Climate and the law: The time is now

It’s 2020 and we have ten years to get to a zero carbon electricity system. We’ve got to start building the infrastructure now that is fit for 2050. We can’t afford to retrofit everything or build projects that only have a shelf life of ten years or so. But it’s hard to see how that step change is going to happen after we have been talking about it so long, but not managing to do more than slightly change tack. So many vested interests just want to carry on doing the same as they did yesterday, last year, ten years ago. It’s comfortable and predictable.

But the future is uncertain – we can’t actually predict what’s going to happen. We do know by looking back at what has happened, and the science, that we are in a situation that is now an emergency in terms of  how much greenhouse gas emissions have been emitted and continue to be emitted every day.

The UK’s Climate Change Act, adopted in 2008, has great strength in that it created a structure for the country to work out where greenhouse gas emissions were coming from and to provide a scenario as to where they might be coming from in future, based on what is happening right now. But it is also weak, in that it doesn’t make any of those who hold the levers of power directly responsible for acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It doesn’t affect how we behave in a powerful enough way. It doesn’t mean we can stop the Government from giving tax breaks in the millions to fossil fuel companies for example.

What about if every organisation had to work to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions – not just as part of what it does internally, but also what it does that affects us all? Every Minister, public authority, and large company would be thinking about what it did in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and what it would need to change.

And we would be able to hold them to account. We need this accountability so that people who are in positions of power know if they don’t act that there will be consequences. Right now, there are zero consequences for those in power when they fail to act on climate change. This has got to change.

We need to ‘do the impossible’ and create system change that has simply so far failed to materialise in the ‘solutions good for the economy’ mantra of the last twenty years.

And that requires a new set of responsibilities that is backed up by law. The soft approach is no longer working. Technology that is not yet here can’t be relied upon to save us. The technology we have is also fraught with unfairness – not even all the cars in this country can be swapped for electric models. So let’s take a more radical approach. Let’s tell those in power that they need to start taking responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions – they wanted responsibility and this is what it means.

Rights : Community : Action is working to develop a ‘Climate Emergency Act’ which would deliver the above.  We’ve got a number of resources on what the Act would do, and you can watch a webinar in which I talk it all through here.

Join our mailing list if you want to be kept up to date. And if you can see where people in power are failing to act on climate change, and want to do something about it, please get in touch with us directly.

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