Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Thank you for contacting me about strengthening the Environment Bill, which has now passed into law as the Environment Act. I apologise for not getting back to you in time.
Although Parliament declared an environment and climate emergency in May 2019, there is a huge gulf between the government’s rhetoric on climate change and the reality.
In June, Boris Johnson said that his government will “build back better” and “build back greener”, but the Tories’ previous track record demonstrates very little desire to put environmental issues at the heart of the government’s agenda.
Whilst the Environment Act should have represented an opportunity for the government to firmly commit to a bold domestic strategy on climate change, it does not come close to the urgent and decisive action that is so desperately needed.
Boris Johnson’s government did all it could to resist concrete protections, leaving our environment and ultimately the climate as a bargaining chip for new trade agreements that would undercut Britain’s environmental standards. The Environment Act does little to help, replacing the EU’s comprehensive framework of environmental protections with four simple long-term targets over which the government has nearly complete discretion to change at any time.
I was proud to stand on a bold and radical plan to tackle the climate crisis in the 2019 General Election. It is bitterly disappointing that Labour cannot enact this vision in government. I have spoken out about the urgent action that is required when it comes to climate change over the past 15 years as an MP. And whilst this government continues to ignore the seriousness of the climate crisis, I will continue to do so.
As the host of COP26, the UK government had the opportunity and a responsibility to show real global leadership in tackling the climate crisis. Having seen first-hand the role that the UK can play in leading a global strategy to tackle climate change when I attended COP 15 in Copenhagen back in 2009, I am disappointed that the government failed to take the opportunity it had to show real global leadership in tackling the climate crisis during COP 26, which the UK hosted in Glasgow earlier this year.
As you may know, Labour tabled numerous amendments to the Environment Bill during the course of its journey through Parliament – including amendments to enforce stricter air quality targets and amendments covering nature and biodiversity. We did our utmost to strength the legislation – but the government refused to see reason.
You wanted Clause 75 to be added to the Environment Bill, which aimed to protect pollinators such as bees from pesticides. Regrettably, the government rejected this amendment like it rejected an earlier amendment Labour had tabled to maintain the ban on bee-killing pesticides.
This government just does not recognise the importance of bees and other pollinating insects to the natural world and to our food chain.
We need actions, not words, if we are serious about combatting the climate emergency.
You can be assured that my Labour colleagues and I will continue to push for bold action on environmental issues.
Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me about this important issue. If you have any further points you would like to raise, please do not hesitate to get back in touch.
The Rt Hon. Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury
Shadow Attorney General