Action, Not Promises – A Reply To John Howell

Zero Hour Oxfordshire Campaigner Kate Oldridge has been playing open-letter tennis with Henley MP John Howell over at The Henley Standard. On the 6th September John Howell published his reasons for not supporting the Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill. You Can find the article here. This is our response, published the following week in letters in the Henley Standard.

Action, Not Promises John Howell

Thank you, John Howell, for your reply to our open letter to you (Standard, September 3).

Zero Hour Oxfordshire welcomes the Government’s world-leading, ambitious targets in tackling climate change and the destruction of nature.

You will know that such targets are critical — the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report made it clear that we are within a decade of passing irreversible tipping points if dramatic action isn’t taken now.

COP26, the climate change conference the UK will be hosting in November, calls for ambitious action to meet global targets.

You mentioned “targets” no fewer than 13 times in your letter. The problem is that these government targets are not backed up by policy and action. You were not able to reference even one piece of actionable policy, planning or ready legislation that will be able to deliver against these targets. That’s because they don’t exist yet.

You say the Environment Bill, Agriculture Act etc will provide the framework for the policy that is needed to meet those targets. But these do not even mention climate change while the Climate Change Committee called the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan ‘an important statement of ambition’ but not backed up with firm policies. You claim that it is “disingenuous” to claim that the CEE Bill is the first time that climate and nature have been linked, but the CEE Bill is the only joined-up legislative plan before MPs that addresses the interconnections between the climate, environmental degradation, and biodiversity loss and sets a clear direction of travel.

Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, has described the Government’s strategy as “deficient” and its chairman Lord Deben said recently: “It is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we’ve seen in the last 12 months… [with] very little action, very little delivery.” The CCC has made it quite clear that targets are meaningless without the policy and action in place to achieve those targets.

You say that government targets have been advised by “independent experts rather than campaigners”. Please note, again, that the CEE Bill has been drafted by scientists, legal experts and economists and is entirely led by the latest science. World-leading science contributors to the Bill include Professor Joanna Haigh, former president of Royal Meteorological Society, and Julia Steinberger, professor of ecological economics at the University of Lausanne and co-author of the IPPC Report. You can see the full list of Scientific contributors to the CEE Bill on our national website here.

The UK is forecast to exceed its sixth carbon budget by a long way. Even if we do get to net zero by 2050, the fact that we burned so much carbon on the way means we will make a large contribution to a rise in temperatures beyond 1.5C or 2C with horrific consequences.

You say that a climate and nature assembly is not democratic. It is precisely the opposite. It allows a representative group of citizens to have a real say in the UK’s transition to a zero carbon society and a thriving natural world, while respecting parliamentary sovereignty. You say the assembly offers no advantages over conventional policy making. However, the UK Climate Assembly, endorsed by Sir David Attenborough, was hailed as a great success. Its report of September 2020 was welcomed by Alok Sharma MP, who said its recommendations were “an important part of the evidence base for developing the Government’s net zero strategy”. In July, a report by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The Climate Assembly has proved that deliberative engagement is important for both building consensus and maintaining public trust in the net zero transition and will facilitate the behavioural change required to underpin successful transition to net zero.”

In light of the above, we have two requests. First, we invite you to attend a panel event and Q&A with world-leading scientists at Westminster on September 22 to discuss three essential outcomes we need from the COP26 summit and the COP15 biodiversity summit. This event will be chaired by Sir David King, formerly the Government’s chief scientific advisor, and will be for MPs, peers and their staff.

Secondly, we invite you to attend a Zero Hour Oxfordshire event with your fellow Conservative Oxfordshire MPs at which we will be joined by world-leading Oxfordshire scientists and local business leaders (date to be agreed).

Will you engage with us — an ever-increasing number of concerned constituents, businesses, community groups, councils and schools — on this most urgent of issues?

Readers can sign our open letter to Mr Howell (and other Oxfordshire MPs) here.

Yours faithfully,

Kate Oldridge

Zero Hour Oxfordshire, Shiplake