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Andrew Smith MP reply to Jill Haas

Transcript of letter from Andrew Smith to Jill Haas 25 February 2015

Dear Jill

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about our carbon footprint, which I very strongly share.  Over the years that I have been an MP I have worked hard to cut the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.  As you say in your letter, we must leave 80 per cent of fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

Award-winning county-wide environmental groups have seen their budgets threatened by the County Council.  I strongly opposed this cut and called on Oxfordshire County Council to continue funding and work towards its own commitment to cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 50 per cent by 2030.  Such a cut would also have had a serious political effect.  We desperately require political leaders to develop a low-carbon ethos, so that we can put environmental protection beyond politics.  The County Council cut proposal seemed to me to be a total abdication of political responsibility.

Just to meet its carbon dioxide emissions reduction target, Oxfordshire has to collectively invest at least £100 million each year.  Tackling climate change on this scale cannot solely be done with public money and nor must it.  As Low Carbon Headington has shown, a huge amount can be done by residents working hard to raise awareness of climate change locally.  Similarly, climate change reduction offers the region an opportunity for export-led economic growth and high-skill job creation.

I am pleased that Oxfordshire’s low-carbon economy – the bit of the economy based on low carbon power sources which emit very few greenhouse gases into the environment – already has a very large role.  Some 570 businesses in Oxfordshire are worth £1.5 billion and employ 8,800 people.  One influential report has recently shown that Oxfordshire is expected to boost its economy because of low-carbon power sources by £1.35 billion.  As the world moves towards reducing its carbon dioxide emissions, there is a huge opportunity for our county and our country to grow our economy and jobs.

The capacity for renewable investment to reduce energy costs has been shown clearly with the recent opening of a roof solar panel farm the size of five football pitches in Oxford’s MINI plant, which I was pleased to tour.

I work closely with the City Council and County Council to encourage more investment in renewable energy infrastructure and making loans to energy cooperatives as happened with the City Council’s £2.3m loan facility to the Low Carbon Hub during the same week that the fantastic inaugural Low Carbon Oxford Week took place.

In the last few months, I have been backing the City Council’s low emissions zone which is boosting our air quality in Oxford; healthier, sustainable transport (in particular, cycling), which has a larger role to play in our city.

In Parliament, I was proud to support the 2008 Climate Change Act which Ed Miliband introduced as Energy and Climate Change Secretary.  The Act set a long-term target to reduce the UK’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 80 per cent by 2050 compared with 1990.  Still the most ambitious legislative framework on climate anywhere in the world today, there is much more to be done by a future Labour Government to tackle climate change.

I was pleased to see the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband MP, promise that, as Prime Minister, he would pursue:

  • Ambitious emissions targets for all countries, reviewed every five years, based on a scientific assessment of the progress towards the 2C goal.  This would involve a fair, strong, legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below 2C.
  • A goal of net zero global emissions in the second half of this century.
  • Transparent, universal rules for measuring, verifying and reporting emissions with all countries adopting climate change adaptation plans.
  • An equitable deal in which richer countries provide support to poorer nations in their efforts to combat climate change.
  • Accelerating the transition to a competitive, energy-efficient low-carbon economy, which includes ending the use of unabated coal for power.

I was also glad to see Labour MPs propose thirteen conditions on fracking, including banning fracking on land collecting our drinking water and reversing the government’s bit to stop companies having to notify residents of fracking in their area.  Labour required mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for all fracking operations, along with independent inspections of wells and monitoring of fugitive methane emissions.  Unfortunately, the Government threw out these conditions in the House of Lords after accepting them in the House of Commons two weeks earlier.

The replacement proposals from the Government would allow the Secretary of State to decide which groundwater and protected areas would be covered by the Bill and require planning authorities to only consider the environmental impact of a development, not insist on an EIA.  Particularly concerning is the concerted attempt to loosen Labour’s requirement that people have to be notified individually of fracking in their area.  When the bill comes back to the House of Commons Labour MPs will challenge the new proposals.

Climate change is too important an issue to keep postponing effective action on.  After five years of a Government doing nothing to increase our renewable capacity and cut greenhouse gas emissions at home and abroad, I am looking forward to working closely with a new Government which takes the issue very seriously and plans to take immediate effective action.