Working towards a sustainable environment

Following young climate activist Greta Thunberg’s rousing speech to UK MPs calling for an overhaul to “very creative, carbon accounting,” edie rounds up how key political figures have responded to her comments and the ongoing Extinction Rebellion protests.

Some of the UK's most powerful politicians offered their views on the ongoing climate strikes

Some of the UK’s most powerful politicians offered their views on the ongoing climate strikes

Greta Thunberg continued to raise the urgency of climate change to key listeners on Tuesday (23 April), after addressing MPs in Westminster.

The climate activist met with some of the UK’s most powerful politicians, chastising historic progress to combat climate change. Specifically, Thunberg noted that the UK was “very special. Not only for its mind-blowing historical carbon debt, but also for its current, very creative, carbon accounting”.

But while Theresa May was absent from the visit, Party leaders and MPs alike either met with Thunberg or had an opportunity to respond to the “climate emergency” highlighted by the ongoing Extinction Rebellion protests. Here, edie rounds up what key politicians had to say about the rise in climate activism.

Michael Gove

Environment Secretary Michael Gove took a break from preparing environmental standards ahead of various Brexit outcomes to be present for Thunberg’s speech, describing the 16-year old as the “voice of our conscience”.

“When I listened to you, I felt great admiration, but also responsibility and guilt. I am of your parents’ generation, and I recognise that we haven’t done nearly enough to address climate change and the broader environmental crisis that we helped to create,” Gove said.

Jeremy Corbyn

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was joined by Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, Lib Dem’s Vince Cable, SNP’s Ian Blackford and Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville-Roberts to meet with Thunberg and UK school strike representatives.

The group leaders issued a joint statement that committed to an ongoing cooperative approach with the school strike students to discuss and tackle climate change. Notably, the group will create cross-party meetings and roundtables to discuss how UK cities and combat climate change in line with a net-zero emissions aspiration. The youth strikers will also endorse the UK’s bid to host the 2020 COP climate conference.

Caroline Lucas

As part of the aforementioned cross-party coalition, Lucas met with Thunberg and encouraged all areas of government to join the cause through an “open invitation”.

Lucas also sat in on the Climate Action and Extinction Rebellion hearing at the House of Commons later that day, noting the Prime Ministers absence and calling on Energy Minister Claire Perry to sign up to practical proposals to limit global warming to 1.5C.

“I thank Greta Thunberg and the climate strikers, and Extinction Rebellion, for showing more climate leadership on the streets than we often see in this Chamber,” Lucas said. “In the meeting this morning that unfortunately the Prime Minister could not clear her diary to make but all the Opposition leaders did, we agreed a number of proposals, including things like ongoing dialogue with the UK climate strikers and stress testing all new manifesto commitments to make sure that they do not exceed the 1.5° warming target. Will the Minister’s Government sign up to those practical proposals?”

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband, the Labour politician that helped introduce the 2008 Climate Change Act and led the UK delegation during the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, also met with Thunberg and was later and the House of Commons meeting to call on Claire Perry to endorse four specific climate goals.

1) “First, will [Perry] seek to persuade the Prime Minister to declare a climate emergency, as many local authorities have done, in order to focus minds across Government on the centrality of this issue to every Department, not just hers?”

2) “The Minister is to be commended for asking the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to recommend a date when the UK will need to hit zero emissions, which it will do next week, but these recommendations cannot be allowed to get buried in Whitehall. So, will [Perry] now commit to responding formally to them before the summer recess?”

3) “Will the Minister commit to working on the delivery of a British green new deal at scale, which could have the effect of giving work to hundreds of thousands of people across our country, for example, in retrofitting buildings, and showing beyond doubt that economic justice and climate justice go together?”

4) “Will she take up the idea of Extinction Rebellion and others to involve the public in these discussions about both the threat of climate change and the action necessary—and, yes, the trade-offs—with a process of citizen deliberation? For too long—this covers both parties—people have been shut out of the climate debate and made to feel powerless. That must change.”

Claire Perry

The BEIS minister was unable to actually meet with Thunberg, but did use the Commons meeting to present arguably the most detailed government response to the school strikes and the Extinction Rebellion protests. You can read the entire meeting minutes here.

Responding to Miliband’s requests, Perry said she would consider the CCC’s advice “carefully and proportionally” and, crucially, work out how the UK will pay for it. Perry also noted the UK’s role in the global Powering Past Coal Alliance, the success of offshore wind in the UK – including the new sector deal – and how green policy dominated the Chancellor’s Spring Statement and that the UK ran without coal for periods across the Easter weekend.

“We know we need to continue and accelerate the decarbonisation of our economy, across all aspects of activity, and crucially to help other countries around the world, especially those not at the same stage of economic development as us,” Perry said. “That is going to require a broad-based, engaged, informed debate to deliver the low-carbon progress we need; this must be fair, just and progressive, and able to be shared.

“Ms Thunberg’s efforts, which have become a global phenomenon, demonstrate the power of a young person deciding to make these statements. What I would say to protesting schoolchildren is this: ‘We need the climate engineers, the geo-physicists and the scientists of the future. Those are skills that you will learn best by engaging in education. You are protesting; we are listening. We have to work together, and we need your skills to solve this problem.”

Matt Mace