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Energy minister slaps down calls to declare climate emergency

© PAFormer Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire O'Neill (nee Perry),
Former Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire O'Neill (nee Perry),

An energy minister has dismissed calls to declare a “climate emergency” despite expressing sympathy with the message of Extinction Rebellion protesters.

Claire Perry joked both she and Labour former leader Ed Miliband would have been “out there carrying placards ourselves just a few years previously” as she voiced concerns over some of the methods used by those protesting for action over the climate.

But Ms Perry questioned what would be achieved by standing up and declaring a climate emergency, arguing legislation is required to bind her successors to meet targets and prevent a future government seeking to “wiggle out” of its responsibilities.

Responding to an urgent question, Ms Perry said she had “mixed emotions” about the protests – noting there is “excitement” that conversations about climate change are moving from niche to mainstream.

But she also expressed concern that many of the messages aired “ignore the progress” that is being made – resulting in people feeling “fearful for the future rather than hopeful”.

Mr Miliband, asking his questions, said: “People can believe that the tactics of Extinction Rebellion are right or wrong – and the minister obviously believes they’re wrong – but the demonstrators are certainly not wrong about the failure of politics to do anything like what is necessary to fight climate change. They are right.”

He said the planet is “warming far faster than we are acting” before he made demands of the Government, asking Ms Perry: “Will she seek to persuade the Prime Minister to declare a climate emergency, as many local authorities have done, to focus minds across government on the centrality of this issue to every department, not just hers?”

Mr Miliband went on: “The right response to rebellion on our streets is to produce a revolution in climate leadership – and the time for action is now.”

Ms Perry, in her reply, said: “I do want to correct him – I don’t disagree with the protests, I disagree with some of the methods, certainly not the message, and as I said to him before I think he and I would have been out there carrying placards ourselves just a few years previously.”

On declaring a climate emergency, the minister said: “The thing is I don’t know what that would entail. I could stand here and say I believe there is a climate emergency, he could say that, many of our local councils have done so – including my own council of Wiltshire.

“The question is what are you going to do about it, and that is why one of the things we should be proud of is we have I think the most detailed proposals for how we will hit our carbon budgets.”

She added: “It’s the easiest thing in the world for a politician to stand up and say ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to set these targets’ knowing I’ll be dead and buried before those targets have to be met.”

Ms Perry said the responsible thing to do is put forward legislation in order to “bind every successive minister” before noting: “There is not one single thing that will move this dial, we have to change everything, we have to do it rapidly and we have to do it in a way that no future government can wiggle out of those responsibilities.”

Shadow energy and climate change minister Barry Gardiner thanked protesters for “speaking the truth”.

He called on the Government to join Labour in declaring a “national environmental and climate emergency”, stating: “We know that however disruptive the climate demonstrations may have been in this past few weeks to businesses, they pale into insignificance against the capacity of climate disasters to wipe out human prosperity and human life itself.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) called on the Government to sign up to stress testing all new manifesto commitments to make sure they do not exceed the 1.5 degrees warming.

She said: “The minister says that she doesn’t know what a climate emergency looks like, can I start by saying that it looks like doing what is scientifically necessary, not just what is deemed to be politically possible at the time.”

Referring to today’s meeting, Ms Perry said she did not want to “politicise diaries”, adding: “We’re not going to go into that sort of political tit-for-tat that takes us down a rabbit hole of conflict that this situation does not need.”

Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) said: “It’s an emergency right now, it’s an emergency across the world, glaciers are melting, seas are rising… what’s stopping her from declaring a climate change emergency and then treating the problem as an emergency?”

Ms Perry replied: “I don’t see the point of saying anything unless we have actions to solve the problem.”

DUP Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) said some protesters “flew thousands of miles in CO2-emitting aeroplanes to cause road blocks which led to more C02 emissions”, asking why police actions were not used.

Ms Perry paid tribute to the Met Police’s “proportionate response” adding there was a “little bit of nervousness at the beginning of the process unfortunately led by the Mayor of London who didn’t recognise that actually millions of people’s lives would be disrupted”.

Tory Philip Hollobone (Kettering) asked why school children couldn’t “protest at the weekend because education is very important”.

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