In the week that the UK experienced its hottest ever winter day, just a handful of government MPs attended a debate on climate change in parliament on Thursday. .
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said she had secured the discussion after being inspired by the thousands of UK schoolchildren who went on strike over climate change this month and wanted to thank them for forcing MPs into action.
Moran said climate change had not been debated in the main chamber of the House of Commons for two years. She spoke, however, to a chamber where the seats were predominantly empty. At points, as few as 10 MPs sat on government benches, although the opposition side was more occupied. The lacklustre response to the debate from the government, was in stark contrast to the condemnation by Downing Street to the thousands of children involved in the strike for climate change, calling it “truancy”.
Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee, said politicians needed to shape and bend the financial system to invest in a green economy.
“To achieve net zero [carbon emissions] we have to reduce our emissions rapidly and at scale in every area of our economy and our lives,” she said.
Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, said last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report – detailing the difference between meeting 1.5C rise above pre-industrial levels compared with 2C – gave the most alarming picture yet of the impact of climate change.
He said: “If you look at the trends, we are not heading for that apocalyptic 2 degree rise, we are heading something that looks more like 3 degrees, the consequences of which we cannot possibly estimate.”
In light of that, he said “the idea of children missing a few hours of geometry or PE to wake our political system up is somehow the wrong thing to do just seems … absurd.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, who secured the debate with Moran, said long-term climate targets had to be amended to net zero. She said even after all of the international conferences and pledges, the Earth was still set to warm by 3-4C.
“Time is quickly running out to limit warming even to the 1.5 or 2 degree aspirations of the IPCC. We face a climate emergency … It calls for unprecedented boldness of vision and a new way of thinking.”