This post is by Joe Tetlow, senior political adviser and Robbie MacPherson, political adviser at Green Alliance.
Amongst all the noise, negotiation, spin and marching in Glasgow last week, a valuable discussion between MPs from eight parliaments across the globe took place in the COP26 Green Zone. The event, ‘Strengthening parliamentary consensus for global change’, set out how politicians from different parties and groupings have put aside many of their political differences to work towards the common goal of improving the environment.
The consensus has been tested around what to do and how fast
The intention was to demonstrate cross party consensus in the UK, point to best practice in terms of legislation and independent scrutiny, and to share experiences between UK and international parliamentarians. The political consensus was often tested, but not over whether to act – but over what actions to take – and how fast. That alone is something to take stock of.
There is, of course, much more work to be done to deliver on the UK’s domestic climate promises. For instance, we need to hardwire a net zero test across all legislation that parliament considers, and ensure every department is committed to action, especially the Treasury.
Overall, the politics of climate change in the UK is reasonably unique, thanks to a public sympathetic to increased government action on reducing emissions, an engaged civil society holding politicians to account, an economy not completely dependent on fossil fuels and successive governments which have helped to depoliticise the issue.
Consensus allowed the UK to pass the Climate Change Act in 2008, enshrining in law a legal commitment to reduce carbon emissions and setting up the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) to scrutinise progress. It has since been hailed by the chief executive of the CCC as “one of the most powerful pieces of legislation you’ll find anywhere in the world”.
This law has helped set the tone for subsequent climate leadership by the UK, including committing to net zero by 2050, making it the first major economy in the world to do so. Since, over two thirds of the global economy has followed with net zero targets, including some of the biggest emitters, like the US and China.
It’s vital to hear voices from politicians across the world
But, as we know, it’s not just the rich nations who have a big role to play, the global south is the most at risk in the fight against the climate crisis and it’s vital we hear those voices at UN conferences. The powerful speech from Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, is a case in point. How many people knew that warming of two degrees would have such grave impacts on the people of Dominica, Kenya, Fiji and Mozambique? The current path of global warming, estimated to be 2.4 degrees by the end of this century, will devastate nations.
At the Green Zone event, we heard a heartfelt plea from a Bangladeshi MP, Tanvir Shakil Joy, imploring richer nations to act. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated country on earth. Whereas floods used to be predictable by season, they are now random. Severe drought is also causing problems in its northern agricultural territory, turning it into a desert and making it harder to feed the vast population.
Werani Chilenga, of Malawi, spoke of his fear that the climate finance given to governments was not being spent correctly and that parliaments, not governments, should have more power over the money to avoid corruption. And from Brazil, Rodrigo Agostinho criticised his government for greenwashing and called for more transparent and sustainable agriculture to avoid the destruction of the precious habitats of the Amazon rainforest.
Parliaments have a major role in driving change
Parliaments represent their constituents suffering from the effects of climate change and environmental destruction in every corner of the globe, but they also have a political and tangible role in driving change. They provide scrutiny, block and ratify agreements, bring forward legislation and push governments to go further than they otherwise might.
COP26 will be a milestone, but it isn’t the finishing line for global climate action. If anything, it marks the beginning of a global awakening for many more and the start of a decade of greater action. But it has to be action, not ten years of “blah, blah, blah”, in Greta’s words. If we are to be successful, more global consensus is required, with every government and every parliament in every country championing ambitious environmental action.