When Politicians ask urgent questions, it is easy to assume that they are responding to a matter that has emerged as a result of their discovery of a recent issue. However when Ed Miliband spoke up yesterday on St Georges Day, he was simply reminding the Government of what he had proposed three years earlier as part of a debate on 14th March 2016 on the theme of Carbon Capture. However the urgency of his question has been caused because two years after the Government failed to respond, a group known as Extinction Rebellion was formed and in the last few days acted because it appeared that the Government had still done nothing. When Ed Miliband spoke in 2016 he was proposing a clause for a Bill that appeared to gain acceptance by the Government:
Ed Miliband: “My [clause 11] proposal is deliberately pragmatic. It would put zero emissions into law, but the date would be decided by Government on the basis of advice from the Committee on Climate Change. That is right and it would be the lowest-cost way of proceeding. We need the experts’ advice. After all, they were appointed with cross-party support.”
Caroline Lucas: “I wish to speak in favour of new clause 11, tabled by Edward Miliband, and to thank him for the constructive work he has been doing on promoting zero emissions. The new clause would put one crucial part of the Paris climate agreement into UK law…. it seems immensely reasonable for the UK Government to set a date for zero emissions, on advice from the Committee on Climate Change. It seems like a win-win, both economically and environmentally, to have that date set, so that we can have a clear direction of travel and clarity for investors.”
Andrea Leadsom (at the time Minister responsible): “New clause 11, tabled by Edward Miliband, would set a new climate change target for the UK. Specifically, it would require the Government to set a year by which net emissions will be zero or less, and to ensure that that target was met for that year and subsequent ones. The year would have to be set within 12 months of the Bill coming into force and following advice from the Committee on Climate Change.
The Government believe we will need to take the step of enshrining the Paris goal of net zero emissions in UK law—the question is not whether, but how we do it, and there is an important set of questions to be answered before we do. The Committee on Climate Change is looking at the implications of the commitments made in Paris and has said it will report in the autumn. We will want to consider carefully its recommendations, and I am happy to give the right hon. Gentleman the undertaking that we will also discuss with him and others across the House how best to approach this matter, once we have undertaken that consideration.
This is an example, once again, of the House demonstrating on a cross-party basis a determination to tackle climate change, as we showed in the Climate Change Act. The Government are determined to build on the momentum of Paris, and our positive response to the right hon. Gentleman today is a clear example of that. On that basis, I hope he will not press his new clause to a Division.”
So Yesterday Claire Perry who is now the Minister responsible for such matters responded to Ed’s urgent question but just to put her response into context, she has responded on this theme before such as a response she made on 13th September last year:
“The Clean Growth Strategy made clear that the Government believes the UK will need to legislate for a net zero emissions target at an appropriate point in the future.
We announced in April that we will seek the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) advice on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK’s long-term emissions reductions targets, once the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publish their special report on 1.5°C later this year. We will consider the CCC’s advice carefully when it is received.”
So not so much the need for an urgent question, more an explanation of what has happened over the last 37 months and then an action that will begin to change things. However what we got yesterday was:
“I will say to the hon. Gentleman what I said earlier about declaring net zero. The only way to ensure that the actions we want to deliver actually can be delivered is to make sure, when we set them out, that they are fully understood, fully costed and fully planned, and that we have buy-in from local authorities, civil society and so on. I am really looking forward to seeing the CCC’s advice, but I will take the time that is required and work with whoever needs to be involved to ensure that, when we set that target, it can actually be delivered. I do not want to be the Minister who attempts to set out something very profound, only for it to be hived off because of other pressures that may occur down the line. If we make such a commitment, it must stick.”