the world. More info at www.participedia.net. There are hundreds taking place right now in the UK including a new Climate Assembly set up by forward-thinking Conservative-led Devon County Council.
Citizens’ Assemblies have been demonstrated around the world to be a very effective way to find consensus on difficult national challenges. Democracy is more than just a general election every 5 years and we need to be creative and bold in engaging the public to find the answers. You will know that there are many different views on how to tackle climate change so let’s enhance our democracy and find a way forward that can complement the existing policy making mechanisms and restore a bit of trust in our politics. We can probably all agree that our established confrontational political system has not delivered the action needed on climate change over recent decades.
The Canadian Citizens’ Assemblies of 2006 were very poorly publicised and hence the uptake on the subsequent referendum was lower than needed for success. This reflects more on the Canadian Government’s lack of commitment to the process than the worth of the process itself.
Other Citizens’ Assemblies have produced excellent results, particularly the Irish Assembly on Abortion 2018 which broke years of political deadlock, and receiving strong public support. The 2020 French Citizens’ Assembly followed many months of ‘Gilets Jaune’ civil unrest. Many imaginative recommendations were made which are now in the process of being considered to enter law. As long as the Government acts to take the recommendations seriously they have every possibility of producing impactful, long lasting results.
Important note – the Climate & Nature Assembly proposed in the CE Bill would not in any way circumvent Parliament. MPs would still have the final say over recommendations from the assembly. The bill simply requires that the assembly’s recommendations are put before Parliament not swept under the carpet. Parliament would remain sovereign.
Aren't citizens' assemblies undemocratic?
Climate & Assembly proposed in the CE Bill would NOT in any way circumvent parliament. MP’s would still have the final say over recommendations from the assembly. The CE Bill simply requires that the assembly’s recommendations are put before Parliament not swept under the carpet. Parliament would remain sovereign.
Hasn't a Climate Assembly already taken place, with recommendations now in the pipeline?
The Climate Assembly UK in 2020 was a brilliant effort – our thanks to all those involved. But it was organised independently by several parliamentary committees without support from the Government. There was no obligation on Parliament to debate its findings (many weren’t), and very little publicity. One of the main advantages of a citizens’ assembly is that it helps the public to engage in the process. If no-one knows about it, its ability to move the national debate forwards is limited. What’s more, this assembly was not allowed a say on the most important decision of all – on how quickly we need to reduce emissions. It was also relatively small with only 108 members.
But it showed that this process can work, and work well. Leading Conservative Alok Sharma has spoken out very favourably about the Climate Assembly UK.
So the process needs to be repeated at a larger scale, and this time with the full backing of Government along with prime time television coverage.
Six parliamentary committees jointly commissioned the Climate Assembly UK (CA UK) in 2020. This was a worthy attempt, but without Government engagement, CA UK’s remit fell well short of the scale and scope required to address the climate and ecological emergency. In particular:
- the Assembly wasn’t allowed a say on how quickly we need to cut emissions;
- there was no obligation for recommendations to be debated by parliament and a large number were simply ignored;
- members were tasked with identifying a pathway to the UK’s 2050 net zero target with no mandate to question the target itself; and
- the assembly was focused only on the climate and not called upon to consider adaptation or biodiversity, when as we know, the crises in climate and nature are inextricably bound together and need careful joined-up thinking before action is taken.
A great new BBC documentary follows some of the ordinary members of the public that took part in the assembly, interviewing them as they wrestled with the big decisions on how we should respond to climate change. Watch it here on BBC iPlayer.
Who is behind the Climate and Ecology Bill?
Zero Hour, the campaign calling for the Climate and Ecology Bill, is a group of campaigners, scientists, academics, and those from business who recognise that our Government is not acting swiftly enough to address climate change and biodiversity loss.
Zero Hour is using mass mobilisation to lobby MPs to support the Bill, putting pressure on the Government to take it up as new legislation. Crucial to the campaign is the translation of the latest science to a wide range of stakeholders across society. The growing alliance of politicians, NGOs, councils, businesses, community groups etc. that support the bill can be found here.
The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill was developed by scientists, academics and lawyers, along with members of the Big Ask campaign (which led to the Climate Change Act back in 2008).
