Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden and leading environmental campaigner, recently visited Britain. Here, she was met by every party leader represented in the Commons but one: Theresa May, writes Cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council.
Mrs May was left an empty chair at the meeting; the official rationale given was that the Prime Minister was “not aware” of the gathering. To be fair, Michael Gove attended a later meeting and admitted to Ms. Thunberg that the government hadn’t done nearly enough to tackle climate change.
These words echo in my mind every time I pass a sign for our city which states we are “Creating the UK’s Environment Capital”. Often, I find these markers on roads which are overloaded with traffic. Recently, one lane was closed on the slip road on Junction 15 of the A47: this led to mile-long tailbacks of idling cars. A colleague of mine recorded that it took him 38 minutes to go one mile. All the while, fuel was being burned, the petrol effluent haze rose from the stationary vehicles.
Is this administration serious about the environment? It’s difficult to discern that they are.
We do have some new LED street lights and places to plug in electric vehicles, but we also have cut public transport, and developments appear without thought about the infrastructure needed to support them. I have heard the Conservatives talk about the “circular economy”, whereby we only consume what we can later recycle, rather than draw any more out of the environment. Yet, it seems that as time goes by and the problem gets worse, we are still lagging behind. Michael Gove was right: the Conservatives haven’t done nearly enough.
I understand that the administration faces a number of pressures: the cuts made to the city’s budget by their political masters in Westminster have perhaps concentrated their minds on the short term. The difficulty is that the long term is shorter than one may like.
Switch on the news, and there are tales of droughts and floods, the coral reefs dying, and species going extinct. I am the father of three children: I am deeply worried about the world we are leaving them.
I don’t believe that it’s merely individual choices that can help save the planet: replacing your plastic bag with one made from jute may provide a moment of satisfaction associated with being virtuous. However, if government policies at both a local and national level don’t support the environment and reinforce positive choices to green our economy, then we are fighting a losing battle. We need more public transport, more intelligently planned roads, and to make the environment a key part of our procurement policies.
I will be working with the Shadow Cabinet on a range of policies to ensure that Peterborough lives up to the signs by which it advertises itself: we should be creating the UK’s Environmental Capital.
We should aspire to be a carbon neutral city. Anything less leaves an empty chair at the critical issue of our time.