Frack off

Cat Smith on fracking in the face of climate emergency

On the 1st May this year the House of Commons unanimously supported a Labour motion declaring a climate emergency. This motion built upon similar action taken by local authorities up and down the country and followed the inspirational school climate strikes, Extinction Rebellion protests and address to Parliament by Greta Thunberg.

It has been inspiring to see young people take the lead in forcing our politicians to address the climate crisis we face. Lancaster City Council, which covers part of my constituency, was one of the first in the country to declare a climate emergency and it was the city’s young councillors and activists who were the driving force behind it. Sadly, while Lancaster City Council has responded positively to this challenge from the next generation our Government has to date failed to do so, reverting instead to empty promises, creative accounting and ultimately business as usual.

The Government’s headline response to the declaration of a climate emergency was an announcement that the UK would reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This would be a welcome announcement were it not for the fact that there was no accompanying plan outlining how this would be achieved and that the Government is currently off track to meet its existing climate targets. In fact, when you look at the number of omissions and caveats in the Government’s announcement, it makes you wonder whether this meaningless promise was in fact a deliberate deception.

Worryingly this appears to be a common theme when it comes to climate change. The Government claims that it has achieved a 37% fall in carbon emissions since 1990. However in her speech to Parliament Greta Thunberg highlighted that this figure falls to around 10% when you consider shipping, aviation, imports and exports. When Jeremy Corbyn challenged Theresa May in July to measure total UK emissions she pointedly refused to do so.

We can’t afford to allow ourselves to become complacent, lulled into a false sense of security based on dodgy data. Last year’s IPCC report could not have been any clearer: we have just 12 years to take real action. That is not 12 years to debate whether we need to take action, but 12 years to implement policies that dramatically cut down on our carbon emissions. A key part of this is keeping fossil fuels in the ground and making the switch to renewables, but rather than do this the Government scrapped the feed-in tariff; they failed to invest in the Swansea tidal lagoon; and they slashed investment in onshore wind.

Nowhere is the Government’s commitment to the catastrophic status quo more evident than in its unwavering support for fracking. In Lancashire, Cuadrilla are seeking to extend the period in which they are allowed to frack at Preston New Road despite the fact that 57 earthquakes of up to 1.5 magnitude were detected in Lancashire last year in the two months when Cuadrilla was fracking at Preston New Road. The only reason they are fracking at all is because the Government overturned the democratic decision of Lancashire County Council to reject fracking in the county. When I challenged Ministers in the House of Commons to prevent permitted development rights being granted to fracking operations the astonishing response I received was that I should be grateful that we were burning less coal – as if this was some form of fossil fuels top trumps! When Jeremy Corbyn urged Boris Johnson to ban fracking at his first appearance as Prime Minister in Parliament, he simply ignored the question.

So, while Parliament may have woken up to the climate emergency facing our planet it is clear the Government has not. Thankfully though we have a Government-in-waiting that has grasped the seriousness of the issue. During the summer recess Jeremy Corbyn met with anti-fracking protesters at Preston New Road and reaffirmed our commitment to a ban. Labour is committed to creating a sevenfold increase in offshore windfarms, a tripling of solar power, enabling nearly 20m homes to be powered by wind and solar by 2030. Addressing the climate emergency requires nothing less than a Green Industrial Revolution. This is what the next Labour Government will deliver.

Cat Smith is MP for Lancaster & Fleetwood and a shadow minister.

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