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Actions speak louder than words

When it comes to the climate emergency, actions speak louder than words. Sue Hayman MP, Judith Blake and Alex Sobel MP write about the steps that need to be taken by local authorities and parliament.


Long read


Last month, parliament unanimously declared an environment and climate emergency, but the government is still not acting with the urgency required.

Barriers to new onshore wind remain in place, fracking is still receiving ministerial support and the government is failing to meet almost all of its biodiversity targets. Without real action, the emergency declaration is simply empty words.

The next Labour government will act to tackle global warming, prioritise climate change adaptation, and reverse ecological decline, from introducing a ban on fracking to restoring improved support for solar, wind and tidal energy. Recent government announcements on solar panel incentives look promising, but they do not go far enough, nor do they come into force soon enough. Labour wants to see government action to push towards achieving 60 per cent of the UK’s energy coming from renewable sources within 12 years, including installing solar panels onto 1.75m homes.

Tackling the emergency and achieving net zero carbon emissions by at least 2050 is also dependent on introducing carbon negative measures, such as tree-planting. The government’s tree-planting scheme falls well below the scale recommended by the Committee on Climate Change. We are urging the government to increase their tree-planting goals. Additionally, we need to see an increase in funding for Natural England, the environmental regulator which has seen its independence and its budget cut dramatically since 2010.

A cross-departmental approach is vital in tackling the environment and climate emergency; environmental considerations need to be integrated with all major policy and spending decisions, especially through the Treasury. Action on housing is often overlooked, but it is needed to ensure reduced emissions and lower energy consumption, mitigating the effect of heating homes on both the climate and consumers’ finances. The government needs to retrofit insulation into millions of houses, upgrading them to at least energy performance certificate band C. A zero carbon homes standard must also be introduced for new-build homes; something which was introduced by Labour but scrapped in 2015.

Parliament’s emergency declaration is a clear statement of intent to act in response to the crisis and an acknowledgement that business as usual will no longer cut it. However, the  government is currently more concerned with leadership elections and Brexit indecision than with the imminent threat of climate change and ecological deterioration. We will only see real action once Labour wins the next general election with the transformational approach needed to face the scale and urgency of the ecological and climate crisis.


Radical and rapid action is needed to reverse our dependence on carbon and prevent the irreparable damage that rising global temperatures will cause  to the world’s ecosystems. This is a global crisis but local councils are well placed to implement some of the changes required, although we need central government support to be truly effective.

Leeds City Council – like the other 120 plus councils and local authorities in the UK – has declared a climate emergency with the ultimate aim of becoming a carbon-neutral city by 2030. But wider across the board action is needed if councils are to stand any chance of achieving this milestone.
Changing the planning system to allow councils to promote low-carbon energy could make a big difference in a short amount of time. Councils should be allowed to support renewable energy schemes, such as the extension of inland wind, and at the same time oppose carbon-intensive energy, such as fracking.

We would like to see national planning guidance on energy efficiency in new build homes strengthened. Fifty thousand new homes are due to be built in Leeds over the next 15 years – it is essential that the design of all new homes prioritises energy efficiency, yet the current system doesn’t allow councils to insist on that.

We need the power and resources to improve energy standards in commercial and residential buildings. Councils would benefit from the introduction of a new registration scheme, for instance, that would require all private-rented accommodation to meet minimum energy efficiency standards. Central funding could be directed to councils to provide private landlords and homeowners with grants to help them undertake the necessary home improvements.

Central government backing to make innovative council-led schemes viable would also make a huge difference. In Leeds we have a proposal to reduce carbon emissions from domestic gas supplies by 30 per cent, by switching the city’s gas supply to pure hydrogen as the source for heating. The proposal needs central government to support the cost of carbon capture to move forward.

With adequate support from central government, local authorities can be a vital player in supporting the growth of the green economy. Labour can take the lead on this.


Labour is the only party which can reverse the terrible damage to public health in our towns and cities. We are in desperate need of a new Clean Air Act, emulating the urgency of the first, passed after the great smog of 1952. The difference with our more modern pollutants is that they are invisible, making it much easier for government to ignore the drastic consequences to the health of the British public. UK cities consistently fail to meet their EU and UK targets for nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, and whilst we must ensure that these targets are urgently met, we must also set our standards higher. After all, there are no safe levels of human consumption of either of these major pollutants. We must therefore take seriously, at national and continental level, the standards set by the World Health Organization, enshrining them in legislation as targets.

These blogs are part of a Fabian debate on Labour and the climate emergency. Read the other contributions here:

1. For the workers

Clare Hymer argues for decades in the global north, environmentalism has been framed as a white, middle-class preoccupation; this framing couldn’t be further from the truth.

2. Red and green values

A Labour government that is committed to restructuring and decarbonising our economy to tackle the climate emergency must put trade unions and workers at the heart of its approach, writes Nadia Whittome.

3. Winning over the voters

Commitments need to be followed by actions. So how will Labour find the policies that meet its ambitious carbon reduction targets and attract voters to the party too, asks Melanie Smallman.

4. The gloves are off

The climate change battle is one we can’t duck because of the disaster that confronts the world if we do not act. But it is also an opportunity to reimagine our world. The Labour party can and should seize this moment, writes Ed Miliband MP.

5. Seeking green solutions

Green issues are creating more concern than ever before with action needed across a number of fronts. We know the government must act now, but what should this look like in practice? Stephanie Hilborne, Alan Whitehead MP, Noga Levy-Rapoport and Farhana Yamin weigh in.

Sue Hayman MP

Sue Hayman is MP for Workington and shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.


Judith Blake

Judith Blake is the Labour Leader of Leeds City Council.


Alex Sobel MP

Alex Sobel is the Labour MP for Leeds North West.


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