The 50th Anniversary of the first World Environment Day is on 5 June this year, “the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment.“ Here in the UK the ambitious Climate and Ecology Bill was recently reintroduced in the House of Commons. If passed, it will for once give the UK legitimate claim to be world-leading by setting a “gold standard for other developed nations” that would “help inspire positive action across the world.”
I support Zero Hour, the campaign for the Climate and Ecology Bill. I have attended grassroots campaign meetings and been in contact with my local representatives both in parliament and on Birmingham City Council. My MP, Tahir Ali, had already declared his support by this time and my Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors have shown their support by signing the Nature and Climate Declaration, a previous strand of the campaign that was spotlighted in a parliamentary debate last year.
The aims of the Climate and Ecology Bill
The bill was drafted by “scientists, campaigners and experts” and aims to “address the full extent of the climate crisis in line with the most up-to-date science.” If it becomes law, the Act will set legally binding targets to keep temperate rises below 1.5c, reverse bio-diversity loss by 2030 and create a climate and nature assembly to build consensus on the substantial changes needed, including ending our reliance on fossil fuels. Zero Hour’s pivotal report, The Ambition Gap , details why the UK’s current Net Zero Strategy does not go far enough to achieve these aims, in terms of both emissions reductions and nature and land use, and why the new legislation is needed.
The bill is not part of the government’s own legislative program and was introduced in May as a private members’ bill under the 10-minute rule by Olivia Blake, Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam. It has substantial cross-party support – MPs from Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SNP, SDLP and Alliance are co-sponsors. Unsurprisingly Caroline Lucas, still the UK’s only Green MP, is another co-sponsor and introduced a previous version of the bill in 2020 and 2021.
Crucially, Conservatives MPs are increasingly strong supporting voices. Two of its MPs, Sir Peter Bottomley and Derek Thomas, are co-sponsors and a third, Sir Roger Gale, has officially pledged his support. Thomas has said that the bill: “should be embraced by decision-makers at all levels. It’s nothing to fear and builds on the policies and commitments that the Government has already made. It calls for a joined-up plan to tackle climate and nature issues, hand in hand, and is exactly what’s needed. There’s no time to waste.” Baronesses Hooper and Verma and Lord Randal are Conservative supporters in the Lords.
Other than Labour, SNP and Conservatives, all the other political parties with MPs who have sponsored the bill have adopted it as party policy. Labour’s Ed Miliband, Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net-zero, showed his support for his colleague Blake, saying that the bill is important because it addresses the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis together: “We know that the UK Government is not acting with nearly the urgency that’s required on both. If there’s a Labour Government, we will make sure that we do so. What we need now is maximum ambition.”
Support goes beyond Westminster
At the time of writing, 130 MPs from across the political spectrum have taken the time to pledge their support and 238 councils have passed motions backing the CE Bill – including eight MPs and 29 councils from the Central Bylines regions. Further supporters include 45 peers, seven political parties, 185 scientists and 550 organisations.
To further illustrate this gathering momentum, among the allied organisations are high street stalwarts Co-op and Lush, Stirling Prize winning architects HawothTomkins and professional bodies such as Doctors Association UK. Others include Wildlife Trusts, Women’s’ Institute branches, Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, and in my own neigbourhood, a community creative and learning hub, The Old Print Works.
The challenges ahead
Despite all this there are undoubtedly challenges that remain ahead if the Climate and Ecology Bill is to become the Climate and Ecology Act and so “require the United Kingdom to achieve climate and nature targets” and “give the Secretary of State a duty to implement a strategy to achieve those targets.” Not the least of these is ensuring enough MPs support getting it over the line when it comes to votes in parliament. There is also a risk that, even with sufficient support, competing interests could lead to a bill so amended that the resulting act is too watered down with too much of “the ambition gap” remaining. Before that stage is reached, parliamentary process itself may prove to be an obstacle. The second reading is scheduled for 24 November, but the Parliament website currently notes that “The House is currently not expected to sit on this day and the Bill is therefore not expected to be taken.”
Commenting on these challenges, Oliver Sidorczuk, Zero Hour co-director, told me:
“The mission to enact a Climate and Ecology Act is a major undertaking. Though momentum is building in and outside the UK Parliament, we need as many MPs, peers, councillors, organisations, and citizens as possible to join Zero Hour, and keep up the pressure. ‘The Big Ask’ campaign was key to the enactment of the (then ground-breaking) Climate Change Act 2008. We hope to replicate their success, but we need everybody in, and we need them now. Write to your MP, email your councillors, organise locally, get involved. Do what you can to call for the serious, science-led environmental laws we need to secure a liveable future.”