I've urged my MP twice to support the bill and they still won’t budge. What should I do?
For this type of campaign, the thing that will persuade MPs the most is actually the number and diversity of personalised requests from constituents asking them to support the bill. Simple – but effective!
So, your MP may have stated a number of times that they won’t support the Bill. This is fine and it does not mean that you should give up or stop engaging. Some MPs never respond to constituents—the fact that they are in contact with you means they are aware of the issues and the Bill. The best thing to do is to keep contacting them, and persuade others to join you. Only through constant pressure from constituents will MPs begin to listen, wake up and support the CE Bill. One thing to think about is, who are the people in your community that your MP listens to? How can you build a varied group of people lobbying in your constituency who aren’t just the ‘usual suspects’?
To help you, we have collated this handy guide on how to get started, how to contact your MP, how to apply pressure through your local council and how to build a local alliance of campaigners and organisations. You can also check our events page for our latest campaign Share session where you can ask the Zero Hour team and fellow campaigners any questions that you have.
My MP says they are a shadow frontbencher, or in the shadow cabinet, and can’t support – have I been wasting my time?
No, never! None of this lobbying activity is wasted. It is unusual, but not impossible for frontbenchers to be a co-sponsor or support the Bill. Some Labour frontbenchers, such as Fleur Anderson MP, Rachael Maskell MP and Olivia Blake MP have added their name as supporters of the CE Bill, and Alex Sobel MP is a frontbencher who is also a co-sponsor of the Bill.
We want all MPs to pledge their support for the Bill, and being on the frontbench is no excuse! MPs can express their support publicly, or to you as a constituent. Many MPs support the aims and principles of the Bill, and although we welcome this, this is not sufficient to add them as a supporter on our website. If your MP takes this stance, let them know that only by truly pledging full support for the Bill can they play their part in helping our country get to grips with the climate & nature crisis.
My MP says they won’t support the bill, or that they support some of the content but can’t back the entire bill. How do I respond?
Some Conservatives and Labour MPs have been sending out standard responses drafted by central office. Conservatives say that they are doing enough already, and Labour say that this is only a Presentation Bill, so it is not worth their support. You can see these set responses and tips on how to respond here.
How do you respond? The short answer is, because a standard letter hasn’t personally been drafted by your MP, the biggest pressure won’t actually come from building up carefully rationalised arguments, but by NUMBERS. So, if you have received one of these letters, the best thing to do is to ask as many people from your constituency as possible to write, call or tweet, asking your MP to support the CE bill. And don’t give up!
If your MP has given a non-standard response, brilliant! If you can pass this onto email@example.com we can provide you with help responding if you need it. You can also use our guide and FAQ to fashion a response.
Does the Bill reject 'Negative Emission Technologies' like Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)?
Government have delayed cutting emissions today on the gamble that we’ll be able to remove those emissions tomorrow, with so-called ‘Negative Emissions Technologies’. These NETs are entirely unproven at scale and some are purely speculative.
The latest version of the CE Bill now will not permit the use of NET to avoid cutting emissions now. The Bill instead requires that we cut CO2 emissions as far as fast as possible.
The CEE Bill will still permit NETs to be used to remove historic emissions already in the atmosphere – but ONLY if it’s clear they won’t adversely impact nature. Leading scientists such as Sir David King argue that even warming of 1.5°C is too dangerous, and so we must work to reduce CO2 levels to bring average temperatures back to safe levels.
The Government is pushing various technologies such as BECCS and DACCS despite warnings from scientists of major damage to nature, air quality problems, competition with food and eye-water costs to the taxpayer. What’s more, they are not even likely to work.
The Oct 2021 Net Zero plan assumes that NETs will remove 58 million tonnes of CO2 every year by 2050 – reaching the size of today’s construction sector! The cost will fall heavily on future taxpayers who will be faced with an impossible choice: spend vast amounts of money and resources on controversial projects to clean up after our mess, or deal with the consequences of dangerous global heating. We should take responsibility for our actions now and cut emissions as fast as possible, not pass the buck to our children.
BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture) forms a major part of the plans and is centred around Drax Power Station in Yorkshire. Drax currently burns wood/biomass pellets to make electricity. The plan is to build plant to capture the resulting CO2 and pump it underground. But Government plans to scale this up to around 2.4 times the existing size of Drax (making electricity and hydrogen). There are major problems
- Drax already uses over 50% of the global wood pellet supply, harvesting virgin forests in USA and E Europe. Aside from the damage this is wreaking on nature, it’s naive to think we’ll be able to continue doing this.
- The NZ Strategy warns of ‘significant local and regional negative air quality impacts’ – p334
- There’s no guarantee this will even work. Multiple projects in the USA have been abandoned despite spending of over $7 billion.
- Academics warn that the entire process won’t even be carbon-negative, because the huge energy requirements to harvest, chip and ship the timber are ignored – and so is the fact that the felled mature trees will no longer be absorbing carbon. Even when replanted, it takes around 15 years, for new woodland to start absorbing carbon. More info: Ember study.
- Costs are enormous. Ember estimate £32 billion of taxpayer support just for Drax – but we’re scaling that up by 2.4 times, including BECCS for hydrogen for which no plant even exists yet.
DACCS (Direct Air Capture with Carbon Storage) has been uprated from 5 million tonnes CO2 per year by 2050 in the original 2019 plan to ‘up to’ 29 million tonnes in the latest NZ strategy report. It is not good optics that oil company Exxon’s UK manager sits on the Government’s advisory committee on carbon capture… The only operational DACCS plant is Orca in Iceland. But that will only capture 4,000 tonnes CO2 per year. Problems with DACCS
- The UK would need up to 7,250 of these plants by 2050 to achieve 29 million tonnes of CO2 removal. That means building 21 Orca’s every single day. There’s no chance whatsoever of even managing a fraction of this, with our lengthy planning processes, and the need to build an entire industry with appropriate skills.
- Based on the cost of Orca, capital costs could be over £50 billion. But the taxpayer would have to pay for all running costs too, because unlike BECCS, there’s no product. The only ‘return’ is survival. And as this is a very high energy process, operating costs are expected to be high. All paid for by our children.
- With the enormous expansion needed to our electricity grid in order to electrify homes and transport, we will struggle to supply all our power needs with renewables by 2050. Adding this huge number of power hungry processing plants will require gas power stations to run, causing CO2 emissions, and thereby cancelling out the ‘benefit’ of the DACCS plants. Orca in Iceland runs on their abundant hydro power.
- There is no evidence of sites in the UK with the right geology to allow the CO2 to be locked away.
What will happen if we continue on this line, and in say 15 years accept these NETs haven’t worked? By then, it will be too late. Because the alternative to using NETs is cut emissions much faster now.
The Bill calls for this accounting ‘sleight of hand’ to end, and prohibits what is in effect reckless borrowing against our carbon budget.
Whilst the Bill effectively prohibits NETs from being used as an excuse to continue emitting CO2 (for the reasons described above), it does permit the development of NETs to reduce carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere from our historic emissions. We have all seen the dreadful impacts of climate change even at today’s 1.1°C of warming, and we know that current carbon dioxide levels are already too high for a long-term stable climate.
More info on Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) in this Carbon Brief article and a detailed critique by leading scientist Prof Kevin Anderson – link.
Isn’t the UK already addressing the nature crisis?
No. The warning bells are ringing from all directions:
- UK nations are all rated amongst the 12 most depleted in the world, with England the 7th worst – according to a shocking new report from the Natural History Museum with RSPB.
- UK woodland cover is just 13% of our land area compared to a European average of 38%, and our uplands are nearly all bare, contributing to lowland flooding. Government plans to plant 30,000 hectares of new woodland per year, but that’s such a small amount, it will take 10 years to increase woodland from 13% to just 14%.
- WWF reports that UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world
- WWF warns the world of ecological collapse without bold action. The UK has an impact on many critical ecosystems around the world due to our international supply chains, and disposal of waste.
- The RSPB’s report A Lost Decade for Nature calls for urgent action after the UK fails to deliver 14 out of 20 commitments to nature made under a UN biodiversity treaty in 2010.
- RSPB’s State of Nature Report warns that we have continued to allow nature to decline in the UK in the last decade, with 1 in 7 species facing extinction.
