MPs endorse Corbyn’s call to declare climate emergency

Environment secretary calls for cross-party approach as Labour leader says vote can ‘set off wave of action’

MPs have endorsed a Labour motion to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, with Jeremy Corbyn hailing the move as a necessary response to school climate strikers and groups such as Extinction Rebellion.

The Labour leader said the decision by the Commons to pass the motion without a vote “can set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe”. Conservative MPs were told to not oppose the motion.

Corbyn, in a statement after the debate, added: “We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis.”

Labour also organised a rally outside parliament, which Corbyn was expected to address.

Opening the debate Corbyn told MPs that at current trends the point of zero net emissions would not be reached until the end of the century, by which time “our grandchildren will be fighting for survival on a dying planet.”

Responding for the government, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, said he accepted “that the situation we face is an emergency”, and called for a consensual, cross-party approach so the UK could take a lead on climate action.

The opposition day debate was called in the wake of weeks of direct action by protesters, including school climate strikers and Extinction Rebellion sit-ins that closed roads and bridges around London. Last week both Corbyn and Gove were among MPs who met the teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg at parliament.

Corbyn told the Commons that young activists “get it right away”. He said: “They grasp the threat to their own future. And in fact they want to be taught more about it as part of their curriculum.

“Are we content to hand down a broken planet to our children? That is the question members must ask themselves today. We have the chance to act before it’s too late. It’s a chance that won’t be available to succeeding generations. It is our historic duty to take it.”

The motion called for the declaration of a climate emergency and urgent remedial action such as a green industrial revolution as well as changes to transport, agriculture and other areas.

Corbyn said the world faced a climate crisis that would “spiral dangerously out of control” unless rapid and dramatic action was taken immediately. He said: “We are talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes.”

Corbyn added: “It’s too late for tokenistic policies or gimmicks. We have to do more than just ban plastic straws. Individual action is not enough. We need a collective response which empowers people instead of just shaming them if they don’t buy expensive recycled toilet paper or drive the newest Toyota Prius.”

Gove, in response, said he shared the same broad ideas: “Not only do I welcome the opportunity that this debate provides, I also want to make it clear that on this side of the house we recognise that the situation we face is an emergency. It is a crisis, it is a threat, that all of us have to unite to meet.”

There was, Gove argued, “a green thread of ambition running through Conservative governments”.

However, when the Green MP Caroline Lucas intervened in the speech to ask how that approach could be reconciled with the government’s decision to back a third runway at Heathrow airport, Gove did not reply, prompting shouts from MPs of “Answer the question.”

Gove promised to challenge Trump and other world leaders on climate inaction, saying he hoped to discuss the issue with the US president during his forthcoming state visit to the UK: “I want to make it clear to him that as the world’s biggest polluter he has to take responsibility.”

Gove said it was wrong “to say that any one party in this house has a monopoly of virtue.” He said: “Let’s try to ensure that we have a civilised debate that combines a sense of urgency about the challenge in front of us and a determination to take action in the future.”


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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