Climate Emergency: what can we do?

In My View… by Dr Patrick O’Sullivan, Energy and Environment Coordinator, South-East Cornwall Labour

Thirty years after space scientist James Hansen’s key speech to the US Senate, the world may finally be gearing up to combat climate change. Following pioneer action by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, schoolchildren in ten countries, including the UK, have staged strikes in protest at the lack of urgency from their elders in addressing an issue which directly affects their future. Meanwhile, newly-elected US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has announced a Green New Deal aimed at making the US carbon-neutral within a decade.

Nearer home, Labour Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey last week announced a similar plan to move to a zero-carbon future. And last month, Cornwall Council, in line with Manchester, London, Brighton and others, prompted by Jayne Kirkham, Labour Councillor for Smithwick, Falmouth, declared a Climate Emergency, calling on Westminster to provide powers and resources for Cornwall to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Over past decades, many people have adopted changes in personal lifestyle to reduce not only greenhouse gas emissions but their entire ‘ecological footprint’: using public transport, shopping locally, insulating the home. Recently, following a vegetarian diet has been suggested, along with avoiding convenience foods, something those who are less well-off may not easily afford. And it is difficult to understand how personal actions can affect the latest predicted rise in global temperatures, which may exceed the ‘safe’ limit of 1.5 °C.

Fortunately much can be achieved collectively, as communities across Cornwall, employing creative design, community insulation programmes, and local energy generation, have demonstrated. One vehicle for such actions may be Neighbourhood Plans, the subject of a conference at Tremough Campus, Penryn on March 9th. Beyond this, however, some kind of overall strategy is surely needed.

Cornwall’s Sustainable Energy Action Plan identifies the key sources of emissions in the county as commercial and residential buildings, and private, commercial and public transport. Therefore, we need a programme which reduces emissions from existing buildings, minimises those from new builds, and renders public transport an available, usable alternative to private means. And it is surely time planning permission went only to developments incorporating maximum possible onsite energy generation.

Labour’s Green Transformation announced last September combines much-needed reconstruction of local economies and communities with policies designed to lessen our impact, as a society, on nature. It too involves a ‘Green Jobs Revolution’ providing sustainable energy for the future, creating skilled jobs in every region of the UK using new forms of ownership and public enterprise and local initiatives, as taken by Labour councils in Preston and Plymouth.

Such a strategy will both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reverse decline of our high streets, and give local communities back a voice to shape their future. Public contracts will support home industries, repatriating jobs sent abroad under globalisation. This will also combat climate change: production at home reduces emissions generated by transporting goods around the globe.

As demonstrated by our children, climate change, like Brexit, is a generational issue. We owe it in both cases to future generations to make the right decisions.

First published in the Cornish Times, 22/02/19

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