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  • Writer's pictureTom Pashby

The climate emergency won’t wait for the British Constitution to sort itself out

First published in the i newspaper.

It could take years to negotiate a new post-Brexit relationship with the EU – we have to focus on our planet, too.

Natalie Bennett, former Green Party leader was announced as a new peer last week. A Green, who supports serious democratic reform, including proportional representation, may not seem like a natural fit in an unelected chamber which still has hereditary members of the landed gentry. While the House of Lords does need reforming, action on the climate emergency is too urgent for environmentalists to quibble about the constitution.

Natalie, soon to be called Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, will join the current Green peer, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (or Jenny Jones) in the upper house. The Greens support replacing the current chamber with an elected one. Attempts at House of Lords reform have come and gone for well over 100 years. Recent campaigns for reform have called for it to be abolished, replaced, or for smaller changes like the expulsion of hereditary peers.

Unfortunately, these relatively obscure conversations about how to improve on this part of the British constitution will likely take years before meaningful change comes about. People often say that they want to get Brexit sorted before moving onto other things. The civilisation ending issue that is the climate emergency will not wait for the British constitution to sort itself out.

In 2018, the international climate science community called for “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems” in order to avoid a dangerously changed climate with more frequent and intense extreme weather by 2030. Just two months ago, the BBC reported that leading experts on climate change now believe we only have 18 months to get on a pathway to taking the level of action needed to avert catastrophe.

Even if we do have until 2030 to undertake radical systems overhaul and create a society which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a low enough level to avoid a dangerously heated world, some UK political commentators are saying it may take us that long to negotiate a new post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

Natalie might be the last new Green parliamentarian to gain a seat in the UK before we pass the point where action can avoid a seriously unstable global climate, which will force hundreds of millions, if not billions of people into forced migration, and the breakdown of whole ecosystems which we currently take for granted.

Extinction Rebellion’s actions in early 2019 brought much of central London to a standstill and gained the attention of the press and the public. Their approach to direct action and organising led to the UK Parliament declaring a climate emergency. Then in the European Elections in May 2019, the Green Party of England and Wales returned a record-breaking number of Members of the European Parliament. This Friday, the world will see thousands, if not millions of workers and students go on strike and into the streets to demand climate action right across the globe.

Despite parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency, which Theresa May’s Conservative government did not support at the time, the level of ambition from the current government is no way near enough. Andrea Leadsom MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, is responsible for climate policy in the UK Government at the moment. She has said publicly that she asked her advisors if climate change was real when she became energy minister back in 2015.

The UK still provides state support for fossil fuel extraction and at the same time refuses to remove policy barriers to new onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of new electricity generation. Even though Labour supported the climate emergency declaration in May this year, the party still supports airport expansion and the opening of new coal mines.

On her appointment to the House of Lords, Natalie said she will be the “voice of the anti-#fracking protectors… & #ClimateEmergency campaigners I’ve spent years on the streets with, in the corridors of power”.

Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and the school strikers, standing on the shoulders of decades of environmental activism, have created a moment right now where we may find the political will to act on climate change.

The new Green peer could be the final piece of the puzzle to secure that radical action which the international climate science community has been calling for.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

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