We can hopefully all agree that protecting nature is important for its own sake, but nature is also inextricably bound up with climate change. Protecting and restoring nature is also part of the solution to climate change, with critical ecosystems like peat bogs, tidal marshes, forests and sea grasses able to absorb vast quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. We are currently destroying many of these environments and releasing CO2, making climate change even worse.
By passing the CE Bill, the government would be making a legally-binding commitment to protect and restore nature, as well as formally recognising the inter-relationship with climate change in order to encourage joined-up thinking. There is no other proposed legislation that would protect important ecosystems like woodlands, peat bogs and wetlands.
The Government’s Environment Bill is sometimes held up as a solution to the crisis facing nature, but its main purpose is to tie up loose ends post-Brexit. It does not contain the kind of bold policy action needed to respond to the stark warnings from scientists.
Over recent decades, we have witnessed an extraordinary decline in biodiversity and the ecosystem services essential to life. From pollination & natural flood prevention, to crop nutrition provided by soils, we depend on a healthy biosphere. Humankind is part of the circle of life, not outside of it. Yet for decades, human activity has outstripped safe planetary boundaries, resulting in what scientists now define as the arrival of the sixth mass extinction. Experts now warn of looming ecological collapse if policymakers fail to take emergency action – see World Wildlife Fund article.
In his foreword to report on biodiversity, the Dasgupta Review, (commissioned by the UK Government) David Attenborough says:
“Today, we ourselves, together with the livestock we rear for food, constitute 96% of the mass of all mammals on the planet. Only 4% is everything else – from elephants to badgers, from moose to monkeys. And 70% of all birds alive at this moment are poultry – mostly chickens for us to eat. We are destroying biodiversity, the very characteristic that until recently enabled the natural world to flourish so abundantly. If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk.”
RSPB’s State of Nature Report warns that despite the Government making a commitment to nature in 2010 as part of a UN biodiversity treaty (Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020), we have continued to allow nature to decline in the UK in the last decade, with 1 in 7 species facing extinction. RSPB’s Lost Decade Report explains how, ten years on from the UN treaty, the UK has failed on 14 of the 20 biodiversity commitments it made.
The RSPB’s 2019 State of Nature report on the UK’s biodiversity states:
- 41% of all UK’s species have declined since the 1970s
- 15% of species are at a very real risk of becoming extinct
- 97% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have been lost in the last century. Read more from Kew Gardens on why wildflower meadows are so important.
Other statistics from the report can be found in this infographic.
Some say that the UK’s woodland cover is so low (13% compared to 38% for Europe) because we are a densely populated country. But that is not correct. Other European countries do much better. Belgium, for example, has a higher population density 36% higher than the UK yet manages far higher woodland cover – 22% of land area.
There is nowhere near enough Government focus on this issue which is inextricably bound up with climate change. The two need to be tackled together, with an appreciation of their interdependencies. This is why we need the CE Bill to create a legal obligation to protect and restore nature, whilst ensuring that policies work hand in hand with those addressing climate change.
The good news is that nature can heal quickly if we just give it the chance. Read about the groundbreaking wilding project at the Knepp estate in Sussex.
Does the new Environment Act mean we don't need the bill?
The new Environment Act is an important post-Brexit bill that fills the gap left in our legislation now that we are outside the EU. It does not tackle the core problems at the heart of the climate and ecological crisis and exists to tidy up lots of loose ends – looking at some select issues rather than a connected whole.
The Environment Act falls short in several important ways:
- It has nothing whatsoever to do with climate change. The CE Bill would ensure climate and nature are addressed together. How can they not be? They are inextricably connected.
- It aims only to halt the decline in nature – whereas the CE Bill makes a legally-binding commitment to restore nature, demonstrating a reversal and improvement by 2030 – ‘nature positive’.
- It completely ignores the UK’s impact on nature around the world along our international supply chains and waste routes. The CE Bill would ensure we take responsibility for our impact on nature wherever it happens.
- The Government voted down a Lords amendment to make the new environmental watchdog (the OEP) strong and independent.
- The Government voted down a Lords amendment to require water companies to work to stop dumping raw sewage into rivers – replacing it with very weak wording which allows companies to do almost nothing to solve the problem. Read more at The Rivers Trust.