A couple of weeks ago MPs endorsed an opposition day motion put forward by Labour to declare a formal climate and environmental emergency. Now that the initial media outburst has passed, I’ll explain what this means for the country, why I’m skeptical as to what this will change and what we can do to make sure that the UK’s declaration of a climate emergency leads to the concrete action our planet desperately needs.
“That this House declares an environment and climate emergency following the finding of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change that to avoid a more than 1.5°C rise in global warming…
“…[the motion]calls on the Government to increase the ambition of the UK’s climate change targets under the Climate Change Act 2008 to achieve net zero emissions before 2050…
“…[the motion]calls on the Government to lay before the House within the next six months urgent proposals to restore the UK’s natural environment and to deliver a circular, zero waste economy”The “climate emergency” motion, which was passed in May 2019, Jeremy Corbyn
What is an opposition day motion?
In Parliament, an opposition day is a day in which an opposition party sets the agenda. Currently the official Opposition in the House (Labour) gets 17 opposition days a year, while the third largest party (SNP) gets 3 opposition days. Source – Wikipedia
What powers does an opposition day motion have?
In short – none. I was surprised too, after seeing the way the media have shouted out about it as though it is. The motion has been passed and this indicates that the House of Commons has the political will to fight climate change, which is a positive step. However, opposition day motions are not legally binding. When MP for Workington Sue Hayman asked how Parliament would be able to hold the Government to account on this, the Speaker pointed her in the direction of “continuing debate“.
So – why am I skeptical?
Labour’s track record on climate change isn’t as good as they want it to seem. Last year, I watched in horror as many Labour MPs in Wales voted for the third runway at Heathrow, with some abstaining. In October, many Labour AMs here in Wales voted down a motion to suspend National Resources Wales’s license to dump mud from Hinkley C in Welsh waters.
That’s not to say Labour are the only (or even worst) offenders here – the Conservative record is much worse and crucially while Michael Gove commented in support of climate change strategies, he did not directly back the motion. His record as Environment Secretary hasn’t gone much deeper than the usual PR spin, so I don’t expect much from the Government in response to this non-legally binding motion other than more spin.
I want to see this gain momentum, I want to see this work. But it doesn’t have the teeth legally and without actual support from the Government, I can see this being kicked into the long grass. It’s all very well and good saying that the House of Commons can continue to debate it, but you only need to look at Brexit to see how well continuing debate does. I hope I’m wrong – and with enough pressure, I will be. That’s where you come in.
What can you do about it?
Check out your MP’s voting record on environmental issues, and see how they voted in the Opposition Day motion. Were they one of the few MPs at the recent climate change debate? Or is there an apparent change of heart? Write to them and say you noticed so. Let them know that you’ll be watching, and that you want to see their support for a climate emergency followed through with action on climate change. Tweet them, post to their Facebook page, make sure that they know you care about our planet and that you are watching them closely.
If you don’t know who your MP is, check out Write To Them. To find their voting records, try They Work For You or Hansard. You can set up an alert on They Work For You to get a ping to your inbox every time your MP speaks.