Legalbrief 6 May 2019
General: UK declares ‘climate emergency’
The UK has become the first country to go beyond expressing concern about climate change and passing piece-meal legislation to address global warming concerns. As Legalbrief reports, the UK Government has leaped ahead of most other countries to declare climate change an emergency and is recommending stronger emissions targets for the country by 2050. UK MPs last week approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency. A BBC News report notes that this proposal, which demonstrates the will of the Commons on the issue but does not legally compel the government to act, was approved without a vote. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who tabled the motion, said it was ‘a huge step forward’. Environment Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged there was a climate ‘emergency’ but did not back Labour’s demands to declare one. The declaration of an emergency was one of the key demands put to the government by environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion, in a series of protests over recent weeks. Labour’s motion also calls on the government to aim to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050 and for Ministers to outline urgent proposals to restore the UK’s natural environment and deliver a ‘zero waste economy’ within the next six months. The Welsh and Scottish Governments have both already declared a climate emergency, along with dozens of towns and cities, including Manchester and London.
The government’s climate advisors call for Britain to commit to a 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions target, could require phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by at least 2035 and Britons eating 20% less beef and lamb. A Moneyweb report notes that the report was commissioned by the government last year. Britain has a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 80% compared with 1990 levels by 2050 but campaigners say this does not go far enough to meet pledges made under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to try to limit a rise in global warming to 1.5° Celsius. ‘The UK can end its contribution to global warming within 30 years by setting an ambitious new target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 (on 1990 levels),’ the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report said. The new target is achievable with existing technology but can only be met if the government ramps up climate policies, the CCC said. The cost of meeting the new target would be around 1-2% of Britain’s GDP or tens of billions of pounds a year. The committee said the Treasury should undertake a review of how the transition should be funded. It said the cost of delay, or inaction, would be much higher. Legislation would need to go to Parliament before a new climate target could become law.
A majority of Britons believe that climate change could end the human race, a poll showed last week. A report in The Herald notes that Extinction Rebellion disrupted London with 11 days of protests, casting it as the biggest act of civil disobedience in recent British history. The group set up camps which blocked off major roads in the capital, disrupted transport and targeted major institutions such as Goldman Sachs and Shell. Following the protests, 54% of adults agreed that climate change threatens our extinction as a species, a poll by Comres found, compared to just a quarter who disagreed. However, only 22% of the 2 037 people surveyed said they supported the aims and tactics of Extinction Rebellion, with 32% in disagreement. Comres chair Andrew Hawkins said the group’s aims and tactics were far more likely to appeal to people under 25, so it was of little surprise that the group’s warning message of human extinction has less resonance with older age groups.