Supporting the Climate and Ecology Bill for future generations

IF is pleased to be a member of the Zero Hour Alliance which backs the Climate and Ecology Bill. John Hobby, IF Researcher, explains the Bill and what you can do to support its passage through Parliament.

Intergenerational justice

IF firmly believes that on intergenerational justice grounds it is the responsibility of those currently alive to provide a clean and liveable environment for future generations. This commitment stems not just from the ethical perspective that the natural world has intrinsic value that future generations are entitled to enjoy, but that humanity is also dependent on the natural world in ways that are often under-appreciated.

Policy failure

While successive UK governments have stressed the importance of addressing the climate emergency, they have consistently failed to make meaningful policy changes in spite of overwhelming public concern. A mechanism is missing to make the public’s voice better heard and to hold governments accountable when they do not deliver on their long-term promises.

The Climate and Ecology Bill (CE Bill) is a piece of legislation, the second reading of which was recently passed in the House of Lords, that would provide such a mechanism. It addresses the full scale of the challenges posed by the climate crisis not through a list of prescriptive policy proposals but via a framework that will require future policymaking to be guided by the most up-to-date climate science, ensuring that climate ambition is turned into action.

The Bill aims to provide a joined-up strategy that recognises that the two aspects of the climate emergency – global warming and ecological breakdown – are not separate issues but inextricably linked. It is comprised of a climate goal, a nature goal and proposes the foundation of a Citizens’ Assembly to better represent the public in policymaking.

Climate Goal

Climate scientists have known since the 1970s that the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, emitted overwhelmingly by economic activity in today’s rich countries, is causing global average temperatures to rise and radically alter the earth’s climate systems.

The CE Bill would ensure that the UK makes its fair contribution towards keeping global temperatures to within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial temperatures. Instead of a net zero timeline, the bill uses the more rigorous IPCC “global carbon budget” as its lodestar in order to maximise the likelihood of preserving a liveable planet.

Enacting the Bill would ensure that UK-based emissions are radically reduced in the present, rather than relying on unproven negative-emissions technology to arrive in the future and commits the UK to ending all fossil fuel exploration, extraction, export and import as quickly as possible.

An important aspect of the Bill is the inclusion of those emissions arising from the production of goods produced outside the UK and imported for consumption. These “imported emissions” represent a large proportion of UK emissions (40% by some accounts) but are not currently adequately accounted for in UK emissions statistics.

Nature goal

A common misconception is that a rapid transition to renewable sources of energy will largely avert climate and ecological breakdown. However, humanity is vitally dependent on the many ecological systems and cycles that underpin human life. For example: those that purify water; those that maintain fertile soil; and those that pollinate crops. This realisation makes the drastic reduction in nature and ecosystem biodiversity observed over the past few decades incredibly alarming.

Research by the RSPB, conducted in 2019, found that 41% of all species in the UK have declined since 1970 and that the population of insect pollinators in the UK has reduced by a third due to climate change, pesticides and habitat loss. A 2019 global review found that over 40% of global insect species are threatened with extinction. 

Insects form the basis of many ecosystems. They act as pollinators for of plants and as prey for larger animals. The drastic reduction in their numbers will impact the web of life they support in ways that are both severe and difficult to predict. Without an appreciation of the importance of the natural world and humanity’s impact on it, the human race is sleepwalking into an ecological emergency that some scientists are calling a “sixth mass extinction”.

The passing of the CE Bill would ensure that the UK starts to reverse nature loss at home and overseas. It would extend the Environment Act 2021 by requiring that the UK not only halts the decline in ecosystem health and biodiversity but also starts on the path towards recovery by 2030. Furthermore, it contains pledges to assist in reversing ecological breakdown abroad.

Citizens’ Assembly

The Bill proposes the creation of a citizens’ assembly – “The Climate & Nature Assembly” – to better represent the public’s views and to guide policy. The assembly would be a randomly chosen nationally representative cross-section of society who would consult with experts and make recommendations to parliament on climate policy.

The Climate & Nature Assembly would allow for greater public participation in politics, expanding what it means to participate in democracy beyond the ballot box. Citizens’ Assemblies, such as those in Ireland in 2018, have already demonstrated that they are an effective way to find consensus on difficult national challenges.

Why do we need it?

The UK’s current political system is poorly designed to deliver long-term policymaking. Governments are more focused on how they will perform at the next election than delivering longer-term results. This creates a mismatch between 5-year electoral cycles and the need for consistent long-term policies, many of which require investment today but do not deliver immediate benefits so are side-lined.

UK governments have passed long-term environmental targets into Law, such as the Environment Act 2021 and Climate Change Act 2008, which should, of course, be celebrated. Setting specific, legally binding long-term goals is, in theory, a good way to drive consistent environmental action by successive governments. However, these long-term goals are not accompanied by the necessary specific short and medium-term strategies or meaningful mechanisms to hold governments accountable if they do not deliver.

The CE Bill, with its radical emissions and nature targets and expanded role of the public in policymaking, is a powerful legislative framework that would ensure that long-term environmental policy is delivered by the UK government. As such, IF is proud to support the CE Bill.

Support the bill

If you are interested in supporting the CE Bill, sign up as a supporter on Zero Hour’s website

As the Bill is currently being debated in Parliament, support from MPs is crucial. A wide variety of personal requests to support the CE Bill will help to persuade MPs, so consider writing to yours

Help us to be able to do more 

Now that you’ve reached the end of the article, we want to thank you for being interested in IF’s work standing up for younger and future generations. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved so far. And with your help we can do much more, so please consider helping to make IF more sustainable. You can do so by following this link: Donate

Photo by Thomas Richter from Unsplash